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I Shall Live by Sight

My ears were sensitive to the noise and babel outside - loud music blaring, and cars honking. We were seated in a small room, deprived of light. There were other sounds, not as loud, of crawling creatures scurrying around.

We were on the second floor of a building, that had sucked in air, to fit between other buildings that lacked a hint of design or flair in their construction. For a moment, I remembered the mason who did odd jobs at our house and wondered if he had constructed the buildings in this part of the city. 

I looked outside the window, the lone window that allowed in reflected light. The lone window from which you could never see the sun, but still sense its presence. I wondered if a prisoner in solitary confinement desired the sun, the way I desired to leave that office. 

Yet, we were there for a good reason. Seated beside me was my father, in a polo shirt and khaki slacks. He was relaxed and seemed oblivious of the surrounding. I looked across the tiny table. The man on the other end, whose knees were inches from touching mine was framed against a cabinet of hundreds of eyeglasses.  

He wore glasses and had a white overall, with leopard-spotted stains and a brand name on his breast pocket. He had a white beard and smiling eyes. His eyes must have been the reason my father came to this place. Looking at them made one want to trust the man.

“Ok! It is good, you came soon. I have your spectacles ready.” He said with a smile. Then stretched to the side, and under a bundle of boxes presented a case. He then opened it with a flourish, and took out the cloth inside with one hand, and the spectacles with the other, and wiped them.

“You know it takes close to a month to get these done. I received your prescription in good time, so I gave this a lot of attention.” He said as he continued to remove imaginary dirt from the lenses. 

“I believe they will allow you to walk and see far since you are short-sighted.” He continued, stating the obvious.

He finally drew closer, breathing out heavily and placed the glasses on the bridge of my nose and tagged their ends on my ears.

I shut my eyes and recoiled, not from his breath, but from the sharp clarity that offended my mind. I opened my eyes, and they adjusted. The room came alive—every inch of it. The cockroach patched in the darkness it’s feelers in the light. Every book title on the table exploded with clarity.

 I looked down to avoid sensory overload. There was a difference. Before, my ears served me well and compensated for my poor eyesight. My eyes were breathing, for the first time in my life. Word failed me right then. A strange sensation rose up my throat and wanted to come out through my eyes, in the form of tears. I swallowed it back down.

“Can you read the chart,” the old man asked. I looked at the chart and read it from top to bottom. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing.

Joy enveloped me, and the tiny room, grew double its size, and a light broke into the room and crowned the old man, placing him on a throne. At least that happened in my mind.

“Now!” Said the old man. Actually, he wasn’t that old, just greying.

“I need us to talk about cost.” Said the greying man. My father raised his hand. Then took a brown envelope from his pocket, counted a few thousands, and passed them on to him.

The man’s eyes changed hue for a brief second.

“You know the young man, needs to have reading glasses as well. He needs to toggle from these ones to ones that are comfortable for him to sit and study,” he said. There was a slight shift in his demeanour. Because we were seated so close, my father and I noticed it and looked at each other. 

“Dr Ogutu, I was told you are going to help us get my son spectacles to help him function normally. Are these going to help him do so? ” Asked my father. His eyes locked on those of the greying man.

“Of course, of course,” stuttered the greying man. Placing his hand over his thick set of ruffled hair on his head. “Then I believe we will reach out to you when we have any concern, ” said my father rising, and extending his hand out to the doctor. The doctor smiled and also rose. Taking my father’s hand into his and leading us out. Well, its wasn’t really leading out. The room was so tiny, we were outside in two steps, and appropriately bid him farewell from outside. 

“The man is an ophthalmologist at the Eye Hospital in Kikuyu. He comes highly recommended.” My father confided in me as we walked down the narrow staircase trying to dispel a growing feeling that the second pair was a hoax.

“Who is an opthalmo…” I fumbled the words.   

“A doctor who treats eye problems.” 

“Ohh!”

“Will we see him again for the other spectacles.”

“Maybe, just maybe,” said father as we broke from the tunnel of darkness and stepped into the light outside.

We were walking towards the car, but my brain was having trouble adjusting to everything around. The people, the light, the clarity, it was all too much. My head was throbbing, and the ground had turned into Alladin’s carpet folding up below me. 

It was a feat for me to open the car door, sit and try to focus on my surrounding. I chose to close my eyes.

I had been in the city for a few days, and it was time for us to travel back to Nanyuki. I would rest and adjust as my father drove through the farms and forests.  I dared not complain or tell my father of the pain gnawing at my eyes every time I opened them to a sensory overload.

I collected my thoughts and went back to the days I had spent in the city. How I binge-watched cartoons late into the night.

“He has a fascination with television,” my uncles observed, and father apologized profusely. I hadn’t moved from the same seat for hours. He need not have worried they dotted over me. “You need to go outside and meet some people,” recommended my aunt. A strong recommendation said with a hint of concern. I shyly agreed.

Outside, girls and boys spoke a different language; part English, part Swahili and full of undecipherable terms. I struggled seated at a distance listening, like a wandering adventurer. When I grew bored, I walked to the far end of the estate. I noticed a path and followed it to the edge of a hill. Below was a massive slum, small shanty houses arranged orderly as far as the eyes could see. I walked back into the estate scarred by the poverty I saw down that hill. From then on the furthest I went was to the shops in the estate to buy milk and bread. I was a fledgling trying to survive in its nest.

“Hey, Yoh, where you from?”

“Nanyuki”

“Where is Nyanyuki?”

“It’s Nanyuki,” I muttered under my breath.

“It’s around 3 hours away,” I said, looking at the young boy with stylish sports shoes, and basketball. His hair was cut exquisitely and to specific detail. I wanted to play with his basketball. I had never played with a basketball in my life. In Nanyuki, I had seen footballs and volleyballs being played. I had never seen a basketball except on television. 

The boy was dribbling the ball, and it looked interesting.

“Can I also try?” I asked.

“Yes, Yoh,” said the young boy. The Yoh came out different, like the way old school rappers would say it in a rap video. He threw the ball, and it fell beside me. I picked it up and tried to do what he had done earlier, and the ball bounced against my hand and fell flat on the ground.  I picked it up and tried once more. It fell off again. “You need to hold it like this and try and bounce it faster,” he said. For the rest of the afternoon, he taught me how to dribble, and throw the ball.

I came back from my dream. I was still in the car, and Mount Kenya had appeared around the corner.

The school reopened, and for the early days during my daily commute, the ground had evolved from Alladin’s flying carpet to one that seemed to rise as an elevation as I walked. My status in school also changed. Anyone who wore spectacles was a celebrity. The superstition was, only intelligent people wore them. I, therefore, had to morph quickly. Thankfully, as my mother had believed, my confidence went up the roof, I studied more and even asked the class teacher to move me to the front of the class.

My hand developed a strange interest in rising up to answer questions. And when I got home, instead of sitting close to the television to watch my favorite cartoon. I would instead go to my room, turn on music from KBC General Service, and study. This was more than anyone else did in my class. Naturally, everyone then thought the spectacles had made me brighter. In reality, they had just opened my eyes to a new way of thinking—a different way of dreaming.

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