‘Jenny,’ my mother hissed, ‘stop doing that. Come here.’‘But why doesn’t he wave back,’ I replied, not moving.
Gran looked over. ‘He’s blind, dear,’ she said.
My eyes widened as I looked back at the man. I peered closer and waved my hand in front of his face again.
‘Jenny,’ whispered my mother again, angrily. I stopped and took a step back. Then the man lifted his hand and, looking somewhere over my left shoulder, he waved back.
‘See,’ I said turning to Mum and Gran, he’s not blind, he was just asleep the first time. People do sleep with their eyes open, I’ve seen you do it Gran.’ I stopped talking; the man had begun chuckling quietly. ‘What are you laughing at?’
‘You,’ he said, softly.
‘That’s very rude.’
He stopped. ‘I’m very sorry.’
‘That’s okay. Why were you laughing at me?’
‘Because you thought I was asleep with my eyes open. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I am blind. Your Gran is quite right.’
‘No you’re not,’ I said, but I wasn’t sure.
The man shrugged. ‘Why don’t you believe me?’
‘Mum tells me never to trust strange men.’
He started laughing again. ‘Oh dear, am I strange?’
‘Yes, you sleep with your eyes open. That’s strange.’ That just made him laugh more. ‘What’s your name?’
At that moment Mum took hold of my arm. She’d left Gran on the far side of the room to come and fetch me. ‘I’m very sorry about my daughter,’ she said to the man.
‘No, not at all,’ he replied, ‘I like the company.’ Then to me he said, ‘I’m Jack.’
The large lounge of the care home had gone quiet. Everyone seemed to be watching us. Jack sensed this and said to my Mother, ‘She can stay, she’s not any trouble.’
Mum loosened her grip on my arm, then looked down at me and said, ‘Alright, but don’t you bother him too much.’ As she walked back to Gran chatter filled the room again and I looked back at Jack.
‘Are you really blind?’ I asked.
I held up my hand. ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’
‘If I guessed right you’d say I wasn’t blind, and if I guessed wrong you’d say I was lying deliberately. Either way you wouldn’t believe me.’
‘I would,’ I answered defiantly.
‘Even though I’m a strange man?’
Jack was clever. ‘You’re not strange any more.’
‘I do sleep with my eyes open you know, because closing them doesn’t make any difference.’
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘well that doesn’t really make you strange, anyway I know your name.’
‘True, but I don’t know yours yet.’
‘Well it’s very good to meet you Jenny, and how old are you?’
‘I am six years and ten months,’ I replied, ‘how old are you?’
‘I am fifty-six years and ten months,’ said Jack, ‘which makes me fifty years older than you.’
‘I know,’ I said, ‘I can do maths.’
‘Do you like maths?’
‘No, maths is boring.’
‘Oh, what subjects do you like?’
‘Well, most of school is boring, but literacy is alright, I suppose, when we get to write stories.’
‘I used to like literacy too, and reading. I used to read a lot.’
‘How?’ I said, puzzled, ‘if you’re blind.’
‘Ah, I haven’t always been blind.’
‘When did you become blind?’ I asked in surprise.
Jack was silent for a moment. ‘Well, it’s not a very nice story.’
‘Well Jenny, when you write stories are there baddies?’
‘Yes, of course,’ I said.
‘Yes, and there are some baddies in my story too. You see, after school I joined the army, and I was sent a long way away to go and fight for our country. But one day some bad guys ambushed me and my friends.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means they attacked us, and two of my friends died. The rest of us got away but I was blinded.’
My eyes were wet and I sniffed.
‘Oh, now don’t cry,’ he said.
‘I’m not,’ I replied but not very convincingly.
‘You’ll make the carers think I’ve been upsetting you and they’ll send me to my room.’
I giggled at that.
We were silent for a while. Then I said, ‘I’m going to keep my eyes closed and pretend to be blind.’ I thought that would please Jack. Instead though he reached out his hand and felt for mine.
‘Don’t do that,’ he said, ‘there are so many beautiful things to see. I live in darkness, why would you want that?’
I didn’t know what to say.
‘You must enjoy your life. When I was in the army, my friends and I used to play this game where we would think of the things we missed most from home, the best things. Too many people think about the bad things these days,’ he went on, ‘but what’s the point in that. Always look for the good things, Jenny. Will you do that?’
‘Yes,’ I said, although I didn’t really understand what he meant.
‘Keep your eyes open, Jenny, look out for all the things I can’t see, do it for me.’
‘I will,’ I said.
‘Good girl. Now I think I’m going to go back to sleeping with my eyes open.’ He smiled. ‘It was very nice to meet you Jenny.’
I watched him for a bit longer, until his head drooped sideways. His eyes were closed.