A Handshake To Remember
An Excerpt from my WIP
Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Vision Loss
Before I ever used a cane, I depended on my faulty eyes to get me where I needed to be and when. I have to confess, without my cane sidekick, life challenged me. Still, I never imagined I had a choice or a more dependable way of making sure I arrived without a trail of shocked eyes following. Such was the case when I greeted royalty in the United Arab Emirates.
As a new language instructor at a women’s college, I quickly learned about Arab customs and the fascinating world of sheikhs, Arab royalty. Each emirate had its own royal family and entourage.
Before classes started, the college system I belonged to kicked off the academic year with a large conference in the capital, Abu Dhabi. I lived in Ras Al Khaimah—informally called RAK—two and a half hours to the north. The name, translated means “Head of the Tent.”
In the early morning darkness, the teachers of the men and women’s colleges strapped themselves into the hard fiberglass seats of an old military seaplane. Ed, the lone director of both colleges, reminded me of a low-key general with his lanky height and easy smile. He was the last to take his seat.
“Now remember, all new faculty members will meet the Chancellor of our college system. This is a great honor and your chance to shine.” He shook a finger at us. “Don’t screw around. You’re representing me out there. We may be from the desert but we’re no country bumpkins.”
That year we had an unusually high number of new hires as well as the old teachers on board, all looking forward to the big day in the city—away from the goats and camels.
Hundreds of beaming faculty members from around the country congregated in a fancy Abu Dhabi hotel every year. Between speeches, the teachers networked with each other in informal meet-and-greets. I recall looking across the length of the polished tiles and seeing a mixture of international and local Emirati faculty reaching for heavy water goblets, sipping from tea cups and nibbling date cookies on silver platters.
Like all the new hires, I could hardly wait to meet the Chancellor—one of the most celebrated sheikhs in the country—and his entourage. Each director led his or her new flock to a special receiving room to wait in line for the honor of shaking his hand. We were briefed on the protocol.
The director would formally introduce each faculty member. We would take his hand, shake once and move on.
That seemed easy enough.
The procession started. I was carrying a bulky present to give to a friend who worked in the Abu Dhabi campus but I hadn’t found her yet.
I started to panic. What was I going to do with it when I had to shake hands?
We crossed over a plush carpeted area in the hotel with the quietest of feet. The room took on a hushed tone of formality. My heart beat faster. In the next room, I’d come face-to-face–rather, hand-to-hand—with the sheikh.
In a matter of minutes, I’d be facing a line of very important men in silk robes. I inched forward. Stayed in line. The line moved faster and faster. I kept my eyes on the entourage. I didn’t want to miss a second of this experience. My heart pounded. Soon it would be my turn.
As I craned my head, I caught a glimpse of the sheikh in his traditional gold thob, looking regal and benevolent, as he leaned over to shake each hand.
I put the bulky gift under my arm and as I moved forward it slipped down to my side. Not going to work. What if it fell at the sheikh’s feet as I leaned toward him?
Suddenly, my eyesight blurred.
Every once in awhile, my vision fogged up out of the blue. When this happened, I blinked, trying to get the images back. But usually the opposite happened. The details in my line of sight disappeared, selectively so; this meant I could see some things but not other things. I could see the carpet, the walls and parts of the furniture but I couldn’t see Ed! I knew he was there somewhere but it was like looking at air.
Oh no! Ed was my presenter. I frantically sought out Ed’s lanky form. I had to find him. Now. My breath started coming faster. Faster. Where was Ed?
To read the full excerpt, you’ll have to wait for my book, Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Vision Loss, to come out this fall.