A Man in the Jaws of a Crocodile
There is a writer I follow on Facebook who regularly posts inspiring quotes. I don’t always catch his posts, but on days I’m watching my News Feed, I’m always moved by what he chooses. Recently he posted one that has become a personal favorite. It’s a quote that reflects my perspective on life, and I want to share it with you for today’s installment of Manuscript Monday, along with the following story which has now become part of a later chapter of my manuscript.
Thank you, Dinty W. Moore, for your daily inspiration, your excellent writing and perspective of life, and your good-natured acceptance of this harmless literary stalker.
Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale. ~ Wale Ayeni
Dinty posted this on Thanksgiving Day. If we had been in America, at home and celebrating the day with family and friends, the quote would not have inspired this moving and beautiful conversation.
As it was, we are in South Africa, and on Thanksgiving Day I was going about business as usual. Kurt was working and I was running errands. I went out of my way to park near one of my favorite car guards, a Nigerian named David, who is in Pretoria studying Mining Engineering while working his way through his studies by watching over an area of parking lot. Car guards are there to mainly watch over the cars to prevent theft, but also assist as needed with groceries, and guiding cars in and out of parking spots (yes, it is quite strange to have someone assist you in maneuvering in a parking lot).
David and I strike up a conversation every time I park, sometimes continuing a previous one, and sometimes starting a new one. As I got out of the car, David said “Hello, Marla. Today it is Thanks Day in America, yes?” I answered that it was and matched his own toothy, lopsided grin with my own gummy smile.
“Then,” he continued, “I must tell you that I thank God that I can go to school and have a job and meet nice people like you and have good conversations.” He then went on to tell me that the latest hailstorm flattened many of the lean-to type shacks in the informal settlement section of Mamelodi. David does not live in Mamelodi, nor is he South African. He only wanted to explain his recognition for his life as lucky in comparison to the struggle he sees around him.
I told him about the quote (above) and he said “Yes, this is how it is.” and asked me who could have a better fairy tale life than me? I told him a few people I envied (mostly successful writers) and he asked me if I didn’t also envy all the Mercedes and BMW’s in the parking lot (Americans working for my husband’s company are each assigned a Toyota Corolla.) I said they were nice, but my fairy tale life involves action more than possession.
David then went back to his own comparison to the people who lost their makeshift houses in the hailstorm, and then said “But maybe their makeshift houses are a fairy tale for the one who is sleeping under the tree beside the road.” (I have seen the homeless individuals he is referring to; living near the highways, putting together fire with collected sticks at night, hanging laundry over nearby chainlink fences.)
“But,” he looked at me very seriously, “who has a fairy tale to be a homeless person living beside the highway?”
My response came more quickly than I thought it would, and I wasn’t sure if it was tasteful, only that it was honest and raw to what I felt: “Where I am from, it’s very cold, but we also have homeless people. In the winter, some homeless people freeze to death while sleeping on the concrete under bridges. Maybe being homeless in the warmth of Africa is a better place?” He stared at me, and I wasn’t sure if he was contemplating it, or if he was doubting whether or not I was, after all, a good person. I continued, “But I don’t know who would want the life of a homeless person freezing to death.”
His eyes lit up with challenge and I realized he had been contemplating, as if we had stumbled onto a game, the consequences of which have no direct bearing on either of us, and yet every bearing on who we are, or who we want to be. I thought we had come to an end in our conversation, and turned to go run my errands, but he moved to block me slightly.
“A man in the jaws of a crocodile” he said. “A man in the jaws of a crocodile I think would want to be a man without a home freezing in America.” He was ecstatic with his revelation. “Because he has a chance.” He finished, looking at me expectantly.
I’m not sure if he could tell I was getting choked up, but I tried to keep my voice level and answered “Yes. I don’t think there would be anything worse than a man in the jaws of a crocodile.”
David’s grin slid a little wider, flashing even more teeth, through which he replied, “I bet we can think of something.”
I bet we can, David. Thank you.
I hope I’ve captured the memory as honestly and true to your manner of speaking as possible.
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