I could hear she was quite young, nervous at meeting me, wanting to make a good impression on her first day, but afraid of my disability.
“Andy’ll show you the ropes,” said Sheila, my boss’s secretary. “Andy, this is Sonya.”
“Hello Sonya,” I said, and smiled.
“Hello, Andy,” said a girl’s voice.
I continued, “Well, this is where it all happens.” I ran an audio and video library for a big HR department. “I do the audio, and you’ll be my eyes for the video!”
She laughed self-consciously.
Once alone together, I said, “Look, I know you probably don’t want to talk about me being blind, but let’s get it out of the way.”
Her voice showed relief. “That’s fine, if you want to talk about it.”
“Take a seat.”
We both sat on comfortable leather office chairs. “Look, I’m really not much different to anyone else. I’ve lost a sense, but I’ve made up for it in many ways.”
“Well, I know you’re wearing mascara, I hear the clicking of your eyelashes.”
“Yes, I do.” She laughed, and it was genuine this time, surprised, interested.
“And you have shoulder-length hair, I hear it brushing against a jacket. It doesn’t catch, so it’s not so long.”
“Wow, that’s right. Can you tell what colour?”
“May I?” I put a hand out towards her.
I felt her hair. It was fine, soft, shampooed and conditioned this morning. I wanted to smell it up close, but that would be going too far. “It’s auburn, I think.”
I smiled, no need to tell her that Sue in accounts had told me that. “From your voice, I’d say you were, er, 27 or 28.”
She laughed. “29 actually. By two months!”
“I must be slipping!” No one had told me that, but the timbre and manner of her speech had. “Look, close your eyes.”
“OK. now what?”
“Imagine you’ve just sharpened a pencil with one of those sharpeners with a holder for the shavings. Now you unscrew it and smell the shavings.”
“Wow, I can a bit!”
“Now, imagine a burning match. Then you blow it out. Can you smell the smoke?”
“Sort of.” She laughed.
“And that’s just with your imagination! So, us, er, blind people, we can do most any jobs nowadays, especially with all the technology we have now. It can read the screens, make the letters huge, change the colour of the fonts on command. All that kind of stuff.”
“What do you see Andy, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I don’t see anything, Sonya, just light and dark. I can tell if it’s day or night!”
“That’s a shame.”
“They found I had glaucoma twelve years ago. It left me blind in my right eye, but I still had some vision in my left. That’s gone now, but I’ve got over it. It’s not such a problem. I’ve got a dog, Sasha, and a white stick. Most people are helpful.”
“Thanks for telling me all that,” she said, and I could tell she meant it.
Over the next three months, we worked together quite closely and I found her to be friendly, cooperative and efficient. I didn’t pry but she told me about her life. A difficult childhood with alcoholic parents, and a chance to go to university. A guy, Chris, there. Then a life with an itinerant musician, Al, who found a kind of fame, and moved on to other pastures, and other women. She’d been on her own for a year and a half now. That surprised me. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that she was attractive.
Christmas came and she sat with me at the works’ Christmas dinner. “It’s OK Sonya, you don’t have to,” I said.
“I want to. Here!” She handed me one end of a cracker. We pulled it and it exploded, hurling something plastic into my face. We burst out laughing and I could hear her retrieving it.
“What is it?”
“Oh, it’s, it’s ….” Her voice trailed off.
I laughed. “A magnifying glass!”
“You’re amazing! How ….”
“From the sound when it hit the floor … and your embarrassment.”
She didn’t say anything.
“You have it, you never know. It might come in handy!”
She laughed. “Are you coming to the party tonight, Andy?”
“I don’t know, I’m not really a party animal.”
“It’d be good to see you. I’m bringing a friend.”
“Oh.” I felt desperately disappointed, imagining a strapping rugby player type.
That evening I’d spruced myself up and called a cab. I didn’t really want to go but felt I ought to show my face. The thought of Sonya being there tipped the balance. I used my stick, having given Sasha a break from her duties, and took the lift up to the entertainment suite on my own. The doors opened onto a noisy, crowded scene. Music was playing loudly, Merry Christmas Everyone, and glasses were clinking over the hubbub of speech.
“Andy!” It was Desmond, my boss. “Really pleased you could make it. Look, I want you to meet someone.” He escorted me across the crowded room to a secluded alcove. Several familiar voices greeted me on the way. They sounded genuinely pleased to see me, although their pleasure was doubtless fuelled by alcohol.
Someone handed me a beer and I was introduced to Paul, an information science graduate, who wanted to discuss reorganizing the sales training material. After about fifteen minutes, I’d had enough. Were Sonya and her friend here yet? I wondered. “Excuse me, Paul, perhaps we could continue our discussion in the New Year?”
He was good enough to take the hint. “Of course, Andy, sorry, let’s get you another drink.” He escorted me back through the throng to the bar. Suddenly I felt a hand on my arm.
“Andy!” It was Sonya. “Let me get you a drink, what would you like?”
I felt in need of something strong. “Oh, could I have a large glass of white wine please?”
I could hear the tinkling sound of it being poured.
“Oh, and this is my friend, Erica.”
I felt a soft feminine hand in mine and shook it, feeling relief it was Erica, not Eric.
“It’s nice to meet you, Erica,” I said.
Sonya spoke close to my ear. “She can’t hear you. She’s deaf!”
I stood, bewildered. For once I didn’t know what to say or do.
Then they both laughed. “Sorry, bad joke!” said Sonya.
I laughed with relief.
“Look, do you know what’s hanging above our heads,” asked Sonya.
She put a hand on my arm and I felt the warmth of her face and smelt a faint, lavender perfume and wine on her breath. Then her lips on mine, hot, pressing, lingering, a touch of a flickering tongue. We embraced and I heard a cheer go up around us. I felt embarrassed but I didn’t care.
“Look, you two go and dance, I’ll catch up with you later,” said Erica.
“I’m not very good at dancing,” I said.
“Don’t be silly,” said Sonya. She laughed and kissed me again, this time on the cheek. “Merry Christmas!” then led me towards the dance floor.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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