Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Blind Man Who Could See

Find the Red Queen, she said.

I don't have time to do this.

Wonderland creatures won't bother themselves thinking about time, or names, or addresses.

I wish I could check out the Yellow Pages and find her there.

Red Queen: (212) 577 5512 
75 Rosebush Drive, Red Light District, New York. 

She would be a transgender diva performing at a fancy cabaret in the lower East side of Manhattan. That would be poetic enough for me.

I check my phone and there's a text from Jiayi. She wants to know if I need to stay with her another night. I don't know how to answer her because I have no idea how long I am supposed to stay here.

Yup. This is my life.

I talk to imaginary creatures and go wherever they tell me to. I usually don't know where I am or where I'll be tomorrow. I am living each day without planning the next one. I've tried to stop this roller coaster before, but I have learned to adapt to it. It's like living on a giant treadmill. You can try to change your direction, but eventually, you just let yourself be carried away by the current, careful to walk at the same pace as the machine. I used to fight against it, used to pretend I was a normal person just like everybody else- but everything became easier when I just accepted my lot in life. If there is one thing that Youtube has taught me, anyway, is that one does not challenge the mighty treadmill unless one wants to become the ridicule of the world. At this point, I don't even question the fact that everything is questionable. Nothing it as it appears to be.

I don't even know where I am right now. I've been walking for so long that I might have been transported into a different city without realizing it. There are not that many people around, and the smaller buildings with brown bricks seem to stare at me without an answer. I cross the street and almost get run over by a yellow taxi cab. A sigh of relief escapes my mouth at the realization that I am still in NYC. A pretty black fence covered in beautiful flowers catches my eye. A floor of colored petals is visible through the bars. It reminds me of the small gardens that are scattered throughout Paris like hidden gems. It smells like peace inside. The smell pulls me in and I saunter through the small oasis of silence in the midst of this big city, forgetting about whatever it is that I was thinking about 5 seconds before.

My feet follow a curvy path through a beautiful collection of roses and hydrangeas whose enchantments have captured both my eyes and my nose. The path leads me past a small koi pond with bright red fish, and my feet get lost in the small labyrinth of colors until my eyes stumble upon a familiar figure sitting on a small bench. I stand there for a moment, trying to remember his name as my heart starts beating loudly.

"Hello there, why did you stop?" He asks, as though he was suddenly startled by the sound of my heart.

He must have been listening to the sound of my footsteps before they stopped; I know he wasn't looking at me. He can't see through the dark glasses he's wearing, and he wouldn't be able to see even if he took them off.

"I was looking at the flowers" I lie, used to playing along with people when I don't know what's going on.

"Yes, they are beautiful." And as he said that, I realized that the situation doesn't make sense. He can't see the flowers, and as far as I can remember, he can't speak English either.

"But you can't see them" I say, instantly feeling regret like a cut to my back. Why haven't I learned to keep my mouth shut?

He stays silent for a while, and then he smiles. He doesn't appear to be angry at my thoughtless comment. An aura of peace surrounds everything around him like a warm, fuzzy blanket in a cold winter night. Before I start thinking about how out of place that metaphor seems in such a warm summer day he cuts short my stream of thoughts. "One doesn't see beauty, one feels it. I can't see the light of the sun, but I can feel the rays on my skin and the movement of the breeze. I can't see the flowers, but I can feel what they feel. Please, take a seat." He motions with his hand for the space next to him.

I take a seat and look at his profile. He has a squared jaw and a thin mustache covering his top lip. He is quite handsome. I can't believe I am finally seeing him in person. I am tempted to touch his cheek to see if he is truly there, but my hand stops midway; it would be too invasive for someone that can't see a finger approaching. I put my hand back down and look at the flowers. It is nice to share the silence in a world full of mayhem.

"What colors are they?" He asks me after a while. I wonder how long ago he lost his sight, and how he imagines the world to be.

"There are red roses and pink hydrangeas and I think those are violets on the right side. I am not very good with the names of flowers. Do you remember what hydrangeas look like? Do they have those flowers in China?"

"Yes, I remember them. It is one of the memories I treasure the most. These flowers are constantly changing in color, but they survive several seasons." Then he does something very queer, and this action instills an inborn fear in the base of my stomach. I stop breathing as I see his head move in my direction until we are face to face, our noses a mere couple of inches apart.

Blind men cannot see. This is a commonly accepted fact. There is no need for blind men to turn their heads, which is why they usually walk in a stately fashion with their heads facing straight ahead. He can probably feel my presence on the space next to him on the bench, and it is no surprise that he knows where I am. Still, there is no need for him to face me. When a blind man looks at you, even though he can't see, it has some meaning other than staring. It feels strange, almost like a breach of trust. You instinctively start questioning yourself, and become unsure about whether the man is truly blind. I can see myself strangely reflected in his black glasses. Two big heads surrounded in two messes of curly hair. I can't see through my reflection, though, into what the darkness hides.

He smiles. This time, though, it is a playful Mona Lisa smile that is bursting to tell me some funny little secret. Suddenly, I know why he's here. The fear dissipates and I smile back, exited at the implications of his revelation. Perhaps this mini-quest won't be so difficult after all.

"Are you a traveler or a messenger?" I ask.

His mouth flowers into a big white smile. "I am still a messenger, for now," he says, with an enlivened tone. He is like a little kid that has been finally let into the secret club his friends had been keeping him out of.

"Do you know where the Red Queen is?"

"I don't think the Red Queen knows where she is, or who she is." His phony rueful expression doesn't convince me. I narrow my eyes at him. Please tell me you're not going to behave like those senseless, silly creatures, I think. For once, I keep my mouth shut.

"Is that what you were sent to tell me?" I ask politely.

He laughs. "They are not very good with instructions, are they? All I can do is tell you whatever strikes me as pertinent. I was going to tell you that the hydrangeas change color depending on where they are planted, and they also convey different meanings in different countries. In China, they symbolize enlightenment. Maybe it is because they have so many petals. I remember looking at one when I was a child. So many petals." He speaks more slowly now, drifting off into some other world.

I try to imagine, as I look at the garden, what he is looking at with his inner eye. It must be a beautiful garden. Maybe it looks like a Van Gogh. I don't know if Van Gogh ever drew hydrangeas, but I am sure that they would be more beautiful than these. I feel a bit jealous, all of a sudden, of the beauty of his imaginary world, untainted by ugly reality. We remain silent for a while, just listening to the birds and the far away horns of the cars. I know by now that this is all the guidance that I am going to get, but I am still curious about his world.

"What was it like, the fear? Didn't it make you want to give up? Wasn't it difficult?" I ask him.

He considers the questions in silence for a bit, and says, "It is easier to follow your heart and do what you know is right than to constantly run away from it."

I bet he was afraid. I can't think of someone that wouldn't be afraid of such a massive monster. "Thank you," he says, almost as an afterthought.

I feel tears building up behind the cover of my eyelids."Your welcome," I say, not wanting to admit that I don't know exactly what I have done to help him, or whether I have done anything at all. It is the nature of my job not to know. I get up, uncomfortable with my ignorance. He pretends not to notice my movement, and I decide to leave quietly.

As I leave the garden, I think to myself that it is a mark of great ignorance to not know the imprint of one's own feet.

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