In early winter, the sightless suddenly began congregating on sidewalks and in cafés. Their fumbling steps caused passersby to stop and stare in disbelief. Although citizens had lived for months in fear of the qorrfirman, the sight of its results rooted them to the ground, petrified them.
For some time people had allowed themselves to think that the victims of that notorious order had been swallowed up in the dark night of oblivion, that the only people you would come across in the street or the square were the formerly blind, with their unchanging appearance, the peaceful tap-tap-tap of their sticks the kind of blind people everyones eyes and ears were long accustomed to. But now the first winter freeze had brought with it innumerable blind folk of a new and far more lugubrious kind.
There was something specific about them that distinguished them from the traditionally unsighted. They had a disturbing swagger, and their sticks made a menacing knock-knock-knock on the cobblestones.
Theyve not yet grown used to their new condition, some argued. Blindness came to them at a stroke, not gradually, as is usually the case, so they havent yet acquired the necessary reflexes . . . But those who heard such remarks shook their heads, clearly not convinced. Could that be the only reason?
What was most striking was their collective reappearance. It was probably not a coincidence, nor could it have been the result of secret collusion among them, contrary to the rumors that were being circulated by people who saw anti-state conspiracies in everything and anything. It came from the simple fact that the time needed for most of them to recover either from the physical wounds caused by disoculation or from its attendant psychological trauma had now elapsed.
Some among them, particularly those who had been blinded in the aristocratic manner, by exposure to the sun, bore a grave and dignified air as they went and sat down in cafés and tearooms. It was presumably easier for them to behave with hauteur, not just because of the cash bonus and the generous pension they had been granted but because their eyes had not been physically mutilated when they were blinded. On the other hand, most of the others had let themselves go. They were dressed in rags, and by way of footwear all they had were wooden clogs, which made the sound of their approach particularly distressing.
But those who had been unsighted by violent means were not the only ones to look wretched. Even some who had turned themselves in to the qorroffices and been received with all due honor were now shuffling around in tatters. Similarly, there were a number of well-dressed people better dressed than they had been before among those who had been disoculated violently. They stood defiantly in full sight of all, as if to challenge the world with their black and empty sockets.
At the sight of these gaping wounds, some people were so disturbed they themselves began to stumble, as if the ground had suddenly opened up beneath them.
Why do they have to show themselves like that? people wondered. Why arent they forbidden access to main roads, to stop them curdling our blood with those ghastly holes in their heads?
The blind paid not the slightest heed to remarks of that kind. Not content to stay at tearoom and café tables for hours on end, they listened to the news read aloud from papers at nearby tables, and joined in the conversation. Fortunately, public affairs were taking a better turn nowadays, they would say, proving that their sacrifice had not been in vain. What a pity we cant see whats going on! some of them lamented over and over again. But that doesnt really matter in the end. Even if we cant see, we can imagine what its like, and were just as pleased about it as you are.
Some of them remained silent, black as crows, while others, taking up the tradition of the blind, got hold of a musical instrument and accompanied themselves as they sang epic rhymes or love songs of their own composition.
From Agamemnons Daughter: A Novella and Stories, copyright © 1993, 2003 by Librairie Arthème Fayard. English-language copyright © 2006 by David Bellos. Published by arrangement with Arcade Publishing and the Wylie Agency, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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