At the library bus stop, there was a man obsessively touching and rearranging his plastic bags. He had a few groceries, but they were jumbled in small bags that he put in a larger bag of easily torn plastic. The large bag was shredding. It took me a few minutes to realize he was blind. His eyes were mostly closed and slightly sunken. He had a bottle of Sprite that fell on the ground and rolled a few feet away. I told him, but he said he had to get his bags together before he picked up the bottle.
I had a cloth bag that folds up in my purse. It’s made of strong stretchy cotton and accommodates a lot of stuff. I was in my wheelchair and I rolled over close to him. I asked if he was blind.
“I can see a little.” He didn’t have a white cane, only a walking cane. He had a bit of crust along his eyelids. I was concerned that he was alone, that his cane didn’t indicate he was blind like the white ones do. I understand the need to be self sufficient, I often take risks going out alone in my wheelchair. The need for independence and to get places on my own is strong and I’m stubborn.
I explained the bag to him and said he wouldn’t have to worry about it tearing like a plastic bag. He asked what color it was. I said it was shades of blue in a kind of checkered pattern. He looked hesitant.
I said, “It’s okay if you don’t want it.”
He sighed. “I think I’ll pass on it.” He went back to fiddling around with the plastic bags, peeling off layers of plastic. I backed away. I had an urge to chase after the bits of plastic blowing away, littering the library grounds, but it would be impossible in my chair.
He got irritated. In frustration, he banged his body against the back of the bus stop shelter. His Sprite bottle rolled further away in the wind. I was afraid to ask to help him again. I thought he didn’t like my interfering and had taken a dislike to me.
Soon, a woman joined us at the stop. She was short, elderly and looked frail. She wore a white face mask to either keep germs out or keep from spreading them. She was dressed in a purple fake fur coat, a blue skirt and purple boots. She had on a wig that was slightly askew. She pulled a small suitcase on wheels with a purse attached to the top with a bungee cord.
The sun came out. It was about 40 degrees.
“That sun sure feels good,” the lady said.
She took a good long look at the man fidgeting next to her. She began to talk to him softly. She opened her purse and it was stuffed with plastic bags. She went through them like she was going through a filing cabinet til she found the exact right size.
She gently but firmly urged the man to put his things in her bag. He agreed. Then she got another bag out of her purse and double bagged his bags so he could make it home without losing anything.
“I think I dropped my pack of cigarettes,” he said. “I can’t find them.”
We looked with him. He tapped around frantically with his cane. With the sunlight beaming on his bags, I could see the shape of a pack of Marlboros through the translucent plastic.
“I think they’re in your bag. They’re Marlboros, right?” I said.
He said nothing.
“They’re in the bag,” the woman said. “Marlboros, right?”
He felt around the bag. “Yes. Thank you.”
I felt a little miffed and wondered why the woman had such a better rapport with him. He sat down quietly, compulsively rubbing the plastic as we waited.
The bus arrived. It was crowded but they made room for my wheelchair, no one grumbling about giving up seats for me.
The blind man didn’t get on the bus, but stood looking confused. The woman with the suitcase got back off, and guided him on. There were no seats and people crowded the aisles. But they all moved back more and someone gave him a seat.
“I took care of my uncle who went blind,” one woman said. A man said, “My mother went blind.”
The woman who helped him with the bags stood by him and got him to tell her where he needed to get off the bus. “I’ll help him if you have to get off before his stop,” a man said.
“We’re going the same way,” she said and her eyes smiled. By then, to me, she no longer looked masked. Her kindness made her smile visible.
When I got off the bus, the people standing had to get off the bus so I could get out. The woman wished me a good day.
So much of life seems scary and people seem uncaring. When I got across the street, dodging a car that didn’t see me because they were talking on the phone, braking inches from me — I thought that blind man shouldn’t be out on his own.
Maybe this woman in a wheelchair shouldn’t either.
But, safe on the sidewalk, a few blocks from where I live, I felt in my heart he would get home. Some people may speed through life oblivious, but sometimes they look up and brake in time.
Kindness still weaves it’s way into our lives, keeping us as safe as possible.
And sometimes, it shows up in a mask and purple coat — patient, with a soft voice and a bag filled with exactly what is needed.
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