Back in the day when I was at the University of Jos, I moved with a cluster of special students; they were blind and they belonged to different disciplines though most were in the Special Education Department.
I had friends like Tunde, Lucky and Callistus, who studied courses with mainstream students; they were not special education undergrads, unlike the majority of special students, rather, they went for courses you wouldn’t think they had any business doing.
Tunde studied History for instance, Lucky was in Accounting but I can’t remember what course Callistus studied. These guys were all very intelligent people. They were and they made fun of others and themselves as well. They drank, they smoked, they toasted babes…yes, they were regular guys…
That trio usually wore dark glasses, so you would not immediately know they were blind and they often didn’t use the retractable walking sticks. No, my friends were bold; they could walk the length, cranny, crevasse of the undulating, often steep and rocky campus of the University of Jos without aid – meaning, no walking stick, no person like me, walking beside them as guide, they were a crazy lot.
Tunde, Lucky and Callistus were the craziest. Now, this trio, in particular, were very neat guys, considering they were blind, (way neater than many of my male friends who had their two eyes plus two lenses for good measure) they were also always clean shaven. How did they do this? I don’t know.
Their clothes were always ironed and the last thing, in fact, the only thing they did not want on their list was pity.
So, they were careful when I first befriended them; was I doing it out of pity for them. No. I was fascinated by them. Tunde was the first one I approached; why wasn’t he in the special education department where the rest of our special students on campus were?
He stood stock-still when I asked. I saw his lips twitch, he ground his jaw and replied, ‘You think I will be limited because I am blind! You think I don’t know I am blind!’
‘Biko no vex,’ I quickly retraced my bold steps. ‘No vex. I was just curious.’
He didn’t let me continue but lectured me for the next five minutes. It was a sober me who offered to walk him to the next class; afterwards, I began to offer to dictate notes to him so he could braille his own notes, particularly on lectures he missed or one where the lecturer was too fast in dictating notes.
I soon discovered Tunde had piles of notes to catch up on, you see had he been in a special class, the lecturer would have felt obliged to go easy on him but since he was in a regular class, he had to catch up or find ways to catch up like the rest of us regular students.
Of course I then met Lucky and Callistus through Tunde and that’s how I became their ‘girlfriend’. I was one of the few girls willing to take time out to be with them, read out notes for braille and bring my burnt food over when they were too lazy to cook for themselves and I enjoyed every bit of my time with these guys.
They were regular guys.
Who talked rubbish like regular guys.
Who had these warped ideas about women.
Who fancied getting nice jobs and big houses and a flurry of breathless, sexy, full bodied women swooning over them…
Tunde, as I got to know lost his sight at the age of seven. He wasn’t born blind, he once saw colours, he saw the sky, he saw TV, he saw a bit of the beauty around us before measles took out his eyes. And the eyes could have been saved if Tunde hadn’t been a rascal growing up, he would play rough and eventually did damage to his fragile eyes after his parents had begun treating it when he was 7.
Lucky was born blind, so he never saw the sky, nor knew the colours like orange or purple, nor the wilting look Ujay babes threw his way anytime he called out to a female voice passing by.
But Lucky, wasn’t moaning about his lack, he wanted to get all of what the world had to offer. Lucky was a fine ‘yellol in colour’ (Falz the bhad guy speak) and intelligent Igbo dude. You’d better be smart if you had to engage him in a conversation otherwise, he’d mess you up, which was probably why a lot of students thought he was arrogant.
I liked Lucky. He just didn’t let you dwell on his blindness, he hated being pitied. I recall one day, we were outside the school gate. After waiting in vain for the school bus to take us to the hostel, we decided to go by public transport; while I was arranging my blind friends in a proper row to catch the next bus, one silly bus driver almost ran us down.
I saw it from the corner of my eye and instinctively jumped off shrieking along with other students that saw the crazed driver; my friends, of course, didn’t see it, they just stood there, trusting me to tell them when to move!
Thankfully, my friends weren’t hurt, in fact, the bus swerved away just inches from Lucky; I almost died from shame afterward; but Lucky wouldn’t let me.
When I told him what had happened, he felt his way towards the bus and raged loudly, banging the side of the bus and demanding to know if the driver was blind!
‘No, sir’ The frightened driver responded, at this time, angry students had also surrounded the bus but Lucky’s voice was loudest
‘I am the one who is blind, why didn’t you see me standing!” He roared. I saw his flying fists looking to connect with the driver’s jaw. It didn’t, the driver was careful to move.
That day left me with an indelible impression, being blind can be frustrating.
We drifted apart after graduation; life has a way of defining one’s path. A few years back, I had reasons to remember my friends after watching my mother undergo eye surgery. I began to imagine what life would be, if one lost the gift of sight, the joy of seeing one’s child take the first steps, the exhilaration from viewing life in 3D, a smile in the crowd, the face of a long lost friend among strangers, the sky turning from bright to dark clouds, the lush open fields, the look of love in the eyes of one’s lover, the pride in the eyes of a father… the gift of sight is truly precious.
I wonder where my friends are today.