She was an angel.
That was the first thought that entered my mind when I saw her. Her face was round, framed by her bob style haircut and the thick Eskimo coat drowned her slim frame, making her look younger than she really was. There were no wings nor was there a halo but I was truly convinced that she was an angel.
She smiled, but I didn’t know if it was aimed at me or not. I was trying to figure out why she still had her eyes closed. Wasn’t it dangerous to do that in such a crowded place? We were in the market square after all. It was only then, did I realise that she was holding onto her friend’s sleeve.
“She’s blind.” I was told.
She was... what? I couldn’t comprehend it. I opened my mouth to say something but I quickly closed it. There was no point in speaking, the end result was always the same. Nothing. At least, it was nothing that I could hear. Nothing ever reached my ears.
She said something like: ‘it’s nice to meet you’ but the scarf around her chin made it hard to read her lips. Maybe it was something her friend said afterwards because she panicked and moved to pull her scarf down. She repeated what she said.
I couldn’t help but smile when I saw that. It was cute.
We arrived at the restaurant ten minutes later. It was the final day of the university exams and we were finally free of time limits, examination halls and hours of writer’s cramp. So we were celebrating. I was dragged to the occasion by my male friends who greeted me warmly upon entry. With a headlock. Their cheerful cries were lost to me, but even so, I could tell that they were happy. So I smiled. I was happy too.
We were pushed inside and I was sat beside her. I fidgeted and shifted and tried to look in every direction but hers. I knew she was blind but still, her presence was startling. I was ashamed to be next to such a radiant being. However, when she took my hand into hers, I was forced to face her. She smiled brightly and said something but her lips moved too quickly for me to understand. She probably realised it because she stopped mid-sentence and her expression fell.
I suddenly felt a pang of shame. Why didn’t I try harder in speech classes? Why did I skip them? It was obvious she was trying to communicate with me but I wasn’t even trying in return. “I, uh... I’m sorry, I’m not very good at s-speaking.” At least, that’s what I think I said, it was hard to tell.
Regardless, she beamed brightly once more. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll speak slowly so you can read my lips.”
Oh, so she knew that I was deaf? “T-thank you.” In a way, I was jealous of her. She was able to hear my voice but I wasn’t able to hear hers. But then again, wasn’t it the same experience for her? She wasn’t able to see me but I was?
I steeled my resolve. If she was trying so hard, then it wasn’t fair that I wasn’t. My mouth struggled to form the next words; I probably fumbled a couple of times or stuttered like a fool but in the end, she heard what I said.
“My name is Mark.” Was the general gist of what I wanted to say.
Her grip tightened around my hand. “My name is Raine.”
I couldn’t remember what the party was like. My attention was far too focused on the sightless angel before me.
We met up a lot after that. First, it was once every two weeks or so, then it was once a week and finally, every other day. After our first meeting, I diligently attended my speech classes instead of skipping them like I used to, practicing for hours on end each day in hopes that I could talk to Raine more. I also read up more on the way visually impaired people communicated with each other (but was disappointed when I realised that a lot of them involved sound.)
Before I knew it, the chill of winter had left and it was already mid-spring. I held her hand in mine as I led her through the park. It was sunny that day, the light was flittering down through the trees and I could feel the slight breeze on my cheeks. It was a little cold, but it was nothing compared to the winter day when we first met.
She turned to me and flashed me one of those radiant smiles I had come to love. “You have a beautiful voice.”
Did I? I couldn’t hear it. For as long as I knew, sound didn’t exist in my world. So for her to say such a thing... I felt sort of saddened. “Thank you,” I replied. It probably sounded half-hearted because her lips fell into a frown.
I didn’t know what she said next, her lips were moving too quickly. I didn’t understand. I wanted to ask her to repeat what she said but her expression was so stern, so serious, it didn’t feel right to ask such a thing. The atmosphere was being to turn awkward as she remained where she was, unwavering. Even when a particularly strong gust of wind below over us, she didn’t budge.
“What do I look like?”
Was that what she asked me before? I wasn’t sure. “You have short hair,” I began. Should I have described what colour it was? Should I have told her that it was a stunning shade of brown that shone a vibrant orange in the light? Should I have told her that when she opened her eyes, that they were a radiant blue, deeper than any ocean?
I never said any of those things.
“...And you’re a little shorter than I am,” I ended up saying.
She seemed disappointed with my answer. “That’s all?” She turned her head and I think she said something, but I wasn’t able to see. It felt like hours when she finally pried her eyes off the floor to look at me again. “Your voice sounds clearer than any instrument I’ve ever heard.”
And how was I meant to know what that was?
“It has a rich sound. It’s really pretty.”
I hated what she was saying. I hated how she described things I was never going to understand. Suddenly, I felt resentful and bitter. I was never going to understand her world and she would never understand mine, I was stupid to think that she would.
“It’s soft, gentle. When I hear it, I feel at ease.” She was speaking faster now but she didn’t turn away. “Even though you can’t hear it, please keep speaking to me.”
Did her cheeks turn redder? My discomfort began to dissipate. Was she...?
“Because I love... Because I love the sound of your voice.”
My voice? Was that all she cared for? The bitter aftertaste returned and resentment struck even harder than before. “I’ll walk you home.” I wonder if my voice sounded harsh when I uttered those words? Because Raine didn’t try to speak to me after that.
It was dark when I returned to my dorm. My roommate lying on sofa watching television and greeted me with a lazy wave, too entranced with whatever was showing. Even to this day, I don’t understand why I did it, but I approached him and asked:
“What does my voice sound like?”
For a few moments, he looked confused but soon he sat up and grabbed the pen and paper at his side. He scribbled down his answer and handed it to me. “Like a dying horse.” Was all it said.
I was... stunned. To say the least. The look on my face must have said it all because he amended his answer.
“A raspy dying horse.” The word ‘raspy’ had been scrawled above his previous statement with an arrow pointing down.
I didn’t understand. Raine liked the sound of my voice even though it sounded like something dying? I may not have known what that was like, but I knew that it wasn’t pleasant. And then, it hit me. The way she fumbled with her words, the way she hesitated, the way her face shone red...
My roommate probably called out to me when I turned around and walked straight out the door.
I didn’t care.
It took me an hour to get to her dorm and I wasn’t surprised when it was her flatmate that answered the door. She was probably startled when I walked right past her and rushed to the living room where Raine was sitting alone.
I took a deep breath, ignored her look of shock and steeled my resolve.
“I love you too.”
Her surprise slowly faded.
And then she smiled.