My sister often quotes the proverb, ‘in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king’, and I’m reminded of this as I sit across the kitchen from one of my dearest partners in crime – or ‘one of my besties’ as she likes to be known. She won’t let me sit any closer because she has a horrible eye infection and fears she is contagious. She has christened herself Cyclops but to the uninitiated you would think she was a film star – a vision in white linen and dark sunglasses.
I’ve come to know that even with one eye closed, this woman is blessed with insight. She’s both king and queen. Because of her confinement, we are hunkered in for a real marinade of a chat and it feels like a strange gift to be able to catch up, to deep dive into each other’s experiences over the last few weeks. We’ve seen each other of course – we often act as each other’s conscience to get our sorry behinds out of bed and make the 8 am reflection service on most Sunday mornings – but we don’t often get a chance to share the messy stuff and just hang out.
I always find my conversations with this beauty challenging; she never allows me to hide. She’s royalty in terms of active listening. I remark that I value her critical friendship, and she apologises, until I explain that I mean this in a good way. I see it as mentorship from someone who will admire my lipstick and clothes, but is never fooled that sometimes this is just part of an outer performance when I’m having a low day.
We don’t always do the worthy stuff, mind. Earlier in the week we ignored film critics and went to see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ anyway – sometimes we two just can’t be tamed. Afterwards we totally indulged in a ‘where did you watch Live Aid’ game of top trumps and ultimately decided that the director’s only real crime was to go too large on Freddie’s teeth and to miss out ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ which was the anthem to my plumptious teenage years.
Back in the present, my friend is trying to give up smoking – again – and our conversation is peppered with her disappearing downstairs to her front garden to have a, ‘few puffs’. Her garden and gate front on to a busy walkway down to the university and I’m amused to think of pedestrians glimpsing this vision of white, resplendent in large sunglasses on such a cold Autumn day. I’m sure they will believe she is some exotic film star having a sneaky fag, incognito. The paparazzi could appear at any moment.
Every time she returns to the kitchen, we pick up the threads of the conversation and keep weaving . She has a contagious giggle and although in pain, laughs at the picture she now cuts as she clips a fan of tissue under her sunglass lens to address her weeping eye. She feels she’s morphing from Cyclops to Elephant Man, but she’s still laughing. She’s still King.
She’s younger than me but much wiser and and more widely travelled in all senses. Although she always has a story to share, she will always preface it with, ‘but my story’s not your story of course,’ or, ‘I don’t know if this will help you, but this thought just occurs to me’. And when these thoughts arrive, I find myself wanting to write them down, for I’ve come to discover that they always contain wisdom and encouragement even if I can’t always understand their relevance at the time. She’s also gifted with the ability to text prayers out of the blue, never seeming to realise that she provides the perfect blessings in the most timely fashion.
I leave her house wondering what I deliver to this friendship. Even with two perfectly functioning eyes, I just don’t seem to be tuned into frequencies that are that insightful. I am certainly good at contagious giggling and it has to be said that this has got us through some tight spots. She’s supposed to be coming to my flat today so that for once I can cook for her (did I mention that she is also the most fantastic chef and hostess?) but she doesn’t feel she can bring her infection to see my sea view. I may not be insightful but I do know that supper is portable and that we can just redirect its planned location. My cooking should give her something to laugh at and at least she’ll only have to look at its presentation through one eye. In the land of the blind…
It’s dark when I leave my friend’s house and the pavement is busy with students returning from lectures. Forgetting her appearance, she runs out after me – startling a few passers by for Halloween has now passed; she wants to make sure that I pass on my parking permit to someone else. This is so typical of her kindness. I hand her back the permit and know that she will stand in the dark by her gate, having a cheeky puff, before pouncing on the next unsuspecting driver in search of a parking space.
In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.