How do people see?” Augustine asked members of the audience on the occasion of the World Sight Day a few years ago. He was 14 years then but now 18 years and preparing to enter the University to study Mass Communication. Augustine was born a normal child, but developed retinoblastoma in both eyes at the age of two, necessitating the removal of his eyes at the age of four. Retinoblastoma is a rapidly growing cancer that develops from the immature cells of the light-detecting tissue of the eye called retina. It is the commonest malignant tumor of the eye in children.
It isn’t easy for any parent to accept the only treatment option available at the time which was the removal of the eyes. If not attended to in good time, the growth breaks through the coats of the eye and spreads into the adjoining tissues of the orbit and sometimes to distant sites.
Locally, it becomes really “angry” that it has been ignored and develops into a massive and unsightly mass. At this stage, parents are ready to accept any treatment option because the child’s suffering becomes unbearable to them. At this stage, death is often a question of time.
Thanks be to God, Augustine survived despite the long delay caused by the parents’ refusal to have the eyes removed. Today, he is their pride. Augustine attends a normal government secondary school in Lagos and speaks confidently, in perfect Queens’ English. “Do you know I travel regularly from Ijanikin, Lagos to Ibadan on my own? I came yesterday and slept at our house in Eleiyele. This morning, I have come unaccompanied to your clinic,” he said, smiling and very happy with himself.
That was six months ago. I remember he sent shivers through my spine as he spoke, because I couldn’t imagine how he made it. I was too scared to see him off. I know blind people don’t want to be pitied. All they want is assistance to live a normal life. Writing this piece from Chicago, reminded me of a story of a blind girl in this same town. It is reproduced verbatim.
“A few years ago, a group of salesmen went to a regional sales convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night’s dinner. In their rush, with tickets and briefcases, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time for their nearly-missed boarding. All but one! He got in touch with his feelings and experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned.
He told his colleagues to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived at their home destination and explain his taking a later flight. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the terminal floor. He was glad he did.
The 16-year-old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her; no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.
“The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organise her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket. When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, “Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?” She nodded through her tears. He continued on with, “I hope we didn’t spoil your day too badly.”
As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, “Mister….” He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, “Are you Jesus?” He stopped in mid-stride, went back and said, “No, I am nothing like Jesus – He is good, kind, caring, loving, and would never have bumped into your display in the first place.
“The girl gently nodded: “I only asked because I prayed for Jesus to help me gather the apples. He sent you to help me, so you are like Him, only He knows who will do His will. Thank you for hearing His call, Mister.” Then slowly he made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: “Are you Jesus?”
Augustine’s father, an Okada driver, and mother, a petty trader, have managed so far (with very little help) to send him to school. Now, they need your help for his Mass Communication major in the university. With three other children to feed, clothe and send to school, they are beyond the limit. Would you like to help him and his family?
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece on Augustine on this column. No one stopped to help ‘gather’ his apples! There was not a single response! On request, I will send you Augustine’s telephone number. He can answer calls when he is not in class, read text messages and respond. He can even come to your office to show himself to you to confirm that he has no eyes, yet able to do what normal people do. Would you like to be the “Jesus” in his life?