Some readers may remember a story told on the blog towards the end of last year about a “blind woman” who infrequently patrols the street outside my window. Every now and then, mostly during the summer months, she would appear in the middle of the night, cane in hand, walking right in the middle of the road asking for money.
Having only witnessed this from the window and being repeatedly woken up by her aimless shouting, I told myself if I ever bumped into her I’d confront her about her obvious scam. She’s not blind. No blind person would put themselves in such obvious danger, repeatedly, and always on the same street, violently refusing help offered that isn’t monetary.
Well, tonight, returning from a very late work-shift at 2am, I turn the corner onto my road only to find this woman with a cane walking right in the middle of the road and blocking cars from getting past. I don’t even think about it. I don’t say hello or are you alright, I open with a slightly aggressive where-do-you-live?
She turns around in the direction of my voice and it is immediately apparent that she is very legitimately blind. I’m surprised and immediately disarmed. She says, oh hello dahling, I’m trying to get to the roundabout down the road? Before I know what’s happening, she’s on the pavement, linking my arm and we’re on our way.
We chat about glaucoma and cataracts. She has diabetes and that’s why she’s blind. She’s been blind for about 5 years. I tell her my mum had cataracts. She tells me she stubbed her toe last night and the nail fell off and her mum put a bandage over it. I tell her about my old housemate who did that to his thumb. She tells me about doing something else to her foot when she was a kid which means that she lost half a toe. I say that must have been so painful but I don’t pay attention to what she’s done to herself. I’m thinking that I’m tall and she’s not and she’s keeping pace with me without any problems. I’m not sure I believe anything she’s saying.
Immediately I’m looking for holes in her story. Something isn’t right. I’ve seen passersby link her by the arm from our road on multiple occasions and they’ve gone in different directions each time. Once she went off in the direction we’re walking now only to appear on the street again about an hour later. I’m suspicious.
We reach the roundabout and I try to make my move and get back home, asking where her friend is whilst we’re out in the open. She says, wait, and then says to her phone, Call Terry. I look down, her phone is indeed Calling Terry. A man’s name. I’m nervous.
She asks if we can keep walking down to the fire station and to the pub opposite. He’ll meet us there, she says.
I agree. I know the area so I’m not too nervous about walking her along a busy road. Even at 2.30AM there is plenty of traffic.
Terry is on his way. We reach the fire station and cross over the road. She asks how far ahead the pub is. I say it’s about 100 metres. She says when we get to the pub, there’s a little alleyway down the side and if we could go down there that’d be great. I say okay as I put my key between my knuckles and get ready for Terry. Nothing about going down an alleyway at 2.30AM sounds very sensible. I’m certain I’m going to get jumped and mugged.
The thought was already in my head. Leaving work at 1am in Shoreditch I’m given a route to the station by the security guard, who tells me all about how he doesn’t mind watching empty buildings and doing night shifts in this part of town, so long as he’s not doing clubs anymore because he’s sick of putting on knife-proof vests and in Russia he used to carry a gun and be a bodyguard but for sad rich men who would buy art without knowing the meaning behind it, he said, perhaps appealing to our obviously soft and art-loving nature. Anyway, he said to avoid this-and-that road because they’re a bit “robby”.
So I’m already getting “robby” vibes from the pub alleyway and as we approach it the blind woman starts commenting on my arms. Oh, very big, aren’t they? All that heavy lifting you do at work? Yeah maybe, I say, laughing it off, all too aware that she’s probably trying to disarm me further and make me feel more comfortable, not knowing that everything she does or says is achieving the exact opposite.
Next she says her jacket is open. If you look you can probably see right through my nightie, she says. I laugh, eyes forward. Wouldn’t it be funny if I got done for indecent exposure in my pyjamas and dressing gown. I laugh again as we walk past the pub. There’s men drinking at the bar still, having a cosy little lock-in.
We turn the corner. I feel sick. A man is walking towards us and he looks very respectable. Light brown leather jacket with a light blue shirt. He’s bald. I think he looks like Craig Charles. I’m thinking how much further down here we need to go.
The man is looking right at us. Right at me.
Fanks dahling, have a good night, the blind woman says, as she’s passed seamlessly like a baton from one arm to the other.
And that’s it. I’m walking home.
Something isn’t right. It was too weird. It wasn’t normal. But I’m home free. I’m alive. I call my girlfriend who is on her way home from a night out. I’m in shock. I tell her the story and she can’t stop laughing but then she says, is that it?
Is that it?! I actually thought I was going to die! And I was too repressed and English to voice my horror at any point along the encroaching Kurtz-gradient!
Last time I said I was at least 80% sure that this was a scam. Tonight, I think I need to eat my words and bring that down to about 40%.