A child once asked me what I see when I am blind. I remember telling her that what she sees with her eyes closed, is what she'd see with her eyes open, if she was blind. That was beyond her comprehension. Perhaps she was too young to understand. Perhaps it was because she was too young that she could ask this question. I don't know.
I was born blind. Too much gas at birth they said but in those days there was no compensation. The gods got it wrong but so what, we all make mistakes don't we? More so if you are blind. Well, more so for you I think. After all, I don't see my mistakes.
I'm two years short of sixty. My dad died five years ago. My mother has been with me till recently. She now has Altzheimer's disease. She doesn't always remember me and now sees me less than I see her. I visit her in her care home when I am able. So I'm alone. It's the way I want to stay. I've told the social work committee that I can cope and they agreed to provide some additional care in the form of Aggie. But the Jury's out. I can't make my mind up whether Aggie comes to make my life easier or if she's part of the front shock troops waiting to add enough points to say, 'time for residential care, Danny'.
Take Gordo. He's my man. Drives me around, takes me to gigs, brings me home. Big fella he is. Big and soft. I've known Gordo for years. He's one of the few who rings the door bell even when there is no light in the house. Who needs lights when you're blind? Lights are for guests. He's got a house key.
Aggie arrives around 9am three days a week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. She makes soup and pours it into a flask – the red flask. Red to her but the one with two strips of tape down the side for me. One striope for hot water. I make my own tea and coffee. She does my washing and ironing and lets me know what the postman has brought but I decide whether I trust her to open the mail. I usually tell her to leave them. Gordo reads them to me. I let her read out the postcards of course. Can't stop her reading them anyway. She makes a coffee at 10.45 am with Ken Bruce talking behind her on Radio 2. That's when she talks to me. The house seems full then.
'Phoned your order to Tesco yet Danny?'
I nod and enquire.
'What are you having for tea today?'
'Not sure yet. Got to set you up first.' I smile. 'Don't worry about me. I never go hungry.'
'You don't eat enough!'
'Don't need to. Don't play sport, don't burn up that much energy.'
'There must be a lot of energy in the amount of thinking you do.'
I smile. 'Hmm. Never thought about that.'
'I'll hoover around the house in a moment. Easy to do in your home. No paraphernalia to get in the way.'
'Ah that reminds me. Can you get rid of that TV in the corner. Since Mum's left it's not in use and the more space I have the better.'
'You never listen to the sport on telly? The Grand National, Match of The Day?'
'Rarely, usually the radio. It'll save me the license fee too. '
She takes my mug away and then the droning of the hoover starts. I wait till it ends. How I love that wailing dying drone just before silence. She'll be away soon.
'So how are you coping on your own Danny?' I suspect this is the official part of the deal.
'Better than ever.'
'Must be difficult without your Mum.'
'Not really. Gordo takes me round to see her.'
'No I don't mean that. I mean...
'I know what you mean, Aggie. Listen, I know this house back to front and inside out. I don't starve and I've got my routine. I've friends and interests and what I can't do, I usually don't need. Except of course the help you give to keep me in the house. And that's what we want, eh?
'As long as you can manage Danny.'
And that's the tension over for forty eight hours. The door closes and I take out my clarinet. I run over the scales and play to my hearts' content. Pitch perfect I was once told. 'Great ear', they said. Pity about the eyes, they meant.
I hear the car in the drive. I'm ready. Gordo rings the door bell. I open it.
'In blue today, Danny?'
'If you say so. And you?'
'Browns mainly. Your fine. Got the box?'
I pick up the clarinet case and set the alarm by the door.
'Better leave a light on too.'
'Upstairs light then. That'll get them thinking!' says Gordo mischievously.
I get into his Astra XL and drop into his bucket seat.
We set off to the Farmer's Loft. It's Friday night and the band play there each week. Gordo on drums, Alex on saxophone, Wilf on keyboard, Pete on rhythm guitar and me on clarinet. It's occasionally a sextet when Alex's wife Anne comes and sings but tonight we'll all take a turn. Sweet
Georgia Brown get us going. Everyone seems to be foot tapping. Pete draws close to me and confirms my thoughts.
By mid evening, I'd had a couple of soft drinks. Oh don't think I told you. I don't drink alcohol as it makes me sleepy and clouds my mind. I prefer the alert thoughts I always have. The only time I feel out of myself is when I am playing the clarinet and Wilf tells me I have the solo spot next. The First Time ever I Saw Your Face. It makes people think. I stand up to play. It's a sultry slow ballad but it's the words that they know by heart. Such an ironic title. I play it perfectly. Of course I do. I play it so often at home, alone. What's the difference with a silent audience until they break out in applause? I smile. I nod. 'Encore' they shout. 'Later' I reply.
The hubbub of chatter increases. A glass of tonic and orange is placed in my hand.
'You all right Danny?'
'Yea, I'm fine.'
Alex and I compete to play. The sax and the clarinet are too similar in sound except one's wood and the other's brass. When I say wood, I mean Japanese plastic in my case. Good enough for me. I sip my drink and relax aware that a smile is on my face. It's a smile of contentment, a feeling that I'm out with friends who do not question me, they take me as I am. We take a break.
There are a couple of lads standing to my rear. There are no seats there. I feel uncomfortable. Their voices are lowered but as my back is turned to them, I look as if I am showing no interest. My ears are as ever active. They are highly developed censors and what they are hearing is alarming. I listen. I take as much information in without either blemishing what I hear or exaggerating any detail. A third man arrives. He's named as Cody. He's in it too it seem. I sip a little more juice. I take the clarinet apart. I run the brushes through each part, taking care to also dry the moisture from the exposed ends. I reassemble the instrument after taking the reed apart. I dry the mouthpiece and suck the French reed dry. I do all of this without thinking. The instrument does not sound right without this ritual. I am listening intensely to the whispering voices.
'Ready for more Danny?'
'Give me a minute Pete, just a minute.' But I hear feet moving behind me. Nothing comes from their voices. Their encounter is over.
'You want to go to the loo?'
'No Pete. Come hear, give us your ear.'
'Eh, a secret?
I lower my voice.
'Have the men behind me gone?'
'There's no one there, Danny.'
'But there were. Didn't you notice them?'
'It's crowded as always on a Friday night. I don't know half of them.'
'But you didn't see anyone standing behind me during the break?'
'Think Pete. Can you remember anyone?
'What's the matter Danny. What happened?
'I'll tell you later. Let's play.' I pick up the clarinet and sound a long 'A' note. I hear the instruments tuning up. Then after all are happy the drum hits four beats. Honey on the Vine has begun and Alex sings close to the microphone.
We play a few more upbeat classics before Gordo announces the last tune of the night. He asks that any couple in the mood can cling together and smooch to Softly as I leave You, the big Matt Monro hit. I guess there must be a few couples taking up the challenge as I hear movement on the floor. We end with what has become our Theme Tune, the 1913 Irving Berlin composition At The Devil's Ball. This is one which Pete sings well and Alex lets fly with a superb sax solo. Gordo rounds it off with a flurry of manic activity hitting cymbals and top hat at the same time. One final colossal thud brings another Friday night at the Farmer's Loft to an end.
I pack up my clarinet and wait till Gordo disassembles the drum kit. He packs it in the car and comes back for me.
'What time is it Gordo'
'Half past midnight.'
'Can we make a call on the way home?'
'Nop. Need to speak to the Police.'
'Can't it wait till tomorrow. They'll be busy on a Friday night.'
'It can't wait Gordo.'
' I think so.'
'You had better be.'
They arrive at Dumfries Police station. Gordo takes Danny by the arm into the reception area and sits him down. He goes to the counter and explains that I need to speak to a detective. A few minutes later I am led into a reception room and given a seat at a desk. Sergeant Fraser introduces himself and asks what I have to tell him.
I tell him where we have been all night adding that I do not drink to give my story greater credence. At the interval I explain I was left seated alone by the instruments when I became aware of a couple of men who were speaking in lowered voices standing a little behind me. I got this hunch things were not quite right. There were no seats there and they seemed to ignore me as my back was facing them. It was their whispering which attracted me at first, seemed unnatural.
'Go on. What did you hear?' asks Sergeant Fraser.
'Well, it was about a meeting at the Beattock turn off on the M74. Then a third man arrived. They called him Cody.'
Sergeant Bruce takes notes of all that is being said.
'Did they say when this was planned for?'
'What were they talking about?'
'Sounded like drugs coming up for collection. All I can say is that it was very suspicious. I only got one name – Cody. I don't know who the others were but one had a local accent, the other seemed to be a Liverpudlian.'
'Good on your accents are you Danny?' asks the relaxed sergeant.
'Better than most I suspect. Want to put me to the test?'
'No . I'll take your word. If you remember anything else, give me a ring.'
'Have I wasted your time Sergeant?'
'Definitely not. I'll put this to the local cops in Beattock and the Drugs Squad. They might have more intelligence about Cody. You did the right thing Danny. I've got your number so I can give you a call if we get any more leads.'
'Well, that puts my mind at ease.'
Gordo is waiting in reception for me. He gets up to take my arm.
'Well, that was not long.'
'No sir, but useful information. Danny was doing his community responsibility thing. Wish more would come forward with their gut feelings. We rely on all sorts of information.
'So not wasting your time?' asks Gordo
'Definitely not. Now off home you two and sleep soundly.
Gordo drops me off.
'I'll be round mid-day. 'Night Danny.'
'Thanks Gordo, go an' get your beauty sleep.'
'You sayin' I need some?' Gordo laughs. I hear him drive off. It's been another good Friday night.
Saturday morning seemed cold. There was no sun to add warmth. So I drank a second cup of tea from the teapot. Then I hear a car. It seems to stop by where Gordo always parks but it is not his car. It sounds different. Two doors close. I hear footsteps march quickly to the door. The bell rings. I get up. Perhaps this is the police wanting more details.
I remember opening the door. But two men rushed in and closed the door behind. Adrenaline rushes through my veins.
'Look I'm blind. Get out of my house. I shout.
'Not so loud Danny. We know you're blind. We're your friends. Relax.'
'Who are you, what's happening?' I felt clammy. I am not in control and it worries me.
'Just do as we say and you'll be all right.'
'Who are you? How do you know me?'
'Heard you play last night. You're good Danny.'
'You were at the Farmer's Loft last night?'
'We certainly were. For a while anyway.'
I recognised the voices as those I had heard quietly in the interval, behind me.
'Look if it’s about drugs, I'm out of it. Not my scene.'
There was a moment's silence as the impact of what I had said sank in.
'What else did you hear?'
Danny took the line of least resistance. 'I heard nothing, the bar was busy. You know that. You were not talking to me.'
'So why go to the Police last night. Eh?'
'Oh I see. You think I heard something suspicious last night and informed the police! Well, I'll tell you why I went to the police if you must know, I lost an umbrella and wondered if it had been handed in. That's why I went there.'
'At half past midnight?'
'Yeah, if that's when we finished and cleared up, it must have been. My mind was still very active so I asked to call in at the Police station just in case someone had found it and handed it in. I gotta take to my chances with lifts. That’s why we went there.'
Cody sees Danny's jacket. He places it over Danny's shoulders.
'Come on Danny, we've got a job for you.'
'What! not today, my friend will be here soon. I'm not going out today.'
I feel a sharp prod in my back. A north African accent whispers in my ear.
'Hey you do az we zay uh?'
'Easy now. Okay. What do you want of me?'
'Just put on your jacket and come with us the car outside is waiting.'
'Rashid, check the window. Is it all clear?'
Rashid moves around Danny and peers through the front window.
'All clear Cody. Let's go.'
I am led down the path into the rear seat of a saloon car. Rashid is in the back with me and Cody is driving. I concentrate hard to feel where we are going.
'Are we going far? ' I ask but there is no reply.