A Life Less Lived
“ I would like a small box of normal popcorn please”.
Chawe stared up and down the front counter of the cinemas and could not see salted popcorn. All of the flavors were all exotic from vinegar and chutney flavored popcorn. In his mind what he meant by ‘plain’ was that he wanted slightly salted popcorn. He looked up at the man behind the counter and he had a blank stare on his face like a lost kitten.
“What do you mean by normal”? He bellowed out with a touch of frustration at Chawe’s request. Chawe suddenly realized at the moment that he was in Amsterdam and what passed off for normal in his hometown of Johannesburg was not the same in Holland. Chawe desperately tried to hold on to his tone of authority. After all English was the man behind the counter’s second language and he would not use it to talk down to him with his strange Dutch accent, which sounded like he was reluctantly swallowing every word when he spoke in English.
“Salt and vinegar please. That will be all”.
“No problem at all sir, salt and vinegar it is”.
As the man handed him his small vinegar and salt flavored popcorn he could not help but pass off a bit of advise to Chawe.
“I don’t know where you are from but it sounds like America from your accent. You know it quiet weird that a lot of Americans fly eight hours away from their own continent and still don’t realize that what passes off for normal in their country is not the same everywhere else. Its like they don’t have an open mind that other societies think and do things differently”.
Chawe took a moment to digest what the man behind the counter was saying. He thought about what his life story would sound like if it was told within ten seconds and decided nothing good would come of it. He had lived on three continents in less than a ten-year span due to his parents moving around, first for their studies to America and then Kenya for work and not back to South Africa after apartheid. He had tried to shake off the American accent over the years but wherever he went people would accuse him of sounding like a Yankee. It was also why it was one of the reasons he did not fit in in South Africa. It was like that saying, ‘once you leave home, you can never come back’. With a bit of indignation that he had just been talked down to he responded back to the attendant in a mellow tone in order to show him that what he had just said and his observations had nothing to do with him.
“I am actually from South Africa and its ten hours away and not eight from Amsterdam. And secondly it’s universally accepted that slightly salted popcorn is called ‘normal’”.
“Okay Mr. from South Africa with a Yankee accent, sure it is”.
The attendant looked beyond Chawe to the next client in the line, which was a polite way to say he was finished with the conversation. Chawe stood there for a moment and quickly went over his life story again in his head and how he had landed up in Holland in Amsterdam of all places in order to find himself. He had left his previous job as a researcher at one of the oldest post offices in the world at Royal Swedish Post within the Schill Institure for human capital in Stockholm. For some reason something had gotten into him that he was not doing what he loved doing and he had to find meaning in his life, which was beyond financial returns. One day he wrote down a paragraph on his computer and printed it and took the lift up to the sixth floor where the head of human resources had her office. He knocked on the door twice and waited for a response. The strangest thing about the HR director was that she did not have her own secretary and all of the directors on the sixth floor shared a common receptionist by the elevator entrance to the sixth floor. As he had been to her office on numerous occasions before both for work and to socialize the receptionist did not bother to ask him what his business was with the HR director. A couple of seconds after his second knock he was welcomed with a hug to the HR director’s office.
“Chawe what a pleasure to see you. You know I had a dream about you last night and the things we are going to do to change the world together. You know there is going to be a time in the future when companies no longer use accounting and the measure of value for companies and something else has to be created and that is where you and I come in. Mr Schill the creator of the Royal Swedish Post intellectual capital navigator and intellectual capital valuations was just the beginning and there is a lot more that needs to happen”.
The HR director Stephanie was the only black director at Royal Swedish Post amongst a sea of Swedish directors whose names Chawe often could not pronounce or remember. Color had been the basis for their relationship, in that there were only two black people working within the whole company. But something else was the basis for their friendship and it was not their one night-stand but rather her optimism and energy about the future. She was convinced that financial value was not the measure of a companies performance and that something new would emerge in the future and that companies would measure their value according to the human capital with a business and the potential of the human capital. Intellectual capital in Sweden was abuzz in the early millennium in the year 2000 and working at Royal Swedish Post, Chawe was at the center of it all where a new matrix for intellectual and human capital had been created by a man named Mr. Schill which would soon replace company reports using financial measurements and accounting but would lead to some kind of steak holder report every year where financial valuations were a very small part of the reporting.
“Stephanie, I really believe in what you are doing and I know one day you will make one hell of a contribution to intellectual capital debates, but I think its time for me to get off this train”.
“Chawe I thought you loved your job and what you are doing here”.
“I do love learning new things and new ways of doing things but I don’t feel at the bottom of my soul that this is what I should be doing with my life. I have dreams of being an artist, a writer, a photographer anything that would get my creative juices going. I love writing and I love taking pictures and I feel those two things would add a lot of value to my life if I was doing them as a vocation and not as a part time activity”.
He handed her the piece of paper with the paragraph that he had written. As she glanced at it she took note of the fact that it was a very regretful letter of resignation and mildly apologetic to the company.
“Chawe, I don’t accept this at all. Please reconsider, you have a wonderful future here and your open mind is something the company values”.
“Stephanie, do you think I will get paid the remainder of my contract upon my resignation? There are a few things I would like to do, like looking for a photography or writing school somewhere in Europe”.
“Sure….. Sure Chawe. I mean that should not be a problem but ”….
Stephanie was sad that she was loosing an asset in the company that understood her with her British way of doing and understanding things, which was neurotic yet overly controlling. Chawe did trust himself enough to tell her about the voices in his head and the intense dreams that he had had ever since he started working at Royal Swedish Post but he felt that would be over kill. He wanted to keep working there but he could not deal with the voices and the endless sleepless nights. Although he loved his job his sanity had taken a back seat since he had joined the company. At one point in his mind he was sure that all the employees heard the voices and it was normal, but it was the dreams that got to him. Each night he would dream of interdimensional beings taking over his body and his ambitions and other convoluted ideas around a multiverse that made sense, and that he was at the center of this multiverse. He found himself in-front of a popcorn stand in Holland Amsterdam thinking about the day of his resignation from the company of his dreams rather than about his life story and how it could be explained in ten seconds. As he moved away from the cue to allow the person behind him to place his order he realized that he did not even remember how he had gotten to Amsterdam, and landed up at this specific cinema asking for normal popcorn. It was all so very confusing and convoluted. As he watched all of the people in the cinema looking down at their tickets and identifying the cinema with the movie that they wanted to watch, that he did not even have a movie ticket. It’s just as well as he was not in a mood to watch a movie for an entire two hours with subtitles and a foreign language. He took a seat at a solitary sofa on the side of the popcorn stand and tried to remember where his hotel was whilst snacking on his vinegar flavored popcorn. All he remembered was that is was by the square behind the Heineken building, which would not be so difficult to find. After all Amsterdam was not his final destination, it was a one night stop over where the following day he would take a train to Paris to go and see the photography school Speos that he had applied to. He collected his thoughts and slowly made his way to his hotel in the center of Amsterdam. When he arrived at his hotel he noticed that his popcorn was finished and that he could not remember any of the sites he had seen on the way to the hotel. He was so deep in thought that he forgot for those few moments to be observant of his surroundings. “Damn, I wish I had not resigned from my job to chase a dream of being an artists”! As he entered his hotel lobby he had a thought about the book he wanted to write one day and suddenly became rather pensive and poetic.
“Books are not written, but rather they choose the author that they would like to write them. It is seldom that writing feels like work but rather a calling from our internal genius to make sense of the world and the silent spaces in between the noise. This is the desired abode of magic is within these silent spaces where logical sense takes a rear seat and the improbable becomes the corporeal world. It is in these spaces that magic thrives and wishes to express itself not only to be seen but also to be lived and experienced. Those looking for magic often find it in the truest expression of their souls and hearts longing. Magic is to be found within those depths of ourselves we keep hidden from the world and ourselves. It is to be found in the spaces where time ceases to exist but is woven in the slow motion of the magical realm we sometimes call reality. It is in writing the words that represent magic that we often find that glimpse of ourselves we call potential. It is these moments where life meets altruism that we talk of the hand of God touching the things we do that represent our souls. Magic lies within that space of our hearts we call love cautioning of the obtuse side of pragmatic. With writing comes magic and with magic comes meaning followed by a desire of the soul’s truest expression”.
When he had his last piece of popcorn he came out of his personal monologue and thought about those sacred photo’s that he had dreamed of taking in unique spots around the world. He thought of the imaginary characters that would sit in front of his lens one-day posing in for him in sacred spaces he had not yet imagined. Yes risking it all and becoming an artist was the right decision and for a minute whilst chewing the last piece of popcorn he did not regret leaving his corporate life for a difficult search for his life calling. The resignation would be worth the journey he was about embark on. “Those whom lament about what could have been only do so because they could afford to live a life that less than what they desired”. He thought for a minute where he had gotten that quote from and he suddenly realized that he had made it up, just as he was making up this new journey of self-discovery for himself. For Chawe not following his dream was like a slow agonizing emotional death, which he was not prepared to endure. Following his dreams and resigning from corporate life was the only direction he was prepared to endure. It would be in the road less travelled that he would find his potential and derive meaning from his life.
His evening after the popcorn and walk started with a light two-hour nap before getting up to shower and have dinner in his hotel. After dinner he took a scroll through the red light district looking for an internet café to check his emails or a place where he could have a happy muffin. Whichever came first for him would be fine. He took in the sites of the red light district and for the second time he came across a black man whom was being denied a good time with a Russian looking lady behind the window. Curiosity got the best of Chawe and he decided to ask the black man whom had been denied entry. He walked up to the man with his arms at his side to show the man he was not a threat of perhaps some secret moral police of Amsterdam.
“Hey man, what happened, is your money not good enough”?
The man seemed desperate to soar his wild oats with a woman of his choice and for him it was a blonde blue-eyed Amazonian looking Russian woman behind the window.
“Damnit, even the whores are racist in this town. It’s my accent; she caught wind of my accent and decided that my money was not good enough. First the Muslims and now my being Nigerian is an issue and my money is not good enough”.
“Being Nigerian is an issue for hookers. Well whom knew”?
Chawe looked at the window once again with the Russian Amazon and she looked inviting as all hell, even he could see why the Nigerian man was so stressed about being turned down.
“Are hookers scared of 419 scams as well”? Chawe bluttered out without thinking about how that would be interpreted by the Nigerian man.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Damn Yankee. Are all Nigerians you know into 419 scams? In fact before you heard my accent I am sure I was just another guy you thought you could strike up a conversation with. What’s your problem anyways”?
“Hey man, relax it was a bad joke. Anyways I am from South Africa and not the US. Just lived there too long for my liking and I cant shake off this accent”.
“You South Africans are part of the problem why I can’t be the woman I choose to be on this strip. Your country fucked us all man, really fucked us all over. Our reputations as a continent was fucked up before you guys and now with your AIDS you’ve fucked us over even with the whores in Europe. Fuck”!
Chawe was ashamed to be a South African at that point. Realizing that South Africa had the highest rate of AIDS in probably the world and it ruined the Nigerian man’s chances of being with an exotic Amazonian looking Russian. He put his head down and avoided eye contact with the Nigerian man. He tried to ask the Nigerian a man a question to ease the tension.
“Do they think all Africans have AIDS? That’s really stupid”!
“Listen man, these girls are not out here charging for intellectual stimulation. They hear South Africa and AIDS on the news one day and for them its all Africans. So no cookie for me tonight. Now I have to find a second rate hooker whom will tolerate my black ass”!
“She does look inviting indeed however I am sorry about that 419 comment, that was not in good taste man. My name is Chawe”.
Chawe extended his right hand to greet the Nigerian man whom looked at his gesture for a while before deciding to accept his hand.
“Listen man, I am not into that shit. I came here for a woman and not a South African man looking to pick me up. Fuck off”!
“Hey man relax, I said I was sorry… Let… Let me help you out…. I… I will speak to her for you”.
“How the fuck is that going to help me. You’re just as fucked as I am and would not get very far with her. Did you not say you are from South Africa anyways? Fuck off”!
Chawe was now committed to helping the Nigerian man out because he had made such a fuck up of his small talk about the 419 scam. He decided to take the man’s tone and see if that would perhaps get his attention.
“Fuck me? Fuck you man! I may be South African but I don’t fucking sound like it now, do I? Perhaps my accent can help you out”?
“How they fuck is that? You think you waxing lyrical to her is going to fucking help me out. She fucking does not want my fucking black ass and how do you think you are going to change her mind. Fucker, fuck the fuck off for the last time, you fucking South African Yankee”!
The Nigerian man stood by the window of the Russian hooker for a while staring at what could have been if it had not been for the South African AIDS pandemic. Chawe stood behind him for about two minutes before he decided to assist the Nigerian man anyways. He walked in front of him and blocked his view of the hooker whilst he knocked on her window for her to open her business door on the right hand side of the window. She looked pissed off and tried to signal him with her hand to go away and he just kept knocking on her window.
“You think pissing her off is going to help you fucking cunt. Just Fuck off”!
The Nigerian was beyond livid.
After a while the woman had enough of Chawe’s persistence and walked over to her business door to tell him to piss off. She opened the door in a fit of anger and told him to fuck off in Russian.
“Hello mam my name is Chawe and that over there is my friend Rasheed from Nigeria”. She suddenly calmed down after she realized from his accent that he was from the US.
“Listen, I don’t give a shit whom your friend is, I don’t fuck with Africans. If the condom breaks I am fucked”!
Chawe decided to take a pragmatic position before trying to convince the lady about sleeping with his new friends Rasheed. His real name did not matter.
“Mam, don’t you use macrobicites anyways along with the condom? I am sure you are protected. The Russian amazon begun to calm down and thought perhaps Chawe had been with other hookers before since he knew a bit about their AIDS prevention mechanisms.
“Yes I do, but still I don’t want to take a chance with some fucking African. Fuck that”!
“Mam please let me explain to you, its not all Africans whom have an AIDS pandemic, but more specifically South Africa and Botswana. Now my friend Rasheed standing over there is from Nigeria which is more than six hours by flight from South Africa and Botswana on the other side of the continent. Africa is not one country but fifty-four nations on one continent. If you don’t believe me you can Google it yourself and you will find Africa has fifty-four countries and is not one whole continent like Russia.
“Hold on a minute, I will be right back”.
She closed the door and closed the curtain to her window and was gone for all but five minutes. Her door opened again and she came out with a face of resignation.
“Ok, your friend can come in but no funny shit or I will have my husband in the back fuck him up. I am working for my children and I don’t need stress on my job”.
The Nigerian whose name had now become Rasheed was more than enamored with Chawe. He wanted to be friends with this convincing new person he had met. As he went into the hookers business room he shouted out to Chawe.
“Give me five minutes I want to hang out with you for the night. Fuck me, you have made my dreams come true and I cant thank you enough”!
“Fuck off you fucker, I will be here when you come out in two minutes”.
When Chawe looked around he noticed that there was a happy muffin restaurant adjacent to the hookers business office and he decided to wait there for the Nigerian whose name had now become Rasheed. Chance meetings Chawe had learned offered the most amount of room for growth and development and he thought although it was a bit difficult to become friendly with the Nigerian, he would give this chance meeting a chance at a new friendship. He took a seat in the happy muffin restaurant, which was sparsely furnished with wooden tables and old school wooden chairs that looked like they could be used in an outdoor barbecue. A brief look at the menu, there was conservative, medium and champion muffins on order. A beautiful buxom brunette Dutch girl with French braids came to take his order.
“Two champion muffins for me and my friends whom will arrive soon please. But only bring them in twenty minutes”.
The girl was a bit taken aback.
“Sir the muffins are very strong, would you not like to start with our medium ones first and then move on to the champion ones”.
“I would if I were planning to have more than one and in my case I will not. I can’t say the same for my new friend whom will join me in ten minutes, so please give us two champion ones please”.
“Ok sir, so you want them in twenty minutes from now”?
“That’s correct, in twenty minutes”.
Whilst in Amsterdam Chawe felt very far away from his problems and his life issues and could not be freer. Walking the streets of somewhere new had a certain nostalgia about it and reminded him of lost moments in his life where life could have taken him in a different direction. He thought about the last year he has spent in Sweden and what he had learned, but more than anything he thought about the day he had recently spent in Norway visiting an old friend Anna Brunger whom he had only met on one occasion before. As he sat there thinking about the meaning of life and where his would take him and the new challenges he would face pursuing his dreams, the waiter arrived again with two muffins on hand.
“Sir you said I should bring these in twenty minutes and it has been twenty minutes now”.
“Has it really been twenty minutes”?
Chawe looked down at his watch and realized that it had actually been twenty five minutes and a couple of seconds give or take.
“Wow how time flies, don’t you say”.
“Yes it does especially at a happy muffin restaurant. Are you sure you would like both of these muffins they are rather strong”.
“Well I was waiting for a new friend and I was not planning on having both”.
Chawe stood up and looked through the main window of the muffin restaurant across the street to see if his new friend had finished with the Russian Amazon. Her curtains had been retracted when he walked into the muffin place and she was now standing in front of her display window waiting for another client. His Nigerian friend must have thought he had taken off and left him behind. He took a seat and looked at the buxom waitres and took a serous tone with her.
“If it’s not too much of a bother please take them away. I will still however pay for both of them since I ordered them”.
“Sir if you need someone to enjoy them with I would not mind joining you for a bit as I am on my tea break and sharing the other muffin with you”.
She did not know what it was about Chawe, weather it was the clean nerdish manner he was dressed or his respectful composure that made her trust him.
“You look like a descent guy in need of some company and I would not mind really”.
“I would really like that, when did you say your tea break was again”?
She smilled and took a seat on the table across from Chawe.
“Well it actually started about a minute ago. My name is Jansje”.
“Nice to meet you Jansje my name is Chawe”.
Chawe reached out his hand to Jansje and gave her a firm handshake which only served to reinforce the trust she had placed in him by agreeing to share a happy muffin with him. Chawe lifted up his happy muffin and was about to take a much awaited bite when his phone rang. It was his mother on the line. Before he could say hello she started.
“Chawe, I got a phone call from Royal Swedish Post yesterday that you had left your job”.
He put his muffin down before he could taste it.
“Yes that is correct mom, I am following my dreams and tomorrow I will take a train to Paris to a photography school there called Speos to have a look at some of their courses”.
“Chawe you know that the trust your grandfather gave you will only cover business studies and not some inconsequential artistic endeavor or inclination. You should have spoken to your father and I before you resigned from Royal Swedish Post”.
“Ma, actually whose life is this mine or yours”?
“Please come home now Chawe, you know with your condition you have to be careful”.
That was all his mother had to say to Chawe to take the fight out of him. He looked at Jansje seating across from him and the two muffins still in their plates and stared at them for a while. This was how freedom looked like he thought, almost a conversation with a beautiful Dutch woman and a happy muffin to add insult to injury.
“Listen Jansje, I am sorry I have to go. I have to take the midnight flight back home to South Africa tonight”.
He politely excused himself and walked out of the happy muffin restaurant. That scene in Holland was Chawe’s last taste of freedom. It was a scene that would stay with him for years to come and taunt him every now and then of his unfinished story and a life less lived.