It’s 2019 and I’m seated on a bench in a park. The smile on my face is competing with the bright midday summer sun. I’m at the end of another exhilarating adventure, travelling for months around the country. And for this I’m indebted to a masked man with a gun.
So suppose there are no good or bad events; that life is a single continuous event marked by distinguishable happenings, each and all responsible for how it unfolds. But I insist that this isn’t so, not appreciating the bad events means that without them I couldn’t experience particular previous and subsequent good events.
In 2012, I am standing behind a store counter, cursing the world.
The morning sky showed gloom. The store is surrounded by glass walls a few metres long and even fewer metres wide. It houses phone accessories and expensive new phones in a safe behind the counter.
This is my job. But I dream of travel, which seems to only be reality for the prosperous. I’m prepared to spend time, years even, garnering as much prosperity as I can.
It’s hard to imagine a job that isn’t characterised by some repetitive process. And because the soul appreciates change, the repetitiveness is inevitably detrimental. My soul is screaming but my body and mind are singing even louder; glad for the food they eat, and the materialistic future they imagine.
The routine gloomy Monday is going as expected when the arms of my watch touch 6pm.
It’s in this moment that two gunmen barge into the store, their faces covered. Their presence is followed by terror and an eerie silence. Fear reverberates around the glass walls as one masked gunman forcibly leads my co-worker to open the safe. The other gunman stands close to the door, his gun pointed nervously at the remaining elderly customer and me.
“Okay, here. This is all I’ve got,” the elderly lady says in terrified compliance.
She empties her handbag on the counter.
Lipstick. A small mirror. Pieces of folded paper. Pens and jewellery. A cellphone. And a book.
There we stood the three of us moments later, wide-eyed, stunned and breathing heavy. All the phones in the store had been taken.
My wide-eyed co-worker is beside me. His black shirt tucked deep, his tie straight, and his hair neat. His big eyes and heavy breathing providing the only clues to his disorientation. He is staring through the lady in front of us who has just lost her handbag, and her breath. The robbers left us moments ago.
The elderly lady looks at where she scattered her belongings on the counter. Her expensive handbag nowhere in sight. The phone and jewellery missing. And so, with resigned sorrow she walks gingerly out the door, leaving behind what is left of her things.
“Into The Wild”, reads the cover of the book on the counter. I read the book that night alone in my backyard room of zinc and wood.
The book told a story of a young man, with an urge for altruism and simplicity through scant living and travel. It took my mind another year to be comfortable with and conceptualise wild travel and hitchhiking, but because of the threat of a bullet, a seed had been planted.
Now I know. That because I got robbed that gloomy Monday, I was able to conceive a mode of travel that has allowed me to see amazing places, and meet incredible personalities I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced. But not solely because of this, since nothing is owed to one single event. So if I’m to give thanks it would be to my co-worker for insisting we stay open for half an hour longer. To the old man in the taxi for telling me about a vacancy at a cellphone store. And to my mother for forcing me to board a taxi to town to buy packets of the candy she sold. To countless other butterflies affecting this continuous event which is life.
And to the sky, for being gloomy enough for butterflies in masks to dare!