My eyes flew open to a shrill screech. The jerking motion of the train lurched to a stop, jolting me up from my seat. The chiming of a bell tower rang not far from the station, signaling the start of noon. Around me, businessmen dressed in trench coats and top hats shuffled out of the car. The warm smell of burnt wood and fresh pastries pervaded through the train’s open windows. With the crinkled job pamphlet clenched in my fist, I couldn’t help but feel the jitters in my stomach upon my arrival. The bright scarlet letters on the pamphlet spurred a wave of spirit in me.
I heaved my bag over my shoulders just as a loud snap released the heavy weight off my back. I sighed as I looked down at the broken strap and the disarray of rotten sandwiches, crumpled yellow paper, and filthy clothes now sprawled across the compartment floor. The sight looked out of place, and I couldn’t help but cringe at the tainted stains covering the floor. I reached down and collected my belongings, murmuring apologies to grumbling passengers squeezing past me. With a heap of miscellaneous garbage in my arms, I trudged out of the train and stepped into the bustling world of Grand Central Station.
A herd of black and brown top hats shuffled about, the buzz of animated life and possibilities churning in the enormous room. The quick rustle of urban life left me planted to the ground, stuck in dumbfound admiration of the light that spilled below the elaborate cornices, the cacophony of trains hailing joyous welcomes and tearful goodbyes, and the clicking of polished heels against newly waxed marble. It was an art in itself, an art that need not a frame to contain but an individual to appreciate. So appreciate I did, standing in awe upon the steps of the platform—until a meaty fellow shoved me by the shoulder. I clutched my belongings close to my chest as I wandered off to find an exit.
However, I was soon swept off course as I tried to peer above the looming heads of rushing businessmen. I searched for a way out only to be dragged down a foreign terminal by the bustling current. The large mass of thickly packed trench coats covered my view as a myriad of colored ties passed by. I felt a snag in my chest as panic rose. I struggled for an escape. Gripping my belongings tight, I tried to shove my way past the tall bodies, only to get thrown back into the crowd. My breath hitched in my throat. Submerged and a completely frenzied mess, I was helpless to the onslaught of the urban hurricane.
Then, an arm yanked me out of the sea of people. I stumbled towards a wall bordering the crowd. The contents I carried flew out of my arms onto a heap of ragged blankets and garbage by the side of the terminal. It was then when I realized that a row of haggard bums and unkempt mattresses lined the wall, a sight hidden behind the light of wafty pastries, ticket booths, and information centers. And by my side stood a man whose cheeks were hollowed from the crevice of age, whose hair was matted in patches of dirt, and whose beard was tainted with the color of crumbling stone. What I saw but could not see were his eyes: a hazy bleak mist, the clouds of a silent storm, twin ghosts encased behind each cornea. With his bony fingers digging into my skin, the man’s whites bore into me. Something about his expression told me that he wasn’t some ordinary beggar. A shiver ran down my spine. I flinched back a few steps, but his iron grasp keeps me grounded beside him.
“Sir,” I said. “Please. I have no money.”
The whites didn’t quiver. Staring me down with the rage of a hurricane, the man refused to let go of me.
“Sir,” I tried once more, my voice shaking. “What is it you want?”
His lips tightened. The man hunched over a pile of rags, rummaging through the mess. I peered over just as the man pulled out an envelope amongst the debris. In stark contrast to the pile, the envelope was surprisingly in pristine condition. Its bright white color looked odd in the man’s junkhouse—not a smudge of dirt or a single crease. The words PLEASE HELP was written in large cursive letters.
The man lets go of my arm, shot an intimidating glare, and pressed the envelope into my hand. I stared at the envelope for a moment and looked back at the man. The man’s eyes never left me. I fidgeted under his cold stare and I looked up at the giant clock over the bell tower. It was a little past noon. I needed to get to the address on the pamphlet on time. Yet the letters on the envelope and this peculiar man captivated a part of me that wanted to know more. I hesitated for a moment before I tore open the envelope. Inside, in graceless penmanship, was a letter.
I glanced back at the man. A sense of dread swept over me and I slumped in woe. As if sensing my distress, his bitter features wore down as he moved his hands down my arm and felt for the letter in my hands. The man shook my forearm and dabbed at the paper.
“Read,” the man demanded.
I turned back to the clumsy lettering on the paper. Some of the fresh ink bled through the letter, morbidly staining the tips of my fingers.
I hesitated, “No.”
The man’s brows furrowed, and he shook my arm. “Read,” he tried once more. “What does it say?”
His eyes grew soft with worry. The stern glare was replaced with a forlorn gaze that clung to his placid white eyes. Panic was written all over him, and his hollowed cheeks caved deeper into his frail skull. The man gave me a desperate look, wishing that through my eyes he could understand the words on the letter. But he could not. I could not take it any longer. Taking a deep breath, I gave in.
Dear kind stranger,
Thank you for your time and kindness when reading this letter. This man here has lost his sight in a terrible accident years ago and needs care. I have been in his aid for years, and now I find it time to part with him. I would sincerely appreciate it if you relay these words to him:
Father. This is Daisy, your daughter, your caretaker, your love. I am truly sorry to put you in this position and it was not what I would have hoped for us, but ever since we set foot on the Land of the Free, I have wanted nothing more than to be free. You have been nothing but a burden on me ever since we became the only two to survive the war. You are a man who needs attention and lots of it, so much that I believe I can never give you enough. You’ve meant the world to me, but now I mean nothing to the world. I see that now. I see now that there is more to my existence than being your maid and your caretaker, for there are far better things to do and to achieve in a woman’s life. I am of fruitful youth, of grandiose radiance, and of pompous attitude. It is time I live to care for myself, not for you. It is my time to become new again— to find my Genesis. I want to explore the world and myself, so although I want to say that it pains me to leave you here, I can not, for I know that this is what I want and this is what is best for me. I hope you can understand.
There was a pause.
I peered at the small hunched figure before me. Tears streamed down his sullen face. The man collapsed into his pile of rags, his jaw hanging open from the shock. He had the face of a broken man—a man who lost all direction. The rigid intensity he confronted me with had faded into the sunken silhouette of a man who lost what little he had to lose. It didn’t feel appropriate to witness such a vulnerable moment, yet I could not bear to leave the man in this state. So I handed him the letter to hold and loomed over the thin apparition of the man who lost direction in a consoling exchange of silence.
He was a painter, the man told me. Back when he had his sight, the man would take the colors of the world and shape them into wonders with the tip of his brush. He would spend hours every day imitating the world he saw to perfection. There was nothing more worth doing than his work, and I could feel his passion from the sweet taste of his words as he spoke of his art. Then the war came. The man’s wife died in a nearby explosion, and the tear gas left him blind, leaving a 15-year-old daughter in his care. It was hardly a year before they pinched enough pennies to immigrate to America. But what use was it, he whimpered. What was the use of a second chance if his own daughter wasn’t going to give him one.
I stored his confidence close to my heart. Sitting beside him on the heap of rags, I saw the broken man through his broken eyes, clenching and unclenching the bleeding letter. I stared down at the pamphlet in my hand. No longer could I look at the enthusiastic letters on the pamphlet with the same excitement. Something in me was lost to the foul words of Daisy Jenkins and left me with a doubt that there was something more to me than a job in the city—something born of individual passion rather than greedy ambition. I boarded the train this morning thinking of all the wealth I could attain in New York City, yet as I stared at the piles of crumpled yellow paper I had thrown onto the pile of rags, I couldn’t help but feel a tug in my heart. The appeal of luxurious wealth dimmed as I was reminded of my youthful pastimes.
I crumpled the pamphlet in my hand and threw it away. I gathered my stained, yellow papers as the man turned to face me in sluggish interest.
“Sir,” I started. “I understand that your daughter wanted a fresh start and in her act of self-discovery, you have been made a victim. But simply because you have lost the ability to see, doesn’t mean you lost your ability to paint. Maybe you can paint the things you see… from your mind.”
The man regarded me as he would a dancing cow.
“What?” He said.
“Trust me on this,” I replied.
I took the first page of my notes and began to read them aloud to the man. For the first time, I was sharing a story I had spent so much of my life hiding. In my search for wealth, my love for literature, for weaving words into worlds, for conjuring stories of vast lands has been dutifully stored away. Yet here I was, sharing the art of my mind to a broken man.
I spoke to him of a land where water could speak and trees could sing. I spoke to him of people who danced to the songs of birds. I spoke to him of the dreamy blue sky and the acres of honey yellow fields. I spoke to him of the children who touched the moon and the stars in their dreams. With my words, I weaved stories of magic, of love, of death, and of wonder. Adventures across vast seas and royal fantasies poured from the words I had crafted onto the paper.
And so I spoke to the broken man, “My stories are painted from people’s motion in places and times, their actions and reactions, their thoughts and confessions. I write with my mind, not my pen. You have painted with your eyes for a long enough time. Maybe it is time for your Genesis, too. Maybe it is time for you to paint with your mind.”
The man slowly raised his head towards me.
“Paint with my mind?” he asked.
“Paint my stories,” I suggested. “Think and paint of wonder. Paint your emotions. Paint a lover’s feelings. Paint the moon and the stars and the large vast ocean. The hues of blue. The specks of white against the black canvas. Paint, sir. Paint.”
I could feel the man’s breath quicken as he looked up at me with joy.
“I can see it! I can see it!” the man cried out loud.
I gave him a smile, a wave of warmth rolling over me.
“Your delight relieves me, Sir. I am proud.”
And it was in that moment when I knew that I wanted this. I wanted to share my stories and let people paint them with all the colors of their mind. I wanted to see that look of joy on the faces of all the blind beings in this cruel, cruel world. I had come off the train looking for wealth. Now, I walked out looking for wonder.