With Mike, things between us were both consistent and constant. We would head to the same coffee shop, sit at the same table, order the same drinks, laugh at the same silly jokes.
So that afternoon, his little inconsistencies surprised me.
First, he sent a text asking me to come take him out. Usually I was the one who would do the calling and take him for a drink. Then, he was exceptionally restless and frustrated. Fine, boring, ok, no thanks… Short answers for virtually all the questions I asked him since he hopped into the car.
Finally he asked me the difficult question – The Question –
“Uncle James, why am I blind?”
And that very moment, I knew that he had grown up. Little Mike was not so little anymore. No longer was his world of blindness merely about himself.
“Dear Mike,” I began to tell him a story. “When God made little boys and girls like you, He gave them each a box. And in this box, He placed many special gifts. Gifts like ears to listen to songs,” I hummed his favourite tune into his ear, and he swung with the rhythm. He was loosening up a little. “Other gifts like singing, dancing, running… and of course, seeing…”
“Then why didn’t I have that gift!” came the quick interruption I expected. His face drooped into a sulky curve. His eyes, blind as they were, swelled with sadness and a longing that only God could fill.
“Ah!” I sounded cheery. “When you were born, we looked into your box, high and low, searching for that gift called sight. First your daddy looked for it, cannot find! Then mummy looked for it, still can’t find! Then Uncle James had to come help your daddy and mummy look for it… but we still couldn’t find it!
“So we decided to ask God,” I cleared my throat, and squeaked like a kid. “Dear God, where oh where is little Mike’s gift of sight? Did it drop out when he was flying—whoooooosh—all the way down from heaven?” Mike giggled a little.
“For many months, we kept asking, God oh God, where is little Mike’s gift of sight? But no answer came… Until one day, a little bird from heaven flew down to your daddy’s window, and came into your daddy’s room. Now guess what the bird said!”
Mike was all ears. His eyes, though staring blankly into space and capturing no light, were alit with curiosity.
“The bird whispered into your daddy’s ear, saying, ‘God’s not so careless-la! He makes no mistakes! Look inside his box and you’ll find that there’s something more special there than the gift of sight.’
“So daddy and mummy and uncle ran and ran and ran,” I pretended to huff and puff, “took your box and looked inside it again, and guess what we saw!”
Mike shook his head again, his arms somehow now intertwined with mine. I myself got carried away telling the story; I didn’t realize when his hands had reached for mine.
“We saw, a big… beautiful… heart, with your name written on it. Mike’s heart. This heart is soooo big, and guess what’s written on it? Love. The heart is called love.”
Mike’s grip loosened and he slouched into his chair, as if lost in his own thoughts. “Mike, do you know that you have a beautiful heart made to love the people around you? Do you know that every time you sit on your dog and ride it like a cowboy, you make Daddy and Mummy smile…”
“Really?” he sounded confused, not knowing whether to believe me or not.
“Of course!” I had to convince him. “When they smile, the mouth open so big until mosquitoes fly inside and lay eggs!” Mike laughed, and I silently prayed for forgiveness for making fun of his parents.
“Ok Mike. Ask you a question: how many kids bully you in school?”
“Three!” He replied quickly. “Sam the Fatty, John, and Peter.”
“How do you know Sam is fat?”
“Because my friends told me he's soooo fat that he has to squeeze through the toilet door!” Now I laughed together with Mike. And I wondered where the humour genes came from.
“Now, another question: how many people love you?”
Mike’s head leaned to the left and right as he thought about it, his mouth mumbling some names here and there, his fingers held up one by one. “A lot, correct?” I offered. He gently nodded his head.
“In your box, Mike, is the gift of love. God made you special, not by making you blind, but by giving you that big beautiful heart, and because of that He made you soooooooo lovable… do you know how blessed you are to have so many people around you who love you so much?”
Mike thought long and deep. "Why did God choose me?" I placed my hand over his head and rubbed his soft hair.
"Because He knows you're stronger and braver than anyone else."
Later that evening, I sent him home. Before getting out of the car, he hugged me as usual. Opening the car door, and slowly lowering his feet to the ground, he turned around and yelled,
“Uncle James, next time please tell me what God put inside your box, okay?”
Before I could even say anything, he slammed the passenger door shut. His walking stick eventually hit the gate, and his mother opened the gate and took him by the hand. While Mike sat at the doorstep, bending down to untie his shoelace, Miriam stole a glance at me, and her lips mouthed the word, thank you.
I reversed the car, sped home, tears all welled up in my eyes.
It’s you, Mike. You’re the gift God placed inside my box.