I think we are laughing as we approach the counter, probably talking about people we know or our day so far. My guide dog, Isla, steps in front of me and tucks herself underneath the desk, quietly waiting for me to let her know when she is needed again.
“Hi,” I say to the guy sitting at his computer, “I need a student status letter please.
“Sure, what’s your ID number?”
I’m forgetful and unable to recite it from memory so I slide my hand into my pocket, fingers grasping the plastic card sitting there. I drop it on the desk in front of me and push it in the direction of his voice.
He begins to read my info off the screen, and I nod in agreement until we reach my address. “No, that was last years, I’ve moved now.”
“You’ll need to change it on the system, here, I have a form.” I hear him rummaging around until he finds the piece of paper he’s looking for. “Here, just fill it in for me.”
“Please can you do it, I can’t see.”
There is silence, the kind I know means someone is taking what they thought they knew about me, dismantling it and building an entirely new picture.
“She can do it for you,” he says, I presume glancing at the friend of mine who so far has not said a word. It is not, after all, a conversation that concerns her.
“Can’t you do it?”
“She can.” There is finality in those words, I am not sure how to continue other than to look in her direction and shrug.
We hand the paper back to him, and he taps on the keys of his computer.
“Here’s her student letter,” he says, turning to my friend. “As you can see this is her address and her info.”
“It’s not my letter,” she says, and places the paper in my hands.
He has realised I am blind, and suddenly I have stopped existing. I have gone from a girl who was allowed to lead the conversation to someone who sits quietly on the sidelines, passively waiting for others to determine her future. He first saw the norm, until I strayed from the path he expected. But it was he, not I who carved me into something different. It was he who decided to exclude me from the conversation I had initiated. It was he, on realising that I am blind who remade me.
“I’d like to get my nose pierced,” I say. I am full of nervous excitement as I enter the shop and stand in front of the counter.
“What kind does she want?” the lady asks.
I ask her what she has, and reach out to touch, but all the jewellery is behind glass. There is a beat of silence and then my friend begins to describe the colours to me.
“She needs to fill in a form,” she says, sliding it across the glass towards my friend.
“You can do it,” I say. She makes no move to take it back, and there is another breath of discomfort until I sigh and let the friend who has come with me, as a friend, not an assistant, to help me.
“She needs to go upstairs…”
I don’t let her finish this time. “Please can you speak to me, not my friends”. My tone is clipped, I can feel the frustration wriggling up my stomach and into my chest, threatening to bubble out of my mouth in a torrent of admonishing words. I manage to hold it at bay, letting the barest shadow of my true feelings escape.
“Oh, sorry.” Once again discomfort, an apology, but whether with it there has come true understanding I do not know.
“What does she want?”
“Where is she going?”
“Here’s her change.”
“Does she need a menu?”
“What’s her dog called?”
“Why does she have a dog?”
“Has she always been blind?”
So many questions, and all about me. Yet I am exiled to another plane, separate from the one on which these conversations take place.
So often it is my body, my future, my needs that are being discussed but I am presumed voiceless.
Inside of me that voice strains to get free, to burst from my lips, to tear through my skin in a shower of sparks that will never let them forget I am here.