Why don’t you sit down and let me tell you a story? My friends and relatives know this story by heart. It is one I like to tell again and again. What you are going to read is actually the first piece of travel-writing I ever wrote.
I am rewriting it here and now for a special reason. In a recent article, I told you about another one of my travel-writing pieces. It was about a homeless guy named Abraham. I told you how, months later, that piece unexpectedly reached Abraham (the magic of social media) and how Abraham turned out to be an inspiring artist of Venice Beach, L.A. As he quite correctly pointed out in one of his comments on my blog,
It is so interesting to think that life is like looking through a camera lens. Depending on the size of the lens, the magnification and all its hi-tech attachments, we get a view of the world that is still skewed or created by our perception. These little stories we create in our mind are our own personal adventures, dramas and comedy.
Yes. One day on a beach, I met a wandering homeless. And he turned out to be an artist.
Another day, I met God in a music instrument shop. And for all I know he may turn out to be… well, a music-instrument seller?
Or maybe not. Maybe he was a music-instrument seller and God. As Abraham said, each and every one of us plays a part in someone else’s mind, in someone else’s personal comedy. It doesn’t make that part any less real.
It was Spring 2007. I was in Oregon. A friend and I were to spend the weekend alone in Eugene while his partner was visiting relatives in California.
That day, we decided to see some of Oregon, as I hadn’t seen much yet. After a stop at Safeway on 18th to buy a huge pack of organic cranberry and oatmeal cookies (which we shared with two donkeys further down the road), we hopped in his car and drove all the way to X (let’s keep that place secret: this is a challenge to the magic of social media :) ).
The whole drive has been very special to me. It seemed endless in an eerie sort of way. My friend and I talked a lot, and we — at least I — ended up talking about very private things, things that I do not even share with most of my friends. We talked about life, on this highway on the other side of the world. I told him lots of things, some of which I don’t remember clearly telling, some of which I won’t retell here: some mysterious intuition tells me that they were to be told there and then only. On the whole, I told him about my feeling a little lost, about these decisions that I was suddenly compelled to make but which I was afraid of making. I told him about this sudden profusion of synchronistic messages telling me “Go for it!” and the fear, the anticipation, the need to control what was bound to happen.
Anyways, we finally reached X and had lunch. Then we strolled through the town’s typical streets and alleys, took pictures. And there it happened.
We were walking on a large avenue and passed a smaller side street. A Vietnamese restaurant was there, with that peculiar name: Baguette. So of course I stopped on the spot and grinned at the French word. Baguette means “chopstick” in French, but it’s also the name for that typical piece of bread every Frenchman is supposed to bring along under one arm. That last definition made the restaurant’s name particularly funny to me. I decided to take a picture of that restaurant. So we walked further into that side street and stopped right in the middle of the road to get the best shot. The street was almost deserted. I took the picture and commented it with my friend.
The voice is coming from behind. I turn around and look. A guy with a (dark?) beard, glasses and a smoking pipe is standing in front of a shop. He starts walking closer, looking at us, and I start walking toward him in a slight ellipsis, like I’m supposed to get closer but I’m not sure I’m really supposed to. I just say “hi”: the French word I have just heard seems improbable — after all, I had been talking in English with my friend, plus we’d been almost whispering, several feet away.
But the guy continues in French: “Comment ça va ?”, which means “how are you?”.
Why on earth is he talking in French and why to me? My brain resets on French and I go “Bonjour, bien, et vous ?”, which means “hi, good, and you?”. Then, we continue in English, and finally he says: “Come and visit my shop!”. I look at my friend, who looks at me. In any other situation, I would have thought that guy was strange. But then this was Oregon, this was not far from Eugene, and around there people could actually talk to you in the street, greet you from the opposite sidewalk without even knowing you. I miss that. So we’re like “yeah, sure” and enter the shop.
It was a music instrument shop. The guy was selling instruments, some new and some he had repaired himself. Inside the shop were two guys. One young, one older. The older guy was tall and heavy, with unshaved cheeks and chin, a red (or blue?) cap (something about him was red and blue), and a woodman’s shirt opened on a T-shirt. We started talking together about the shop, about me visiting Oregon. My friend started to talk with the shopkeeper about being a teacher. As I tend to have the attention span of a two-year old, I soon drifted off and started looking around from my spot, thinking about the instruments hanging from the walls. I particularly examined a nice harmonica that looked exactly like the one I’d got from my father as a kid, and that I had never learned to play.
Whoosh! I’m finally back to their conversation and the shopkeeper is still talking with my friend about how he himself changed his job late in life. Right then, one of the most freaky moments of my life happens. The shopkeeper just stops talking, right in the middle of his sentence, turns to me, looks at me right in the eyes and says in a low, calm, matter-of-fact voice:
“Don’t be afraid, Carrie.”
“The present is just a moment. And the future is just a succession of moments. So don’t be afraid, and just live on your life.” There, he turns away from me and resumes his conversation with my friend, as if nothing has happened.
Has something happened anyway? I gape at the shopkeeper a while longer, the world outside my body muffled like in cotton. I come to, and look at my friend, who looks at me with a kind of stunned “WTF was that??” grin.
Guys, the truth is, I just can’t really remember what the guy said. That was not just three sentences. That was a whole freaking paragraph. More precise, more developed than what I report above. So precise in fact, that it was commenting exactly on what I had discussed with my friend tens of miles away from there, that very morning in the car. And more than that: things I had not said in the car. How did he know? Who the hell was that guy? Did he himself know what he was saying?
Anyway, from that moment, there was no trace of what happened in our conversation. The shopkeeper did not came back on the subject nor did he talk to me in French either. He just said something like “hey, what were you looking at?”. I explained about the harmonica. And he went like “tell you what”, and he opened the glass box in which the harmonica was exposed, and handed it to me. He was giving it to me as a present, a nice, brand-new, an authentic Horner harmonica. I couldn’t say anything really, so I asked if I could hug him, and we hugged. I promised I would learn how to play it. Me and my friend said thank you, goodbye, and we left.
The rest of that day was great. The pie and organic milk at a café, the road back in this far west of the world, a stop in a deserted and eerie Brownsville at sunset (a tiny place where the movie “Stand by me” was filmed). I am not a believer and that whole God thing is this article is, in a way, a metaphor. But if I should die tomorrow, that kind of incredible day makes me feel lucky, and grateful.
If you liked this post, you might also like: