“God bless you,” says the Indian man, gracious and smiling, as he and his wife make way for me to pass on the sidewalk. He is one of the few people I’ve encountered who does not hesitate for a moment to make eye-contact, and is nonplussed at seeing me carry a cane. “Thank you,” I reply, not at all surprised at this kind gesture, now that I’m more familiar with his culture.
Another day, hobbling along the sidewalk with my cane, I see an elderly woman approaching. She is hunched over her cane, slowly inching her way towards me. Our eyes meet and she suddenly exclaims, in a scratchy but sweet voice, “Temporary, I hope?” “Of course,” I reply and, without skipping a beat, I add “and temporary for you too, I hope?” Her face eases into a broad smile, and we shuffle past each other.
Alas, the city is populated with too many (other) people who are either hurried, endeavour to remain ‘invisible’ or unaffected by seeing people who, temporarily disabled like me, are ‘in their way.’ They may don sunglasses and be plugged into iPods or Blackberries – the standard ‘assistive devices’ of the able-bodied who choose to ignore or hide from what life puts in their way. They avert their eyes, checking their watches, glancing down at my crutches or cane. “I am not like you,” they seem to be communicating telepathically, “and you are not like me, so I don’t really have to see you.”
No, you don’t have to look at me. Maybe there is something about my predicament that scares you. Perhaps you feel pity, sympathy, surprise or confusion. Or maybe it just doesn’t make sense; why am I, a relatively young woman, limping along with a cane.
But, in the end, the eyes know. Yours and mine. You know that I have seen you sneak a peek. And I wonder, what would it take to lower your glasses, turn down the music, smile or hold the door…