I met Florence the day I started at the Comp. I knew there was something different about her, the way she didn’t look right at me.
‘I’m blind,’ she explained.
‘What, you can’t see at all?’
‘I can see a bit. It’s like looking at the world through a thick black lace curtain. It’s a misconception that all blind people are totally without sight, only a small percentage are like that.’
‘How do you manage with writing and stuff?’
‘I type my written work. I’ve been to a special school and learned to touch type. See, I’ve got a laptop.’
‘What about reading what the teacher writes on the board?’
‘When she reads it out I’ll type it on my laptop.’
I met Florence’s mum and she filled me in on just how exceptional Florence was.
‘When she was five we discovered Flo had an incurable eye condition. Luckily we got her into a school for blind children right from the start. It’s probably the best school in the country, and she grew up using the latest technology. Speech software on a computer that reads documents to her, for instance. And she’s got a fantastic memory. All of which means she’s now able to attend a mainstream school.’
I soon realised Florence’s mum had plenty to be proud of. My new friend was not far short of unstoppable, particularly with modern technology on her side. She participated in sports, and was pretty nifty on her feet. She could run much faster than me.
We had a lot of laughs together. Particularly when it came to boys.
‘You don’t want to go out with him,’ I said once. ‘He’s covered in spots.’
‘Well I can’t see them. I think you’re just telling me that ‘cos you fancy him.’
‘Ewww, no way! If you don’t believe me, walk up to him and run your fingers over his face.’
And she did. ‘It was like braille,’ she said afterwards. ‘I told Barry someone had told me he had a big nose and I was checking for myself. He didn’t mind, ‘cos I also told him what they say about boys with big noses.’
Flo was a brilliant dancer with a great sense of rhythm. She even learned to play bass guitar and was part of the school band.
‘What do you want to do after your A Levels?’ I asked once we’d got our GCSEs out of the way.
‘Uni, of course. I want to do web design. What about you, Alison?’
‘I’ll be lucky if I scrape through my A Levels.’
That summer Flo’s parents went on holiday for a couple of weeks. I went to stay with her. She didn’t really need me for anything practical, just my companionship. The night before her parents returned I got out of bed for a glass of water. Flo gave me quite a turn. She was wandering about in the sitting room with the lights off.
‘What on earth are you doing?’
‘I’m dusting. We haven’t done much housework while the folks have been away.’
‘Yes, but why are you doing it in the dark?’
‘Doesn’t make much difference to me. I know where everything is in this house. I may not do the job as well as a sighted person, but it’s better than nothing.’
Flo’s one regret was that she would never be able to learn to drive. Luckily I passed my test first time and my parents bought me a car. Then we were really able to spread our wings. We drove down to Cornwall for a few days and stayed in a youth hostel.
‘I love it here!’ said Flo as we walked along the beach. ‘The light is so much brighter and I can see better.’
Flo got into University in Truro. ‘I can’t see as well here, but at least I can get to the beach at weekends. You must come and stay,’ she urged.
I was studying beauty therapy at college, and spending my Saturdays practising my skills at a local salon. But I made the effort and drove down to visit Flo during the Easter break. She was sharing a house with some other Uni students on the outskirts of Truro.
‘I’m playing bass in a band. We’ve got a gig tonight,’ she informed me as soon as I arrived. ‘Wait till you hear one of our songs, you won’t believe your ears.’
The drummer carried Flo’s amplifier into the pub.
‘I think he fancies you,’ I whispered as we followed behind.
‘That’s handy, ‘cos I fancy him,’ replied Flo with a wink. ‘Actually Josh and I have been seeing each other for a couple of months.’
‘You sly dog! You didn’t tell me!’
I felt sad that I was losing Flo to the heady world of academia. Josh was a medical student in his final year, and most of her other friends seemed equally high-flying.
Flo’s band seemed popular with the local crowd. After they’d been playing for about half an hour Flo took up the microphone. ‘This one is for my good friend Alison,’ she announced.
They launched into a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’, but I soon realised Flo had changed the lyrics to ‘Dusting in the Dark’. And then I knew that wherever life would take us, we’d always have our memories of the years we’d spent growing up together.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015