“Can I get you a drink?” the stranger asked touching Philip on the arm.
“I’m fine thanks. I’ve just ordered another pint”.
“I’ll get this” the stranger said handing over a £10 note to the barman.
“No really there is no need” Philip protested. Why did people always assume that he was in need of charity simply due to the fact that he was obviously blind, sitting as he was at the bar with his guide dog, Zeus at his feet. He hated being patronised but he had heard the till drawer click shut and the change being returned to his benefactor. He had no choice other than to accept the drink with as good a grace as possible.
“Thanks for the drink”.
“You’re welcome. How long have you been blind.
Philip’s instinctive reaction was to ask “how long have you suffered from terminal nosiness” but he smiled that world weary smile which his friends new so well and said “since birth”.
“What caused it?”
“A blood clot on the brain. They managed to remove it but not before I’d gone completely blind”.
“Christ I really admire people like you. Who looks after you?”
“No one, I live alone but if you know of any eligible young ladies do let me know”. Philip had found that the best way to deal with unwelcome interactions of this nature was to make light of them. Humour was after all better than losing his temper and telling the unwelcome interloper to go and take a long walk off a short cliff.
“Can I get you another pint?” the stranger asked beckoning to the barman.
“No thanks I’ve hardly touched this one” Philip said.
“I’ll have another, its my fifth”.
“I hope you don’t have work tomorrow” Philip said with a smile.
“Sod work. The boss can go screw himself. I feel like getting pissed and if anyone’s got a problem with that then they can get stuffed” the stranger said his voice rising.
“Maybe you should make this your last one Pete” the barman said as he poured another pint of cider into Pete’s glass.
Pete glared at the barman who retreated to the opposite end of the counter.
“My girlfriend had Retinitis Pigmentosa. Have you heard of it?”
“Yes of course it’s a degenerative genetic condition which causes people to go blind over sometimes quite long periods”.
“Yeah. I met this great girl, Ruth her name is. We clicked straight away. We both liked the same kind of music and supported the same football team, Chelsea. She was (is) gorgeous. Big blue eyes and silky blonde hair cascading down her back. We moved in together and everything was great. I’ve never been happier in my life. Another pint Bob”. The barman rolled his eyes but complied with the request. There was a prolonged pause in the conversation.
“So what happened? You speak of Ruth as though she is in the past” Philip asked.
“Ruth started to have problems”. Pete paused for so long that Philip wondered whether he should say something. “At first Ruth complained of problems reading” Pete continued. “She’d hold the paper really close to her face, sometimes she’d even get ink on her nose from the news print. I suggested that she should go to the opticians for an eye test and get some reading glasses. She wouldn’t have it, at least she refused until she walked smack bang into a lamp post. Can I get you another drink by the way mate?”
“No I’m fine thanks”.
“Well I’ll have one anyway” Pete said signalling to the barman who reluctantly filled his glass. “It was a really bad gash Ruth had. The hospital had to put stiches in it. After that I insisted she go for an eye test. The optician prescribed glasses but suggested Ruth go to the hospital for more tests. She was diagnosed with RP, not a thing they could do. In tine she’d go completely blind”.
“I’m sorry to hear that but I’m sure you where supportive, that you did your best to find out about RP and to help your girlfriend to adjust to losing her sight”.
“You don’t know what its like. I’d met this vivacious sporty girl who was always doing things then, suddenly she changed”.
“Yeah she couldn’t play sports anymore. She became so depressed, very teary”.
“But I’m sure you tried to support her?”
“I didn’t know what to do. You don’t expect your partner to become disabled. The girl I loved changed completely. It wasn’t the Ruth I’d met”.
“A person is not defined by their disability. Surely you saw beyond your girlfriend’s RP. You tried to connect with the lady you had fallen in love with?”
“I didn’t know what to do. Every time I suggested going out somewhere she would always make an excuse so I started doing more and more things on my own. I met this girl, Karen in the supermarket. I helped her carry her shopping to the car and one thing led to another. We swapped phone numbers, met up the next day and went back to her place. Well you can guess what happened next”. Anyway one of Ruth’s girlfriends found out what was happening and told her. Ruth was devastated. She moved back in with her parents. I haven’t seen her since”.
Philip sat at the bar not knowing what to say.
“Say something. Anything. I couldn’t help what happened could I?”
“I can’t answer that” Philip replied.
“But look at it from my point of view. I didn’t sign up to be with a blind girl did I?”
“I don’t have all the facts so, quite honestly I’m not in a position to comment”.
“So you think I should have stayed with her then?”
“Only you can answer that question my friend” Philip said.
“You think I’m an arsehole don’t you? Perhaps that’s what I am. I drink because I’m an arsehole who wants to forget what he’s done”.
“Mate I can’t give you absolution. I’m not a priest but one thing I do know is that alcohol won’t solve anything. Do yourself a favour and go home”.
“Do you think that I’m a bad person?”
“That is for you to answer. I can’t give you absolution. Thanks for the drink. Take care of yourself”.
Philip got off his stool and picking up his dog’s harness exited the pub.
“Absolution” that was for priests to bestow not for him Philip thought as he walked home.