Six-thirty is not a bad time to be walking the city street. It reveals more to the stroller when it is quiet, because it gives him room and time to focus on what is happening and to notice the two people across the street.
One is walking in the intersection, a young woman of about twenty, wearing a plain beige topcoat, and hatless. The breeze tosses strands of hair over her eyes, and these she tries to dislodge by flinging her head back every few feet of progress. She cannot do it with her hands, because both arms are thrust into waist-high aluminum crutches. Her legs are enclosed in leather tresses below the knees, and she moves in deliberate, lunging strides, each precisely as long as the last.
The other person stands waiting on the curb. He is about fifty, thin, wearing an athletic jacket and a billed cap.
Halfway through the intersection the young woman stops and turns, evidently having heard something. The sound was the tapping of the man’s white cane behind her. She glances down the street and then slowly and awkwardly pivots on her crutches to retrace her steps. At about the time the light changes she has arrived back at the curb and, smiling, offers her hand to the man in the billed cap. They talk for a moment, and together begin crossing the street when the light turns again.
I don’t think it was until then that the man realized that his escort was crippled. His hand, holding her left arm where she had placed it, touched her metal crutch. He stopped. He spoke to her and he may have been apologizing for causing her a problem, or he may have been thanking her.
Of all the people on the street, why should a girl on crutches have to guide a blind man across the street? She laughed again and tugged at his cap and seemed to be chiding him. Who else on this side of the street? And why not a girl on crutches? And if he didn’t get in gear the light was going to change again. It did and a motorist drew up to wait. He was not impatient. He would have waited all night, because even as the man and the young woman walked past his idling car, he seemed reluctant to drive off.
The man with the cane put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and together they reached the other side of the street. He embraced her momentarily, and sought to touch her cheek. They were two people, strangers, sharing a very profound truth about themselves, and about each other, and it seemed that at this moment they understood something about humanity that others-less fortunate than they-might never understand. A minute later they were gone, in different directions, leaving the street a little less empty than it had been before.