This story is by P.R. Garcia and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Alone, in an 8 X 9 room, a seven-year-old boy named Jamie sits in a bed. Tilting his head, he tries to distinguish a sound coming from the hallway. Was someone out there? His surroundings are dark, scary, and foreboding, a realm of complete blackness with no shadows or light. Nothing penetrates the void of black. How could it? Layers of gauze bandages cover his eyes, surrounded by an adhesive bandage wrapped around his head. This is his existence ever since the eye surgery three days earlier.
Jamie waits quietly, alone and forgotten. At least, he feels that way. But it isn’t true. His mom has been at his side nonstop. At Jamie’s insistence, she and his dad ran down to the cafeteria for a quick bite of breakfast. While gone, the nurses are checking on him. However, momentarily, there is no one–no one but him and his countless questions and uncertainties. Was the operation a success? Would he be able to witness the world in colors? What if the procedure didn’t work?
Jamie was born with achromatopsia and is colorblind to the extreme. His world consists of shades of white, gray, and black. He has never witnessed the brilliance of yellow, the fire of red, the softness of blue, or the peace of green. Although he can distinguish shapes, the inability to discern color makes many objects invisible. He is always bumping into or stumbling over something he did not understand. Because he is young and has his entire life to navigate through, the doctors chose Jamie to be the third recipient of a new ocular transplant, which would, hopefully, let his photoreceptors process light correctly.
As he waits in the darkness, thousands of tiny ants crawl beneath his skin, making his muscles tremble. He is nauseated, and chunks of food threaten to erupt from his stomach. His mouth is dry. The bitter taste of medicine coats his tongue. He tries to manufacture some saliva to help with the bitterness, but he doesn’t have enough moisture. Carefully, he reaches out and locates his glass of water. Slipping the straw between his lips after stabbing himself in the nose, he sucks up a long slurp of water, swishes the liquid around, and swallows. That helps.
A new sound reverberates at the door. Jamie’s heartbeat increases. Is a monster coming to attack him? Or something worse? “Who’s there?” he shouts.
“It’s Mom, Sweetheart,” comes a familiar voice.
“And Dad. How are you holding up?”
“A little scared,” Jamie says. “What if the operation didn’t work?” Finally, he blurts out the question haunting him.
“Let’s not worry about that. Think positive. The other two recipients had significant results and are seeing in full color.”
“But what if I don’t?” The words almost stick in his throat. His stomach burns.
“Then we’ll try something else,” his father says. The scared child feels his father take his hand in his. “And if that doesn’t work, we’ll try the next thing until you say no more. We won’t give up, Jamie. I don’t want you giving up either.”
“Ready for the big day?” comes the booming voice of Dr. Bluestein as he enters the room. “Let’s show you what the world really looks like.”
Jamie remains silent. Maybe if he stays still, he’ll become invisible, and he won’t have to face reality until later. “He’s a little apprehensive,” his mom says.
“Understandable,” the doctor laughs. “Nurse Patricia will give you a shot, Jamie, to help with those nerves. After the shot, she will disconnect your IV and help you over to a chair by the window. Once you’re ready, I’ll start removing the bandages. Okay?”
Jamie doesn’t know why, but he is afraid to speak, fearful all the emotions he is holding in his body will burst out and destroy everyone. He simply nods. His arm stings for a second when the tranquilizer penetrates his skin. Within seconds, the ants disappear, and his stomach stops hurting. Jamie floats in a slight sensation of euphoria as Nurse Patricia escorts him over to the chair. A huge smile covers his face.
“Okay, Jamie, I will start by unwrapping the cloth around your head,” Dr. Bluestein explains. “Tell me the moment you notice anything other than blackness. Do you understand?”
The tightness on his head lessens with each layer’s removal. Jamie holds his breath. So do his parents.
“It’s getting lighter,” Jamie says.
“That’s great,” Dr. Bluestein says. “As I remove more of the bandage, you will observe more and more light. But you won’t see any color yet, so don’t be alarmed.”
“Jamie, I will now remove the gauze pads. You’ll feel me tearing away the tape. With each pad I remove, your world will become brighter. You may start to notice small patches of blurred color. Keep your eyes shut until I tell you to open them. Do you understand?”
“Mom? Dad?” Jamie calls out. His heart is racing again.
“We’re right here, Jamie,” his father says. The sound of a chair scraping across the floor fills the room. He feels pressure on his left hand. “Mom’s sitting beside you and will hold your hand so you won’t be afraid.”
“Thanks.” He feels a slight tug on the skin around his eyes as the doctor pulls the tape and top gauze pad off. More and more light fill his eyes until the blackness disappeared. At last, the bandages are gone.
“Jamie, I want you to tilt your head back,” Dr. Bluestein says. “I need to flush out the debris crusted over your eyes before you can open them. Some water will probably run down the side of your face.”
Without a word, Jamie tilts his head back. A liquid flows over his right eye and down the side and front of his face. Someone is wiping it away with a towel. Next, water flows over his left eye. This time some runs into his mouth.
“Keep your mouth closed, Jamie,” Nurse Patricia says. He feels her wipe the dampness from his skin, then apply another liquid shower. Gently, a cloth scrubs the gook away that still clings to his eyelid.
“Okay, Jamie, I want you to look straight ahead out the window,” Dr. Bluestein says. “Open your eyes slowly. If the light gets too bright, just re-close your eyes and allow them to adjust, then reopen them. When you’re ready.”
Squeezing his mom’s hand for support, Jamie opens his eyes. He gasps as he observes the color of light, a yellowish-white hue. It’s much brighter than it was before the operation. He closes his eyes for a moment, then slowly reopens them. His vision is immersed in what he assumes is the color of blue, for the entire sky resonates with the beautiful tone. Never did he imagine such a color existed. Tears fill his eyes and run down his cheeks. He shifts his vision to a large tree outside his window. At least he thinks it’s a tree. The trees in his gray world were just large poles with a round or rectangular silhouette of grays piled on top. But this tree has a column of textures and colors, adorned with a canopy of individual leaves colored in various shades of green. He had witnessed individual leaves before, but not together in a tree. It is incredible. All the emotions raging inside his body burst free. His body quivers from his sobbing. His world now contains the beauty of boundless colors.
“Everything is so beautiful,” he shouts. He turns to his mom and looks at her through blurred, tear-filled eyes. Reaching out, he gently touches her cheek. “Your eyes are the same color as the sky.”
“Yes, my eyes are blue,” his mom says.
“And, Dad. Your eyes are the color of the treetop.”
“Yes, Son. My eyes are green. Just like yours.”
“That’s the color of my eyes?”
“Both of you have hair like the tree trunk. What color is that?”
“That’s called brown.”
Jamie’s eyes widen and he draws in a breath as he moves a finger to his mom’s lips. “What color is this?”
“It’s so intense. Do I have red lips?”
“No, Silly. I have lipstick on.”
“I never dreamt there were so many colors. I only expected a handful.”
“Here, Jamie,” Dr. Bluestein said, holding out a mirror for Jamie to take. “I thought perhaps you would like to see your own face in color.”
Taking the mirror, Jamie cautiously lifts it to witness his face. He stares at the image looking back at him, a person composed of pinks, browns, greens, and yellows. His emotions erupting, he leaps into his mother’s arms.