Blindness

by Jose Saramago and Giovanni Pontiero

Blindness

Paperback, 334 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $15 | purchase

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Paperback, 327 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15, published October 4 1999 | purchase
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  • Jose Saramago and Giovanni Pontiero

Book Summary

With an epidemic of "white blindness" sweeping New York City, the criminal element stalks the city, robbing and raping, while one eyewitness leads a group of seven strangers through the afflicted city streets to safety.

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Excerpt: Blindness

Blindness

Chapter One

    The amber light came on. Two of the cars ahead acceleratedbefore the red light appeared. At the pedestrian crossingthe sign of a green man lit up. The people who were waitingbegan to cross the road, stepping on the white stripes paintedon the black surface of the asphalt, there is nothing less like azebra, however, that is what it is called. The motorists kept animpatient foot on the clutch, leaving their cars at the ready, advancing,retreating like nervous horses that can sense the whiplashabout to be inflicted. The pedestrians have just finishedcrossing but the sign allowing the cars to go will be delayed forsome seconds, some people maintain that this delay, while apparentlyso insignificant, has only to be multiplied by the thousandsof traffic lights that exist in the city and by the successivechanges of their three colours to produce one of the most seriouscauses of traffic jams or bottlenecks, to use the more currentterm.

    The green light came on at last, the cars moved off briskly, butthen it became clear that not all of them were equally quick offthe mark. The car at the head of the middle lane has stopped,there must be some mechanical fault, a loose accelerator pedal, agear lever that has stuck, problem with the suspension, jammedbrakes, breakdown in the electric circuit, unless he has simply runout of gas, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened.The next group of pedestrians to gather at the crossingsee the driver of the stationary car wave his arms behind thewindshield, while the cars behind him frantically sound theirhorns. Some drivers have already got out of their cars, preparedto push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold upthe traffic, they beat furiously on the closed windows, the maninside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then theother, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movementsof his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, notone word but three, as turns out to be the case when someonefinally manages to open the door, I am blind.

    Who would have believed it. Seen merely at a glance, theman's eyes seem healthy, the iris looks bright, luminous, the sclerawhite, as compact as porcelain. The eyes wide open, the wrinkledskin of the face, his eyebrows suddenly screwed up, all this, asanyone can see, signifies that he is distraught with anguish.With a rapid movement, what was in sight has disappeared behindthe man's clenched fists, as if he were still trying to retaininside his mind the final image captured, a round red light atthe traffic lights. I am blind, I am blind, he repeated in despairas they helped him to get out of the car, and the tears wellingup made those eyes which he claimed were dead, shine evenmore. These things happen, it will pass you'll see, sometimesit's nerves, said a woman. The lights had already changedagain, some inquisitive passersby had gathered around thegroup, and the drivers further back who did not know whatwas going on, protested at what they thought was some commonaccident, a smashed headlight, a dented fender, nothing tojustify this upheaval, Call the police, they shouted and get thatold wreck out of the way. The blind man pleaded, Please, willsomeone take me home. The woman who had suggested acase of nerves was of the opinion that an ambulance should besummoned to transport the poor man to the hospital, but theblind man refused to hear of it, quite unnecessary; all he wantedwas that someone might accompany him to the entrance ofthe building where he lived. It's close by and you could do meno greater favour. And what about the car, asked someone. Anothervoice replied, The key is in the ignition, drive the car on tothe pavement. No need, intervened a third voice, I'll take chargeof the car and accompany this man home. There were murmursof approval. The blind man felt himself being taken by thearm, Come, come with me, the same voice was saying to him.They eased him into the front passenger seat, and secured thesafety belt. I can't see, I can't see, he murmured, still weeping.Tell me where you live, the man asked him. Through the carwindows voracious faces spied, avid for some news. The blindman raised his hands to his eyes and gestured, Nothing, it's as ifI were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea. But blindnessisn't like that, said the other fellow, they say that blindnessis black, Well I see everything white, That little woman wasprobably right, it could be a matter of nerves, nerves are thevery devil, No need to talk to me about it, it's a disaster, yes adisaster, Tell me where you live please, and at the same time theengine started up. Faltering, as if his lack of sight had weakenedhis memory, the blind man gave his address, then he said, I haveno words to thank you, and the other replied, Now then, don'tgive it another thought, today it's your turn, tomorrow it will bemine, we never know what might lie in store for us, You'reright, who would have thought, when I left the house thismorning, that something as dreadful as this was about to happen.He was puzzled that they should still be at a standstill, Whyaren't we moving, he asked, The light is on red, replied theother. From now on he would no longer know when the lightwas red.

[Chapter One Continues...]

Continues...



Copyright © 1999 Jose Saramago
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