This is a story I posted early on in the life of this blog. I took it down to do some work on it, and now I’m reposting it under a different title and with the changes. All told, it amounted to an increase of about 1,000 words, which is really interesting to me, even if no one else cares. Enjoy this redux of “A New Way of Seeing”.
The planet – Terra-4, the fourth Earthlike planet discovered after the initial push for world location. The city – New Chicago, infinitely safer and more welcoming than its original namesake. The place – Cafe Kaleidoscope, where the young and beautiful enjoying the single life joined to argue politics, fashion, art, and humor.
A man in a dark suit wearing a dark hat and dark sunglasses sat at a table sipping coffee and watching people.
Jasika could not have said why she chose to sit by the man; there were other empty seats about the portico. But something about him drew her. He had the air of one who was at once lonely and self-possessed, welcoming and eminent. She sensed he was a person of high importance, and yet at the same time willing to mingle with those beneath him. More than all that, he had glanced her way and something in his glance seemed to beckon her.
At her approach the man smiled and removed his hat. “A fine day we’re having,” he commented as she settled into her seat.
“Oh, yes it is!” said Jasika. “It’s just the right temperature. Not too hot. And everything feels so fresh now the rain has stopped. A nice day for being outdoors.”
“Indeed,” intoned the man. Jasika suddenly felt foolish for having gone on so much about something so mundane as the weather. For a moment she tried to find something meaningful to say, but failing at that she sipped her coffee in silence.
“I enjoy watching people,” said the man. “It’s interesting the kinds of things you can see if you have the right sort of eyes.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” said Jasika.
“I don’t think you do,” replied the man. Jasika almost protested, but found herself blushing nervously. In truth, she hadn’t understood at all what the man had meant when he said “the right sort of eyes.” But she hadn’t wanted to come across as ignorant. With hot face she stared intently at her coffee cup and wrung her hands under the table.
The man didn’t leave her in the dark for long, though. “What I meant,” he continued, “is that when you watch people, what you see on the surface of their actions often is at odds with reality.”
“Yes, reality. An act of kindness may appear as uncaring; a charitable deed can mask deep seated selfishness; a polite smile can seethe with condescension and bitterness. But if you have the right sort of eyes, you can see these things for what they are.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“Perhaps an example would be in order then. Look across the street.” He pointed to the bustling sidewalk on the other side. “Do you see the woman with the bag of groceries? In a moment she will stumble and drop her bag. A man coming the opposite way will stop to help. They will exchange a few words and go their separate ways. But watch his face and hands afterwards, and I think you will note something surprising.”
Jasika stared dubiously at her companion, but he gestured urgently across the street. All occurred just as he had said, and as the fellow who had lent his aid went on his way, he did so with a scowl. He cast a dark look over his shoulder at the woman he had just helped, and his fists balled angrily.
“How did you–” Jasika began, but was interrupted.
“You noted that something about the exchange greatly displeased the gentleman. It’s not that the woman was impolite to him; quite the opposite in fact. But he nevertheless felt cheated. Why? In this case, at some point in his childhood, when he was at a very impressionable age, he performed a similar act of servitude. In that case, the lady he helped rewarded him with more money than his deed deserved. Unfortunately he developed a mentality, spurred on by his mother, that good deeds are rewarded.”
“Well, that isn’t such a bad idea, is it?” asked Jasika. “Isn’t he making the world a better place by being kind?”
The man shook his head sadly. “It’s become twisted. At first he would look for any opportunity he could find to do good, but after a while he only looked to do good to those he thought could reward him. As he grew into adulthood he especially looked for chances to help the fairer sex. Like so many men, he sees a beautiful woman and looks for an angle for getting her attention. His angle is deeds of service. But what he expects is a greater reward than his deeds deserve.”
“Do you mean…?”
“Oh, nothing quite so overt. He offered to walk her home and then buy her a cup of coffee, to which she politely declined. The problem for him wasn’t what she refused, it was where he hoped it would eventually lead.” He waved a hand dismissively. “This was a rather obvious example. Most are far more obscure. With the right sort of eyes a person can see even the most obscure examples of these hidden things.”
Jasika shook her head in confusion. “Are you just making all this up? How could you know all this? Do you know that man?”
“Oh, yes, I know him. I know him as well as I know anyone I look at, which is considerably better than you.”
“So that was all just a trick,” Jasika said, indignation creeping into her voice.
“Not exactly. Perhaps you need another example. Look at the young man yonder.” He gestured across the portico to where three men were sitting and eating. “Do you know that young man?”
“Why, yes I do!” she said. “That’s Jason, he lives in my building.”
“Then I suppose you know that his girlfriend recently left him.”
Jasika eyed her companion askance. “Yes, I heard about that.”
“What you might not know is that she broke up with him because he lost his job last night. See how his face is unshaven this morning? If you could see under the table, you might notice that he is wearing tennis shoes, even though he is dressed for work. His dress shoes are still in his girlfriend’s apartment, but he didn’t need them today. You see, it was found out that he has been misappropriating funds for some time.”
Jasika swallowed slowly. “His girlfriend said something when I ran into her last night, something about him being too obsessed with money to think about her.”
“Yes, that’s part of the problem. You see, he doesn’t think much of anyone but himself. In fact, he doesn’t even think what he did was wrong. He’s quite convinced that his company has more than enough money, so he should have part of it. You will see that in a moment, when he is arrested.”
Jasika whipped around to look again, and right at that moment a law enforcement vehicle pulled up next to the portico. Two officers emerged and stepped up to Jason, forced him to his feet. As they did so, he protested to his friends that it wasn’t fair, that he was being treated badly, that he had as much a right as anyone. As he was pushed into the vehicle, she noted the tennis shoes on his feet.
“Worry not,” the man said at the back of her head. “In a few days, he will come to his senses. This experience will teach him that it is better to do what is right than to have what he wants. He is on the path to change. It will be long and hard for him, but some day he will use this to help others.”
“Now how could you have known all that about him, or what was going to happen?” Jasika asked, bemusement painting her face.
“I know him as well as I know all people, because I see him with the right sort of eyes.”
“You keep saying that! What do you even mean by it?”
“I mean this.” The man removed his sunglasses and peered at Jasika. She caught her breath and a hand went to her mouth. His eyes did not look like those of a man. Where the whites ought to have been they glowed azure, the iris was a flaming red, and the pupils shone with a golden light.
“What… what are you?”
He replaced his sunglasses. “You’re not ready for that kind of information yet. But it doesn’t matter. Because what really matters to you right now isn’t what I am, but what you could be. Or rather, what your eyes could be.”
“Are you saying I could have ey-eyes like yours?” Jasika stammered. “I could see the future and see into people’s hearts?”
“Not precisely,” replied the man. “Those abilities are very special and not everyone is allowed to have them. But you could have a new way of seeing. Eyes that would allow you to view people’s actions as they are, not as they seem to be.”
Jasika blew out a deep breath. Some part of her mind was screaming that this conversation wasn’t making any sense, that the best thing for her to do was to stand up, bid the man a very good day, and leave quickly. And yet, she found herself hanging on his words.
“You have questions yet?” the man asked.
“I suppose… well I wonder what use such a thing is. I mean, if a person is an optimist, wouldn’t it be better just to look at the world as a good place, and people as good people, and just let it be? Why would you need to know all the bad things behind the things they do?”
“A good question,” the man said. “But remember, I mentioned that it goes both ways. You’ll come to understand that in time. For now, let me explain the use. When you understand other people’s actions, and the motives behind them, you better understand yourself, your own actions, your own motives. For instance, why did you sit down by me?”
Jasika opened her mouth to reply, frowned, closed her mouth, took a sip of coffee. “I really don’t know,” she said quietly.
“Precisely. You don’t know yourself well enough to know why you chose to sit by a complete stranger, or why you’re not listening to that voice in your head that says to leave quickly.” Once again, Jasika opened her mouth to reply, but the man continued before she could speak. “Was it not the case, Jasika, that you sat down because you perceived me to be a very important person? Did you not think that perhaps you would be considered important if you were found sitting near me? Have you not this entire time been trying to impress me, and feeling ashamed at your inability to do so? And yet, I’m sure you’ve found that this conversation did not at all go the way you thought it would. Now, how close am I to the truth of the matter?”
Jasika was at a loss. Even as she struggled to form any kind of response, she realized that he had struck on her real motivations with pinpoint accuracy. She suddenly felt very uncomfortable under his gaze.
“You see, when you have come to recognize the impure motives of others, you begin to see them in yourself when they arise. This helps you grow past them. And when you can see the goodness behind the motives of others, you begin to learn what true beauty, true caring, true love actually looks like, and how it manifests itself in the real world. Then you also can experience these things firsthand. But,” he smiled and lifted a finger, “this is all a result of something much more wonderful, something very special, and the first step is to see the world with the right kind of eyes.”
Jasika fought with herself for only a few moments. It seemed wild and insane to her to do what she was about to do, and yet at the same time it was as though nothing had ever made more sense. “Sir,” she said, “how may I get such eyes?”
“Come with me,” he said, and rose to his feet. He offered an arm.
Jasika stared at his arm for a moment. She hesitated. It was one thing to ask to see the path, another to follow him down it. “I’m not so sure this is a good idea.”
His sudden smile was full of compassion. “Do you still need convincing?” He looked up for a moment and sighed at the air. “Let me see your necklace,” he said, once again looking down at her.
Jasika put her hand to her neck, but felt only skin. “Oh, I’m not wearing one,” she said, sounding surprised.
“Indeed, you are not,” the man said. “But you normally do. Today you left it at home, on the dresser top.”
“I… didn’t feel like wearing it.”
“Because today you woke up feeling resentful, and all because last night you dreamed of her, the mother who has never given you anything but a necklace, when at one point she had promised you a lifetime’s wealth. But she squandered it through poor planning, bad deals, and indulgent life, and has left you to make it on your own. Now you harbor bitterness for her, and are ever vigilant for someone who can give you what she never did – a chance. Is that somewhere near the truth?”
Jasika blinked back tears as she stared at his arm, stood, linked her arm through his.
Arm in arm they made their way through the city, until they arrived as a simple brick building with no ornamentation. Jasika looked up curiously at the structure.
“Not what you expected?” the man asked. “Shouldn’t you know by now that with me, not all is as it seems?”
Jasika looked at his grinning face, and smiled in spite of herself. There was a charm to his manner that she hadn’t realized until now.
They entered and in the foyer was but one door, and this into an elevator. The man led her into it, pressed one of two buttons in the elevator, and they began to rise. A few moments later, the doors slid open, and Jasika found herself looking at the strangest room she had ever seen.
At first glance it seemed like a pleasant lounge on might find in the basement of a home, a place for whiling away the time with friends and enjoying drinks together. There was even a wetbar to one side, and easy chairs set seemingly at random. At the same time, however, the room had all the semblance of a hospital procedure room. There was a table clearly for examination, a rack of tools for delicate human operation, and a sterile sink.
“Are you… some sort of doctor?” Jasika asked.
The man shrugged. “You might say so. You wouldn’t be the first. Come now. We must get to work.” He led her to the table and bid her lie down. She did so nervously, realizing that at this point, for good or ill, she was committed to the process.
The man had shed his hat and coat, and exchanged his sunglasses for a curious pair of shaded goggles that bore several magnification lenses on hinges, so they could be adjusted into and out of use. He was tying on a white smock and had already covered his hands with gloves.
He pulled from the rack a device the resembled a syringe but had a tube in place of a needle, and the tube flared outward at the end. “What I’m going to do,” he said, “is aspirate a fluid into your eyes that will cause them to go numb for a time. This will allow me to perform the operation free of pain.
“The procedure is two stage. I will complete the first stage today, but we will need to allow three days before I can complete the second. This is necessary because your brain, from the very moment you entered this life, has been trained to see the world a certain way. If we tried to do both stages at once the results would be that your brain would reject the whole of it and the entire procedure would be a waste. So we need to do the first stage, allow your mind to adapt to the new concept, and then we will do the second stage. Now…” He took her left eyelids in his thumb and forefinger and forced them open, and bringing the tube of his device close he sprayed a puff of moisture into her eye. It felt cool, and at once Jasika noticed her vision blurring. He did the same to her other eye, and within moments there was nothing but a white fog.
“I can’t see!” she said with some alarm.
“Of course not. The fluid deadens all the nerves in your eye, both the ones that register damage and the ones that transmit data. You will not be able to see until the drug wears off. Now lie still.”
And so he began to work on her eyes. As he did so, he spoke in a soft voice about the nature of humankind, that his observations had led him to see that any notion of the goodness of man was a false and deluding fantasy. He had come to realize that from his very beginning every man, every woman, every child, was rotten to the core. Even the kindest of actions were motivated by selfishness, greed, pride, desire for self-aggrandizement. He remarked on how even in small children this corruption could be evident, as you could hardly put two youngsters together with a handful of toys before inevitable conflict would arise. Occasionally she would ask questions, or make observations about her own experience with the goodness of people, and her conviction that people are basically good. To this the man would point out where she misunderstood, would talk through her thinking and reveal that even her belief in the goodness of mankind was a notion brought on by her own desire to see herself as basically good, as a means to feel better about the times she had hurt others, mistreated people, or failed to do good when she had opportunity.
At last he declared himself to be done. He helped her up, put a cup of some kind of fruit juice in her hand, and led her to a chair where she could relax. He put on some music, which he said was to help keep her calm as the drug wore off, but for some reason the music was more disturbing than easing. In every tone she felt an echo of the man’s discourse on humanity, and in every lyric she heard dark motivations that revealed a corrupt and twisted song writer, trying to live out his own evil impulses under the guise of artistry.
When she could see again, the man sent her on her way, instructing her to return in three days’ time. In the meantime, she was to wear a pair of sunglasses he furnished for her whenever she was in contact with others, and he was quite insistent that she should not examine her own eyes in the mirror, for to do so could cause harm until the completion of the second phase.
The next three days were a nightmare for Jasika. Explaining to her friends and coworkers about the sunglasses was easy enough; she made the excuse the she was suffering from a sudden onset of photophobia. No one doubted her, but even still she felt ashamed at the lie, wondering at her own motivations. And in every interaction she saw twisted purposes behind the deeds of others.
Her boss was normally coolly polite to her. Now Jasika saw in her glances a veiled jealousy – at what Jasika couldn’t imagine – and it seemed her boss’s every demand was an act of retribution for some unknown slight.
She spoke with her mother on the phone, and couldn’t shake the sensation that her tone was pedantic and lacking respect. Worse, she was sickened at her mother’s vapid selfishness and her own inability to see any good in the woman.
The man who lived in the apartment across the hall had always been so kind and helpful, but somehow now Jasika detected a leer in his eyes as he looked at her, which made her too uncomfortable to remain around him.
Again and again she caught the wickedness behind the actions of others, and as she did so she doubted herself all the more. She doubted every word that came out of her mouth. Even the simplest of gestures toward another human being stopped her, wondering at the deeper selfishness that drove her.
By the time three days had passed she was a wreck. She arrived at the man’s building and as he met her at the door she burst into tears.
“I can’t take this!” she sobbed. “Please, put me back the way I was! I had no idea it would be so… so horrible!”
The man embraced her and stroked her hair with all the tenderness of a father. “I know it is hard, my dear. You must understand, there is no going back. You cannot un-see what you have seen, and your eyes are what they are now.”
“Then what hope have I?” she pleaded.
“We will complete phase two of the operation. I believe you will find that it will make a world of difference.”
They arose in the elevator, and at once Jasika felt calmed. It seemed the very air was relaxing.
In the lounge-operating room, she sighed contentedly, as if this place was more home than her own. Why, she could not say, save that it felt safe from the constant press of the outside world and its wickedness.
The man bid her lie down. She did so without hesitation. Once again he administered to her eyes the aspirated drug, and at once her vision blurred and left her altogether.
As before, the man spoke to her while he worked. But now what he told her was much different from before. He spoke not of the human condition and its flaws, but instead told a story of a man who had come long ago, a man who was so much more than just a man. A man who had seen the human condition with the right sort of eyes, and had committed himself to a course by which he could repair the human condition. That man had given up everything, even his very life, to atone for the selfishness so endemic to the human race. And now, because of that man’s work, a girl like Jasika need not feel guilty and afraid of her own inner motivations. Rather, she could look forward with hope, knowing that not only was she at peace, but she could also be changed.
Then the man spoke of the Divine, the nature of God. Jasika had heard about God before, but thought no one seriously believed in such things any more. And yet she found herself enraptured when the man connected the concept of God to the human condition as she had been made to see it, explained what God had made humans to be and what they had become, and then said the most amazing thing of all, that the one who had sacrificed himself for the sake of humanity was in fact God himself become man. He told her that by this sacrifice she had been redeemed. Jasika asked questions. The man gave answers. Finally, he told her about a life to come, a glorious end to all things, a final home for all who can see with right kind of eyes.
At last he declared the procedure complete. He put a glass of fruit juice in her hand – she still couldn’t decide what it was exactly – and helped her to a chair.
When her vision had returned, the man had donned his hat and jacket, and he helped her to her feet. “Come, let’s go for a walk,” he said. Jasika was about to put on her sunglasses, but he stopped her. “No need. Now that the procedure is done, it won’t matter.”
They went out to the street. Jasika felt different, but she couldn’t say why. They walked, and she watched. She watched people, looking for the things she would see now that she had the right sort of eyes.
A man slouched past them, looking sullen and forlorn. His clothes were torn and dirty, his face unshaven, and he looked hungry. Jasika’s eyes followed him, and she wondered what difficulties in his life had brought him to where he was.
They passed a cafe with a patio, where she noticed a young couple sitting across from each other. The man was speaking intensely, urgently, firmly. His counterpart sat with her arms folded, a dark look on her face. Jasika thought at first that he was being cruel to her, but realized a moment later that in his eyes was the pleading look of love, and whatever he was saying was motivated by his love for her. Perhaps what he was saying was exactly what she needed to hear.
As Jasika and the man continued to walk, Jasika saw things in a way she had never seen before. She saw pain, but felt deep compassion for it. She saw goodness that was far deeper than the false kindnesses she was accustomed to. She saw a young boy hold a door for a woman, his father patting him on the shoulder with pride.
Dozens of little examples of such things in such a short walk. She looked at the man beside her. “Did you plan it out so I would see so much?”
He shrugged and smiled. “Perhaps it was important that you be able to try your new eyes out.” He stopped suddenly. “Come, let us turn and look here for a moment?”
The man gestured at the building they were standing by. Jasika turned and saw it was an antique shop. In the window display was a full length mirror with gilded frame. Jasika looked at her face and her breath caught.
“Surprised at what you see?” the man asked.
“My eyes! They don’t look any different!”
“Did you expect them to?”
“I suppose,” she said. “I mean, your eyes…”
“Did I promise you the same eyes as mine?”
“Well, no, I just thought…” She stopped. “It’s not just your eyes that are different, is it?”
He smiled and shook his head.
“I just realized,” she said, “that I never told you my name. But you’ve said it plenty of times. And earlier, when I came to your place… I didn’t see anything evil in you. You’re… only good.”
He smiled and nodded.
“You didn’t do anything to my eyes, did you?” she asked quietly.
“Not true,” said the man pleasantly. “I did improve your eyesight. You’ve struggled with nearsightedness for years, but you didn’t want to wear glasses because you thought they make you look funny. Which, by the way, is completely wrong; you look beautiful with them on. But I know how much you want to not have to deal with it. You won’t anymore.”
She smiled. “And that’s all you did?”
“To your eyes.”
“So what’s changed? Why do I feel and see differently?”
“What’s changed is what you know and what you believe. I have given you a hope and a future. The world is as it always has been. Only now you will see it deeper. Shallow optimism has been replaced by stark reality. You will see evil, you will see pain, you will see suffering. But instead of anger, you will feel compassion. Instead of disgust, pity. Instead of despair, hope. And perhaps not always, but often your goal will be the same as that man I told you about… redemption. Best of all, you know how it will all end. And it is a good ending.”
She nodded. “I see.”
“Indeed you do.” The man suddenly started to walk away. Jasika decided she wasn’t to follow him.
“Oh, one more thing,” he said, stopping and half turning. “Spread the word, if you would. I can always take more patients.” And with that he was off.
Jasika looked once more in the mirror, smiled, then walked on.