An orange angel

by Nalini Haynes

Rattle, rattle. My white cane scrapes across the directional tactiles on the road as I cross Bourke Street on an overcast Sunday afternoon, walking up to the Wheeler Centre for the Writers Across Borders author event at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I can see pretty well — for an albino — so I see blurred figures, pedestrian fish flashing past, heading upstream and down.

I reach the far side of the crossing, my cane now rattling on the round tactiles that signal danger.

A dark figure walking one pace ahead of me to my left turns to cut right across my path, kicking my cane once, twice.

I freeze. I stare at the ground, at my cane’s ball tip, at his feet, anywhere but at him.

His shiny black-clad feet and grey legs step across my path and turn, his feet planted apart, pointing at me, accusing me.

I stop breathing. This is it. This is the reason I refused a cane for so many years. I’m going to be assaulted. Will he hit me? How much will it hurt? Will it be another psychic assault, battering me into submission, battering me further into shame and inadequacy?

His hands are in the air like a boxer sizing up his opponent. An orange flare halos his head; he carries a child on his shoulders. His hands might be holding his child’s hands.

I breathe in sharply. To hit me, he’ll have to put the child down. I’ll scream if he puts the child down.

I wait, this brief moment stretching into eternity as passersby stream past, oblivious to this imminent threat, oblivious to my paralyzing fear.

While he faces me I keep my eyes low, avoiding confrontation, waiting.

After an eternity, he turns and walks away.

I gasp; I pant; my breathing slows as I walk up the street, rolling my cane back and forth across the paved footpath, adrenaline slowly dissipating.