A blind couple. Older, in their 50′s, smartly dressed. I first notice them when I get off the train a step behind them; we meet again at the Johnstrasse bus stop, four flights of stairs above the underground metro platform. I stand next to the little bus hutch and watch them feel their way to where a few of us are standing. When the three people sitting on the bench see them coming, they quickly give up their seats. Danke, danke. The man sits, backed all the way up against the glass so that his sandaled, wrinkled feet — toes sticking out — barely graze the pavement. The woman, though, prefers to stand, which he murmurs something about. These are the small ways in which she asserts a fiery streak of independence, I think. Is everything scary for her? For them? How did they find each other? How did they become blind? Do they feel each others faces every night, what do their hands say? These are the questions running through my head as I stare at them, as I stare at the others around me staring at them.
The bus comes, we all get on. I’ve gotten used to trying to be the first on and off buses and trains in Vienna (good thing I’m assertive), so I scurry on and take a seat. The blind couple gets on last. They walk down the aisle; they stop near me. The man feels around with his pole that feels where his hands cannot reach, touches my leg, doesn’t realize it’s a leg, takes his wife’s arm and helps her sit down — on me. I try to quickly get up and slink out of the seat, maybe they won’t ever have to know what’s about to happen, but I’m not fast enough, she feels me and we both fumble words of apology, German, English, my cheeks are burning with shame, this is all my fault. He laughs a little (does this happen all the time?) and once he feels his wife is solidly in the seat next to me, he sits down across from her, diagonal from me.
They’re fine. We’re fine. Everyone’s fine.
It’s 11:30pm and I’m grateful this bus is subdued, quiet — I can see him straining his ear to make sure he’ll be able to hear the next stop announced. Have they been here before? Do they know the curves of this bus route, do they know it’s going to get quite bumpy in about two minutes? I want to tell them everything I know, I want them to tell me everything they’ve ever heard. What were they doing tonight before I saw them on the train? Where did they go? “Auf der Schmelz,” the automated voice announces. They start to get up. All that, one stop. They step off the bus and I watch them slowly start down the sidewalk and into the night. What happens next is pure habit, I know, a routine done 1,000 times — but it’s also so much more, an unparalleled glimpse of instinctive selflessness, and I catch my breath, emotion caught in the back of my throat:
He’s hunched over a bit; she walks tall. She links her left arm through his waiting right one. They pause, positioning their poles in front of them, equal distance apart. And then she falls a step or two behind, letting him lead the way, allowing him to protect her from bad things that cannot be heard, allowing him to feel for danger first.