Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ways of Seeing

I walk out of the subway station into an overcast sky. This is Toronto and grey clouds threaten to rain. I have to meet someone but I don't know where I am. The street says Spadina but there are no shops here, only houses, all red-colored. They are lined up on both sides of the street, shoulder to shoulder, a stoic assembly of charming cherry-faced conformity with nothing for the eye or mind to fasten on. I pick a direction and start walking blindly.

I'm not too enamoured of big cities but Toronto is a place that has trapped my heart. Whenever I come here I find something new, some novel way of looking at the world. I'm not sure why that is because all cities vivify human experience. The sheer density of transactions, the pace and energy with which people connect, ensures that you are not deprived of opportunities to refract a little wisdom into your own life. Why this happens more frequently in Toronto though than in other places, I don't know. There is an alchemy to it that mercifully resists unraveling.

I walk down the street and notice the traffic starting to congest. An intersection is coming up and the sign says Bloor. I think I'm in the right place but I want to be sure. I look around and even as I'm trying to spy someone to mooch direction off of, I notice an old lady walking out of an apartment building. She is holding a white stick in front of her and appears to be feeling the way. The stick misses the edge of the curb and I watch her trip up and fall.

"Are you alright?" I go up and ask.

"Yes," she replies picking herself off the ground. "Can you tell me where 720 is?"

"I don't know but we can ask someone."

She slides her arm over mine and we walk up to the intersection. I ask about 720. The man points me down Bloor and says it's a long way off.

"You're in the three hundreds right now," he says pointing to the number on the front of a shop.

I go back and tell the lady.

"Oh," she says, looking dismayed. "Can you help me? I have trouble crossing the street."

I place her hand on my arm and we start walking. I have never before walked with someone who couldn't see and initially I mess up, overestimating her ability to gauge potential hazards and avoid them. We walk into a tree and a fire hydrant. Frequently, we bump up against each other as we try to negotiate around obstacles. When we cross the street, her grip on my arm tightens.

After about ten minutes of walking, the lady asks me what number we're at.

"618," I tell her.

"Only? It wasn't this far the last time . . . "

"You said you wanted to go to 720 Bloor, right?" I confirm.

"No, 720 Spadina West."

I feel like a total idiot. I made this lady walk twenty minutes out of her way because of a stupid mistake on my part. I should have asked the exact address.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, we're on Bloor right now," I say, uselessly trying to look contrite. "Let me take you back."

We turn around and walk back. I try and spot a taxi that could take us to her destination. Of course, there are none. I resort to conversation as a means of working off my embarassment.

"Where are you from?" I ask stupidly.

"Portugal, but I used to live in Minnesota."

"How long have you been in Canada?"

"Eighteen years!" she says, smiling.

"Wow! Did you come to Toronto?"

"No, I was in Newmarket first and then Toronto. Where are you from?" Her bag slips off her shoulder.

"Pakistan," I tell her. "Would you like me to carry that for you?"

"Thank you," she says, handing it to me. "Are we almost there?"

We return to the intersection of Bloor and Spadina. I help her cross the street and we walk down Spadina. There is another man feeling his way with a white stick ahead of us. My lady's stick jabs into his heels. He doesn't even notice. Maybe he's too used to it by now.

I see 720 shining off a door.

"We're here," I tell her.

"Thank you," she says, holding out her hand for the bag.

"Would you like me to help you in?"

"No, I'm okay. Thank you."

I want to apologise but I don't know the Portugese word for moron. Instead I just return her bag and wish her a good day.

"Bye," she says, turning around to go into the building. I watch her walk away, sensing the path with her cane, sweeping it in wide radar arcs to clear the ground. The landing troubles her momentarily but she climbs it in small hesitant steps and soon she is across the door and out of sight. It never occurred to me that walking with the blind could help you see so much.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it does.
We learn the most, when we free ourselves of us.
You are so lucky MashaAllah, you got the opportunity.

7:36 PM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

Alhumdulillah. It was an eye-opening experience.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mashaAllah. Thank you for writing so that we could feel the same as well :D

App toronto main ho for holidays? Hope you're enjoying your stay :).

4:43 PM  
Anonymous adnan. said...


2:03 PM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

anonymous: thank you. i'm glad you enjoyed it.

adnan: obrigado!

7:57 AM  

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