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[All photos were taken by Kennedy Danso, a friend and course mate also in Legon Hall, who is a budding photographer]



I VISITED GILBERT twice in the next few days. The first time, a quiet,
chilly Saturday night, I walked in on him seated on one of the desks in his room.
There were two other people in the room – a lady and a gentleman – both of whom he later introduced as good friends. The guy, who was seated on a
chair by the bed, was well-built and wore a jalabia. The lady, who was lying on
Gilbert’s bed, was slim and light-skinned, and she wore a bright looking
African print outfit. The two seemed to be in a good mood as they watched a
loud, seemingly action packed movie on Gilbert’s laptop.
As for Gilbert, he had arched his torso on his desk, as if to give
the impression that he was asleep. But he wasn’t. I knew because I saw him
giggle at a point, then his voice became a bit audible. It was unusually soft
and measured, and so I immediately assumed that he was on the phone with
someone he liked. Girlfriend perhaps? I smiled and stared for a while before
alerting him of my presence.
“Oh bra Fiifi, how’s it going?” he said.
“I hope I’m not disturbing your conversation with the Mrs,” I
teased.
He laughed. “Oh, that’s not my girlfriend. But it’s one of my
girlfriends!”
The girl lying on the bed immediately sprang up and laughed out loud.
“Ei Gilbert!” she exclaimed, in a manner that sounded part-teasing
part-astonishment.
“Oh, I told Fiifi when he was here the last time that I don’t have
one girlfriend,” Gilbert responded. A mischievous smile licked around his
lips. “So he knows.”
I laughed, too. “Yes he did,” I told the girl.
She looked at Gilbert and shook her head, still smiling.
Gilbert had told me in our last conversation that he had a
girlfriend – who is sighted – and indeed hoped to marry one day. He however said that
because he had a natural mistrust for sighted girls, citing previous experiences in infidelity and deceit, he had resorted to openly
sealing a back-up option: a blind girlfriend. 

Andre had led the unanimous
outburst of laughter after that fascinating revelation.

***
FOUR DAYS LATER, I visited Gilbert’s room again. He was not around. On his bed
lay a guy who – like Gilbert when I’d last seen him  – was on the phone.
He had his back turned to me as he spoke into his phone in a hushed tone. He had
given me an order to come in in the first place, so I presumed that he knew I
was standing, waiting for him. It was after I stood for close to 10 minutes
without him turning or speaking to me that I realized that he probably was not
aware of my presence. I had to give him a gentle tap on the back to get his
attention.
“Gilbert has gone for a lecture,” he informed me as he turned. I
could not help but notice that he looked very much like Gilbert. “Are you his
brother?” I asked. He gave a dim smile and feebly nodded. He was looking at
me, yet was not making eye contact. I found it a bit odd. “Older or younger,” I
probed further. He smiled again and said nothing. I smiled back. “Please tell
him Fiifi came around,” I said. “No problem,” he replied, and rolled over on
the bed, so that he faced the wall again.
I heard him resume talking on the phone as I slowly closed the
door and made my leave.

***
THE NEXT TIME I
saw Gilbert, I asked him about the guy. He said he was not his brother, but
just a friend. Apparently, he is blind too – though his is partial. That
explained why he had not noticed me standing and waiting, I thought to myself.
Also, I found out that he is on the same block at Legon Hall as Gilbert.
“There are about seven blind boys on this block,” Gilbert revealed as he sat to
talk to me. He was, like all of the times when I’d seen him, dressed in a simple lacoste shirt and a pair of khaki trousers, his feet covered with loafers. “Among them is a senior of mine from Okuapeman. He was the senior school
prefect in his final year,” he added.
I was astonished. Then impressed.
“Wow,” I said. “A blind school prefect?”
“Yes!” Gilbert said with a heaviness of tone that exuded pride. He
bared his teeth and smiled. Then he said: “He won the elections overwhelmingly.
He beat all the sighted candidates. He was really popular and turned out to be
one of our best prefects.”
“What about you, though, Gilbert?” I inquired. “Did you go for the
position in your final year?”
He smiled again, hesitated a bit and said: “You see, I wanted to. But I realized that not everyone
liked me. Some of these things are like that, you know. I studied the system and
sensed that if I went, I’d lose. So I decided to let it go.”
Gilbert had just returned from a provision store around his block.
In his company was a friend of his, who he said was his junior at Okuapeman and
in fact is still there. He had come to visit him.
“I’m not surprised to see you here at all, bra Fiifi,” Gilbert
said. “I came to see you in your room a few minutes ago but was told you were
not around, and so I figured you were told and decided to come see me.”
“Oh really?” I asked. I had not known he’d come to see me because
I was returning from town and had decided to pass through his place.
“Oh, you can ask my friend, I came there with him,” Gilbert said.
“Yeah, Room H5 right? We were there not long ago. Someone from the next room
said you had gone out,” his friend weighed in. He, too, looked at me without making
eye contact. Gilbert later told me he is also partially blind.
Gilbert then got a phone call. “Ok, ok,” he seemed to be saying.
“Please hurry up because things are really rough here. I’ve got to be the most
broke guy in the whole world! I have nothing. I’m totally impecunious!” he
said, following it with stifled laughter.
He had been speaking in Twi, but had said
‘impecunious’ in English, with such impeccable pronunciation. Gilbert loves and
knows his words. As I stared at him, my mind shuttled back to the day of our
first interview, where he had described himself as ‘gregarious’. I remember
observing that he had a command over his English and how he articulated it.
In a conversation in relation to this, he had told me that he felt
he was a natural-born broadcaster, destined to reach millions with his skills.
“I’ve been told by some friends of mine who are journalists that I can do a
great job on radio,” he had said. “I think so too because I listen to most
presenters and I realize what they are doing is nothing extraordinary. I can
also do it. I can do news presenting, sports, name them. Either in English or in
Twi. I’m good at it and I have a passion for it so I know I will be there one
day.”
He had then proceeded to give me a spirited freestyle commentary
(in twi) of a hypothetical game between Real Madrid and Barcelona that gave me
Goosebumps.  “I love football a lot,” he
had said afterwards. “I’ve loved it since I was about five years old. My dream
was to become a commentator, but little did I know that this would happen to
me. Had it not been for my eye, I would be a commentator by now. Of course now
I can’t see so I can’t run commentary, but that has not stopped me from showing
people that I can do it. When I was in Cape Coast, some business men working
for a local branch of Barclays Bank loved my freestyles so much that they made
me record them unto CDs which they bought from me!”
“The last World Cup I saw when I could still see was the 2002
World Cup. I remember it so well,” he had looked so excited. “I remember
Ronaldinho! His long hair, big teeth and all – I remember people teasing him about
him not being good looking but that didn’t matter because he was so good!”
Since Gilbert lost his sight, his love for football has had to
make do with experiencing the game through listening and imagining. The voice of commentators have become his eyes, their words translating to motion pictures in his mind’s eye. His inability to see the ‘Beautiful Game’ has in no way diminished his passion. 

He had told me that he is an avowed fan of Spanish and European champions Barcelona, and that it was one of his biggest wishes to catch just a momentary action glimpse of Lionel Messi; the club’s talisman who is heralded as one of the greatest to ever play football.

The nimble-footed Messi came into worldwide prominence about three years after Gilbert became blind. This means that Gilbert has never set eyes on the Argentine. He has no idea how he looks like or how he plays like. But that has not stopped him from idolizing him.

“I wish I could
just see him do all that magic the commentators chronicle endlessly,” he had said, followed by a pause and a sigh – a deep, if-wishes-were-horses kind of sigh.

“From what I’ve heard, he is incomparable as a footballer.”

***
NOW, GILBERT WAS speaking to someone – his brother, I
suspected – who was bringing him money because he was cash-strapped. “Around 8
o’clock? Oh ok, no problem,” he continued. “I’m now even about to take some
mashed kenkey.”
His friend was seated on the bed, massaging the kenkey in a deep
cylindrical bowl while he added water intermittently. I decided to ask him a
question to while away the time Gilbert was spending on the phone. “How was
Gilbert like in school? Was he popular?”
He smiled. “Oh yeah he was. Gabby was really popular. Even up till
today, all of the teachers say good things about him and still speak of him.”
***
AFTER HE GOT OFF the phone, Gilbert asked if I had started writing a profile
on him. “Yes,” I answered. “I’m hitting close to 5000 words already. You did speak
a lot during that last meeting!”
He laughed. “If you don’t restrain me I can talk and talk all
day!” he reeled with glee.
“Maybe, next time you come here, you can bring the article on a pen
drive so I can save it on my laptop and use my Microsoft Word audio player to
listen to it,” he suggested.
“No worries, will do that,” I said. “But if you want to listen to
it right now, I have it saved in my mail and I can open it on my phone and read
it to you.”
“You do?!”  He sounded excited.
“Yes,” I replied as I went through my phone to access the mail and
the file. “Should I start? I’ll read the portion describing the sequence that
resulted in you becoming blind. I want you to alert me if I mention any fact
that is not accurate,” I added.
“Sure!”
So, I started reading. He stared at the ground as I read slowly,
and he seemed so attentive, so pensive, that it made me a little nervous. But,
he would nod in between paragraphs, and that felt really comforting. There were
times when he would smile, other times when he would cut in and offer a correction or
a suggestion. There were times, too, when he looked bewildered, and so I would
explain my choice of words and style, spelling out the impact I was looking to
achieve. “Oh ok! That’s interesting!” he would say. 
“Are you a poet? You write
and sound like one!” he teased afterwards.
In between reading, I could see some of his block mates stopping
by the window as they passed by to peep and eavesdrop. We were interrupted too
–  twice, in fact – by friends who came to visit him. Both were blind. The
first entered and made a lot of deliberate jokes to distract our interaction,
but they were all in jest. The second, too, burst into the room in a hilarious
manner and sat for a while to listen in. Both of them, though, seemed to be as
outgoing, amicable and fun-inclined as Gilbert himself.

At the end of my reading Gilbert gave me more details
that he felt would add significant dimension to my construction of his past.
Then, he said: “You’ve written this very well. Your style is different.”
I felt proud that he liked it, and told him I’d see him one last
time to get more details. I suggested writing another article on him, and he
was open to the idea, even after I shared the relatively unorthodox method I
planned to adopt. The method was basically an experiment of spending a whole
day with him, in his company – though not close to him, but monitoring from
afar. It felt like an ambitious plan, because it did not seem mainstream.
“That’s very interesting! I would love to do that. Even if you want to do it
without me knowing, I have no problems. I’m an open book and I don’t hide
anything,” he said. “I even told you about my two girlfriends!” We both laughed hard.
When I said my farewells, and walked out the door into the
corridor, I felt him following me. After a few steps, I decided to turn around
for confirmation, and I was right. 

Behind me, he was walking slowly and quietly
and calmly, but he wasn’t after me. He was going to a room about three doors
from his.

I stood and watched him enter the room, and later, come out with
two of his friends.
He slipped in between them and put his arms around both, and, as
they strolled in unison back to his room, they all looked so happy.
They could not see me, but I was there, staring, the camaraderie
of their shared challenge causing a strange stir in me.
Suddenly, I felt happy too. So happy, that I felt an urge to cry.
But I had no idea why.