I am roused from my thoughts as the bus comes up to the next stop, and someone else tries to get onto the bus. It takes me a few seconds to realize the person is having trouble getting past the guide dog, which I direct away from the aisle.
He has some trouble fitting in the narrow gap between the two rows of seats. Touching both rows I can judge the distance between them and gently coax him into the admittedly narrow space for such a big dog.
"Thanks..." Peter Passenger says awkwardly.
"You're welcome," I say, kicking myself a second later for forgetting to look up towards the speaker, then shrugging as he didn't seem particularly interested in talking anyway.
Deciding that I've had enough awkward interactions for one morning, I place my headphones over my ears and flip the Noise Cancelation function to it's highest setting. The world around me fades away and I briefly marvel at just how primary my sense of hearing is to everything I do.
The interactions of my fellow passengers, the hum and creak of this rather rickety bus fade into almost nothing as the audio from my phone takes center stage. Running my finger across the screen, I locate the icon for my music app and start a playlist, smiling as the first chords sound through my headphones.
I get lost in the music and vocals for a time, my mind supplying info about what notes and chords are being played without me asking it to and I wince at a particularly flat note in a live performance. Gotta love perfect pitch sometimes.
The music drowns out the automated announcement of the bus stops, but I know my bus stops at a particular spot for longer than usual and I use that to orient myself, knowing that the stop after that spot is the one I get off at.
Reaching up towards the braille-marked button again, I push it down to have the bus stop at the next possibility. I smile as I remember the first few times I rode a very similar bus halfway across the country, in a sense my first step towards independence.
Switching off my music, I brace slightly against the seat to find a point of reference. Not being able to fix your eyes on a particular spot does wonders for your sense of balance, after all. In a charming "From the frying pan and into the fire" kind of way, that is.
The doors hiss open as I direct the guide dog towards them, his tail wagging slightly and hitting my arm in the process. I chuckle, then blink as the audible signal for the doors about to close starts sounding. "Hey! Wait a second!"
The signal lets up and I make my way out of the door, quickly grabbing into the side of the door as I step into nothing, finally finding purchase on Terra Firma and letting go of the doors. "Thanks..." I toss over my shoulder, not caring much if Danny Driver hears me as the doors close behind me.
"You saw I was about to get out, I thought I was the blind person here?" I grumble to myself. I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth to get an idea of where I am. The echoes bouncing back telling me their story. A structure behind me, made of thin but durable material, taller than me, enclosing me from the back and the right. The bus stop.
Next to me, I hear a somewhat shocked chuckle. Guess my grumbling had an audience. That or a meme on their phone got their attention. I decide to vote on the second option as the person almost slams straight into me. "Sorry..." they mutter. I shrug.
"Does make you wonder..." I mutter to myself as I repeat my click, hearing it bounce back off the glass of the bus stop behind me. Orienting myself based on where the sound of cars driving is coming from, I walk past it, gently coaxing the guide dog past a narrow spot he doesn't like.
Closing my eyes for a moment I listen at the crosswalk. The hiss-vroom of a bus behind me signals it's a departure, but the road in front of me is clear. "Across!" I tell my guide dog, who starts walking to the opposite side of the street obediently. Feeling the slight elevation in the brace of his harness, I judge the height of the step-up as I step up to my guide dog's front paws, telling him to go left and to find the steps to the right.
We walk at a reasonable clip, the sound of the restaurant below my workplace opening for business telling me I'm getting close. "No!" I admonish as I feel my guide dog's attention pulled towards the other end of the street. I get a chuff in response as his head orients back towards the front, veering me to the right as we come up to the steps.
Behind me, the "arf arf!" of a small dog sounds somehow like an accusation of betrayal as we climb the steps. "Ehh ... no worries, we'll get you some time in the forest later today" I say out loud as I playfully pet my guide dog's head. I get a lick to the palm for my trouble.
Coming up to the doors I push and pull on the handle before realizing it's the wrong one. Sidestepping, my fingertips trail the surface of the doors and windows until I reach the handle of the next door, which opens after a firm push.
As I walk in, I feel my phone buzz in my pocket. Pulling it out, my entire face breaks into a smile as my phone tells me it is a message from my partner, the mechanical, emotionless drone of my screen reader morphing into the perky, open voice of one of my precious people in my head as I listen to the message.
Typing on a touch screen while on the move is an exercise in frustration, so I opt for a voice clip instead, holding the button down and responding as I tell my guide dog where to go. We climb up the stairs to my floor, zoom through the corridors and get up to our office door.
Finishing my message, I put my phone away and pull out the security tag that opens the door, my hand exploring the wall next to the door until I find the reader. It chirps at me, the click of the doorlock disengaging telling me I can go in.
"Good morning!" a colleague calls out as I walk into the office. I recognize him by his voice, he sits across from me at the same desk.
I don't know everyone's voice here yet, there's a lot of colleagues I don't regularly interact with. My team members though, those I recognize.
"Heya Steve," I say as I turn my face into the general direction of the voice. "Could you do me a favor and get me a coffee if you're going for one anyway?"
He agrees and I give him a nod in thanks before walking over to my table. The coffee machine is inaccessible, using a touch screen that locks me out as effectively as a brick wall would. Fortunately, my colleagues tend to be good about giving me a hand with these things.
The guide dog knows this office rather well by now, and with barely any direction from me, he soon bumps his nose against my chair, getting a treat for his trouble as I sit down and take off his harness.
He shakes himself vigorously, a cloud of white fur settling down around him as he walks over to his pillow and settles down. One of my colleagues laughs outright. "He loses so much hair when he does that ..."
"Yeah, it's an ongoing thing with him" I respond as I open the lid of my laptop, finding the slight tactile marking of the power button with one hand, while the other flicks on the switch of my braille display.
The familiar sounds of the computer coming on greet me almost like a pre-flight check as I log into the system and my braille display comes to life, dots coming up and changing under my fingertips as I settle in for a day of work.
What is going to happen at work? Will we see more interactions with my partner? Just what do I get up to while my colleagues think I am programming? And how true is it that the Dutch eat sandwiches at lunch?
Keep an eye on this space, you might just find out :-)