Agenda Reveal

Fifty-two weeks, fifty-two blog posts, and more than 52 000 words – enough to fill all the pages of a young adult novel. Not a particularly coherent young adult novel, to be sure, but a substantial body of work nonetheless.

TFiOS
I could write a book like this, but about the Chilean transport system and thoughts on why sneezing is awful.

Now, as I see the year coming to an end, and with the shore of 2018 looming on the horizon, I don’t expect to give up writing blogs permanently, but I do want to at least take a brief respite from it. Be that as it may, I can’t properly put down my pen just yet. Mostly because I don’t use a pen to write. I write on my laptop. It’s all just ones and zeros, really. But  before I stop typing, I first want to take a look back at the year that was, and also offer a brief glimpse of the future.
I began this year by setting out a list of resolutions, expectations, and predictions I had for 2017, and all in all I think the year turned out pretty well. I wasn’t as naked as much as I’d hoped to be, but I did continue with improv and I attained and surpassed my goal of running a marathon. I joined a book club, albeit briefly, and I wrote.

I wrote a blog a week, as intended. But I did not develop a fluency in writing as expected. Most weeks, I would find myself sitting in front of my computer screen for hours on end with nothing to show for it. There were times of frustration, and on multiple occasions I thought to myself, “This is it, isn’t it? This is the week when I fail to publish.”
What I did learn was the importance of having the space and time to write. I still have no desk in my apartment, and almost all of my blogs have been written with my laptop perched on my lap or in noisy coffee shops. At times, I’ve even had to write using only my phone. In those situations, inspiration does not come easily or quickly. Writing fiction this year has been all but out of the question. So I didn’t learn much in the way of how to write, but I did learn how not to write, and my life is one that is not conducive to writing.

With that in mind, and now that the obligation of writing a weekly blog post has passed, it is time to look towards the future. Three years in Chile has, I believe, been quite sufficient, and now it’s time for me to move on and to expand my horizons. So in February I will be leaving Chile for good and moving to South Korea, where I will continue working as an English teacher.

Pink and Blue
It’s a…
Pop with Flag
…sovereign East Asian state!

It was a decision which took the greater part of the year to come to, and I am certain that it is the right one. I won’t go into the terribly involved and convoluted thought process which brought me to this conclusion, but in short, Korea will provide me with a decent salary, stable work hours, and enough free time to pursue my own passions. It is a step towards better things for me, but in order to get there I first need to pass through that agonizing ordeal of saying Goodbye to those I so love. I will miss Chile greatly, and the people I have met here will remain in my heart forever.
The goodbyes have already begun, and here I begin another: Goodbye, Dear Reader.
Thank you to those who have kept up with my writing throughout the year. Thank you to everyone who has ever spoken to me about the things that I’ve written. Thank you to everyone who has said to me, “I read your blog.” Time is precious, and I’m grateful to everyone who has expended some of their valuable time reading my work.
So many stories remain untold, and many exhilarating memories will fade into undocumented oblivion. But I won’t be gone forever. I’ll pick up the writing again soon enough. The next two months are certainly going to be eventful, and will warrant their own blog posts. I also intend to begin a new blog about my experiences in South Korea. I’d be a fool not to document those. And who knows? Maybe, if I’m lucky, when I get there I’ll have my very own writing desk.

Thanksgiving
The people in Chile are good people
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Mane Characters

When I was at university I let my hair grow and grow until it was long enough to tie back into a ponytail. I should remind you that this was in the first decade of the new millennium. Had I gone to university in the 1980s, or even the 1990s, perhaps I would have been more popular with the ladies. As it was, I did not receive a whole lot of female attention during my tertiary education. That’s not to say that men with long hair are inherently unattractive, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.
My reasons for eventually cutting my hair short are several:
Having long hair was uncomfortable. Each time I hitched my school bag onto my shoulders, my head would jerk violently as the strap of my bag pulled my hair down against my shoulder.
I had also been told on more than one occasion that once I entered the workforce I would be pressured into cutting my hair. I didn’t enjoy the prospect of having an outside force dictate my appearance, so I thought I would take preemtive measures and cut my hair on my own terms.
But the true driving force behind my decision to neaten myself up, Dear Reader, is because I am a cinephile. A large part of my perceptions of the world have been shaped by cinema, and towards the end of university it became profoundly noticeable that not one single leading man had long hair. As we entered the new millennium, long hair on men had become reserved for henchmen and side characters. Suddenly, any main man who was a mane man was automatically a parody of heroism.
While having long hair is not unattractive in itself, to me it is a sign of being a side character in the main act. In this new epoch of physical appearance, I found that I was no longer a hero, and I needed to change that, so I cut my hair in order to once again become the leading man in my own story.

McGruber
McGruber came out in 2010, and the hair alone indicates that he is a not to be taken seriously.

Now that Hollywood has left long hair far behind, I feel the tide shifting again.
This time, it’s not a question of appearance, but rather of action. And it’s not something I am seeing in heroes, but in villains: I am beginning to feel that the presence of animal flesh on the screen is becoming a sign of menace.
If you want to show that a character is greedy, film him voraciously gnawing the meat off of a chicken drumstick. If you want to show that he is violent, show him punching an animal carcass. If you want to show that he is cold and unfeeling, show him torturing someone inside a walk-in freezer surrounded by skinned animals dangling from hooks.

Denethor Eats
Watching Denethor eat in The Return of the Kind is enough to make you despise him.

And it’s not just the villains’ treatment of animals that is starting to give carnivorism a bad name. Animal videos on social media are on the rise. Perhaps it’s just the friends I follow, but I am becoming increasingly exposed to videos of animals displaying painfully beautiful human traits. It seems silly to even write it down, but I will anyway: We are seeing animals displaying intelligence, and love, and loss, and friendship, and even selflessness. To say that animals exist solely for our consumption is ridiculous. They exist for the same reasons we do, whatever that may be. It’s becoming harder to ignore the fact that humans and animals have more commonalities than differences, and I personally am reaching a stage where I can no longer fight the cognitive dissonance which allows me to love animals while at the same time guiltlessly eat a hamburger.

Donkey loves his owner
You’ve probably already seen this video. It’s the kind of friendship I could only dream of having.

To be clear, I love eating meat. And I’ve got no problem with other people who eat meat. I do not want to give it up, and I don’t even know the first thing about maintaining a meat-free diet. So I won’t give it up readily. But my revulsion is on the rise, and perhaps one day I’ll find myself biting into a steak and truly realizing that I am not the leading man in my own life anymore.

Pan-demonym

Quite a few of my friends are American. Some are even from the United States of America.
To clarify: Every person who is native to North or South America can be termed American, in the same way that people from Germany can be termed European and people from India can be termed Asian. If you want to get more specific, you could describe people from the Americas as North American or South American, depending on where they are from. But they’re still American.
People from the United States tend to refer to themselves as American. And that’s fine – it’s their globally recognized demonym. But the unfortunate side effect of this is that it excludes the entire rest of the population of two continents. So Chileans* tend to disagree with the idea that people from the United States should exclusively be called Americans. This is a very valid point.

Captain America
What’s your jurisdiction, Cap?

I am an African (more specifically, a Southern African (more specifically, a South African)), so this debate is really not mine to have. But what does affect me is when it comes to the linguistics of the situation. You see, Spanish speakers have it easy, because in Spanish there is the phrase estadounidense, which basically means “United States-ian.” Convenient enough, but that hasn’t really caught on in English just yet. As a result, to avoid causing offense, I have to go through some pretty severe lexical gymnastics. Rather than just affixing the prefix “American” to the start of things pertaining to the US, I have to suffuse the suffix “…from the United States” to the end of things pertaining to the US.
For example, I cannot simply say “My American friend.” I have to say, “My friend from the United States.” It breaks the natural flow of speech.

Of course, in the grander scheme of things, this little morphological menace doesn’t completely cripple communication, and you might even say that I am over-reacting. But using “from the United States” repeatedly is like having to get out a footstool every time you want to fetch a tin of coffee down from a high shelf – not a chore in itself, but wearisome after repetition. I cannot refer to the Fourth of July as “an American holiday”, I have to say “a holiday from the United States.” In my job I often have to draw comparisons between British English and “English from the United States.” Occasionally, I have to tell my students that I have British friends, Canadian friends, friends from the United States, and Brazilian friends. That’s quite a mouthful.
Sadly, my hands are tied. I don’t want to cause offense, so I must communicate with complication. The phrase “…from the United States” sticks out like a corpse in a flash mob. It’s clunky and awkward and entirely without rhythm. Sure, I could shorten “United States” to “You Ess,” but that doesn’t slide off the tongue as nicely as “American” does. And I’ll admit that I have even taken to moving “You Ess” around to the front of the thing I am describing, so that I’ll say “You Ess English” instead of “English from the United States.” But that feels like a betrayal of sorts; like I’m getting lazy with my English.
I admit that this vexing verbosity does remind me to be sensitive in my speech, but I’d be more than happy if we could start saying “United Statesian” instead.

Apple Pie
As American as apple pie… from the United States.

 

*This probably applies to everyone in the Americas, but I can only speak from what I have observed in Chile.

How Flimsy is Your Basket?

My student stabbed her pen in my direction and said “The people in Egypt are crazy!”
This wasn’t a racist jibe, it was the preamble to a story. I had asked Francisca to describe the most terrifying travel experience she’d ever had, and I found her answer quite perplexing. We were on the sixth floor of her apartment. I could see the neighbouring building, where a woman was hanging out laundry on a balcony. Francisca folded one leg underneath her on her living room couch and gazed out through the sliding door, recalling the day.
“I was in Luxor, in Egypt” she said, “and I had signed up to take a hot air balloon ride.”
Francisca was well-travelled, and she mentioned Egypt a lot, almost never favorably. On this occasion, she had been obliged to wake up at 03.00 in the morning in order to take a van out into the plains of Luxor. The van ride had been three hours. Waiting for the aeronaut to appear had taken an additional two. She and the other tourists couldn’t even get out of the van to walk around because of the mosquitoes that swarmed the area.
“Oh wonderful!” I said, determined to keep positive. “So the tour guides let you take refuge indoors. Such luxury!”
But that was the least of her problems. For starters, the basket of the hot air balloon was flimsy and overburdened with tourists.
“In Luxor,” she said, “there are only five air balloons! Five!” She showed me the back of her splayed hand, indicating the number as if she were about to deliver a backhanded slap. “And they never receive maintenance!” Eyes bulging with remembered rage, my student pulled out her phone and looked up a photo on Google Images:

Luxor
“See? It’s always those same five balloons. All the time, without rest.”

My student continued, “And do you know how the aeronaut kept track of where we were going?” Here, Francisca clasped her right wrist in her left hand, as if miming being handcuffed. “A digital watch! My cousin used to wear that exact same watch more than twenty years ago.”
I pounced on the moment. “You have such remarkable deductive skills, Francisca! Obviously, since the man’s navigational tool was so old, it was a clear sign that you were in the hands of a man who knew his work – who’d been doing this job for decades. You couldn’t have been safer!”
But Francisca was not to be dissuaded. “The trip was so expensive! Do you know that they charged one hundred dollars?”
“And how long was the trip?” I enquired.
“It was only an hour, but, believe me, it felt more like ten!”
“Fabulous!” I said, “Such value for money! Ten dollars for every perceived hour!”
Francisca shook her head incredulously. Speaking in conspiratorial tones, she leaned forward and said, “Have you ever been to Cappadocia?”
“Cappadocia?”
“Cappadocia. It’s in Turkey.”
“I have not,” I confessed, “been to Cappadocia in Turkey.”
My student’s faced cleared, as if she’d suddenly remembered an actor’s name. “Now that is a place that knows how to do hot air balloon rides. Mira…” She produced her phone once more and showed me this picture:

Turkey
I asked her if this was a painting. She informed me that it is a photograph.

Francisca grew animated now. Or, more animated than she had been. Or, animated, but in a happier way.
“In Cappadocia,” she said, “you don’t have to wait two hours in a van.”
“It leaves you scorching in the sun?” I asked. “That sounds awful!”
“In Cappadocia, the aeronauts have state-of-the-art GPS equiment!”
I nodded knowingly, “Incompetent, are they? I should have known.”
“There you at least get value for money. It’s one hundred dollars and they also give you champagne. Everything is beautiful, and you can truly appreciate that hour in the sky.”
I let out a low whistle. “One hundred dollars for one perceived hour? That’s a bit expensive, don’t you think?”
Francisca pointed at the picture of her phone again. “But look how many there are? Hundreds! These balloons at least have time to be repaired. They don’t all have to be in the air at the same time. These balloons are far safer than the ones in Luxor.”
I thought about this. “I don’t think the balloons in Luxor are that dangerous. If any of them had ever caught fire and killed any tourists, I’m sure it would have made international news.”
Francisca, who was more knowledgeable about these things than I was, shook her head. “A few years ago, a balloon caught fire in Cappadocia, and six tourists died. Did you hear about that?”
I had to admit that I had not heard that story.
“But that was in Cappadocia?” I asked.
“Cappadocia,” said she, nodding sympathetically.
We sat for a few seconds in silence, Francisca thinking about the poor souls who had lost their lives, and me thinking about what she had just said. Eventually, she understood my point, and explained: “Well, with all those balloons, there’s a higher probability that there will be an accident.”
I allowed myself some time to process this. Outside, the woman across the way had finished hanging her laundry, and was retiring back inside.
“So, statistically speaking,” I said, “Luxor is safer than Cappadocia?”
Francisca wasn’t listening to me anymore. Her mind was back in Egypt, reliving a  terrifyingly wonderful moment she would never forget.
“The people in Egypt are crazy,” she whispered.

My Imagined Me

I’m thinking of taking up smoking, and here’s why.

I was born an introvert, too terrified to answer a phone or talk to a stranger. Interactions with unfamiliar human beings required rehearsed lines and zero eye contact. I was content to spend my evenings reading in my room, and would be struck numb with fear whenever I was tasked with returning library books or buying bread. I could visualize the conversations I wanted to have, or the way I wanted to behave, but I could never bring myself to talk or act the way I imagined I could. Gradually, I began to recognize a separation in the way I was and the way I perceived myself:

There was the Real Me – the introvert, too afraid to remain in the company of others for more than a few moments at a time. The one who was unable to sustain a conversation. The one who smiled at everyone in an attempt to avoid conflict. The one who never knew what to say or what to do with his hands.

Then, there was the Imagined Me – the extrovert, the socially confident one, the funny one. The one who moved gracefully and always looked you dead in the eye while saying exactly the right thing. The one who was unafraid to start a conversation, unafraid to linger, unafraid to put his hand on the shoulder of someone he’d just met. My Imagined Me was always better looking than me, better dressed, and more adored. He carried himself better, and had a magnetism that I wanted but was too afraid to grasp. Whenever I went out, I could always see him clearly, on the other side of the room, laughing with a group he’d just met, or flirting successfully with a gorgeous woman. A curious detail about my Imagined Me is that he is always holding a cigarette. He holds it down at waist level, or away from the people he’s talking to, but sometimes when he speaks he moves his hands, drawing pictures in smoke. Somehow, he makes it look cool.

Constantine
And not in the angry, aggressive way that John Constantine makes smoking look cool.

The frustrating thing was how perfectly attainable it was to become my Imagined Me. I did know what to say, and I could imagine how to conduct myself. My Imagined Me was right there, always a few seconds in the future, showing me what to do. All I had to do was to make the choice to become that person that existed so clearly in my mind, but I would always veer away from that choice at the last possible moment. I chose silence over charm, awkwardness over presence. I knew that I could never be as cool and natural as my Imagined Me, but at the very least I could pretend to be him.
I was seventeen years old when I first heard the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” spoken in earnest. It was said to me by a shy singer who had enchanted an entire ballroom filled with elderly holiday makers.
“Fake it ’til you make it,” she said, “and eventually you’ll learn that you’re not faking it anymore.”

I took drama in high school, and that went some way to showing me how to fake certain behaviours, but only up to a point. I was still terrified of people, and would avoid interactions when I could.
After high school I worked as a waiter, and that forced me to interact with adults. I hated every moment in which I had to meet a new guest, but with every interaction I became slightly better at faking confidence, and got closer to becoming my Imagined Me.

In university, I was still afraid, but in that new and exciting environment I put renewed energy into impersonating someone that wasn’t me. By then the idea of my Imagined Me was clearer and better defined, and I made a concerted effort to inhabit that person. I took dancing classes, and that gave me a certain control over my body that I hadn’t had before. I performed in a play, and modelled in the art department. I pushed myself to be in the public eye as much as possible, to teach myself to get comfortable in it. This gave me a certain type of confidence, but it was unbridled and lacked finesse. My charisma was explosive. It would start strong and then fizzle quickly. I became comfortable in groups but cowered in one-on-one conversations.
In my mind’s eye I could see my Imagined Me doing the things I was trying to do, but better, and always with a cigarette in his hand. At times I could engage people in conversation – total strangers even – but my enthusiasm and interest would evaporate after a minute or two, and I’d make an excuse to leave. As cool as I looked from the outside, I was still nothing like the charismatic version of myself I could envision. He had his cigarette; I just bit my nails.

Tony Stark
Pictured: Me introducing myself at a house party.

After university I went and taught English in Thailand. That helped me get over a lot of anxiety, and for long stretches I forgot that I was faking anything at all. But still, in the wings, I could always spy my Imagined Me, better looking and with better hair, and smoking.

In Chile I have been teaching adults, and that has been quite the challenge. I’ve spent my life fighting the notion that I am a grown up, and now my job involves having one-on-one conversations with other grown ups as if I am one of them. These sessions can be up to two hours long, and I spend every moment of them fearing that they can see that I’m not a grown up at all. I’m a terrified child, with hands that shake and nails that have been bitten to the quick. But I figure that as long as I pretend to be my Imagined Me, they’ll never notice.
I now feel closer to being my Imagined Me than ever before. He is right in front of me, so close I can touch him. I have learned his habits, and his turns of phrase, and I’ve learned to impersonate him for long periods at a time. But when I socialise I still see him there, cigarette in hand, and I think to myself, “Maybe I should take up smoking.”

Gatsby
Even though I compete with him, my Imagined Me always wants the best for me.

Begin Again

Photo credit: Eileen Smith

When I was quite young and unwise in the way of propriety I would often play a computer game called Soldier of Fortune. It was grimly violent, and not at all suitable for someone my age. It was an unimaginative shoot-’em-up kind of game in which I would start off with a small yet powerful pistol, and as I progressed through the levels my armory would get bigger and more explosive.
My favourite part of this game was always the beginning. I especially liked the pistol because of its precision. It would allow me to shoot enemies in the head and legs and arms, and the programming was just sophisticated enough to make these enemies wail in pain and clutch at whatever part of their body they had been shot in. The reason I loved the pistol so much wasn’t because it afforded me the pleasure of torture. Rather, it was because with the pistol I felt as if I really earned my victories. Throwing a grenade into a roomful of enemies wasn’t nearly as rewarding because it required so little effort and stealth on my part. Every time the game progressed to the point where the enemies became too tough to be affected by my pistol I would start to lose interest. Before long I would reset and start the game from the beginning.

Soldier of Fortune
Four against one? Looks like things are about to get… boring.

This habit of starting again when things get too tough or too boring is a habit that has followed me around all my life. When things get too difficult or too complicated, I tend to abandon what I’m doing completely. I think this might have something to do with my family’s habit of moving around a lot when I was a child. I have a firm memory of watching a made-for-TV movie when I was perhaps six years old, in which an older lady in a small town in the United States proudly declared to the local sheriff, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
“I want that!” I thought to myself. I wanted to become an old man and to be able to say proudly, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
My very next memory is of my Father telling me that we were moving to Botswana. My first thought at the time was sadness that my one-house streak was going to be broken so soon into my short life.

Carl
Carl. I basically wanted to be Carl.

We moved several times after that, and I guess I grew accustomed to the idea that everything was temporary: Schools, houses, friendships. I never saw much point in painting my room, or hanging up pictures. At the back of my mind I knew that stationary moments were temporary, and I stopped seeing the point in long-term investments. Drilling holes into walls to put up shelves made me uncomfortable.
When I lived in Thailand, I spent about a year in an apartment that had a perfect spot on the wall for a clock. When I woke up every morning my eyes would dart to that blank space in a quest to discover the time, and each time I sought it out I was reminded that I still had not bought a clock to put there. In the end, I never did buy a clock.
Even now, my walls are devoid of photos and decorations. What’s the point of putting up pictures if I’m just going to have to take them down again some day?

On the plus side, the constant compulsion to change my perspective has pushed me to have a wide variety of experiences and constantly try new things. But overall, I can’t pretend that this is a good trait. Simply put, I am profoundly commitment phobic. I feel like a stem cell that refuses to differentiate. Or an ant that refuses to be classified as soldier or worker. I was born with the potential to be anything, yet I fear that once I specialize there will be an infinite number of lifetimes I won’t get to experience.

The implications of this phobia are vast. I shall always be a jack of all trades and a master of none. My life is doomed to be plagued with unfinished projects and houses with barren walls. I’ll never find out what might have happened if I’d just gone the extra mile, or just stuck at something a little while longer. More recently in my life I’ve had to come to terms with fact that I don’t date.
This might be the saddest detail of my condition. After all, I am almost always in love with someone, but I have learned that the safest thing for me to do is nothing. If I pursue romance, it might blossom briefly, but I know that it will be cursed to wither and die. I have learned in some very painful ways that once I begin to feel overwhelmed by intimacy I immediately start wanting out, and the result is that other people get hurt. So I am single by choice. It’s certainly not the wisest choice, and it often leaves me clutching at my heart and wailing in pain like those characters in the computer game I used to play, but that’s far better than the alternative of hurting people farther down the line. I sincerely hope someone changes my mind one day, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Wanna Bet?

I am not what you’d call a gambling man, but when I first laid eyes on that huckster in downtown Santiago, I couldn’t help but stay awhile and regard the scene. He’d set himself up in the shade of a side street that was just busy enough to attract a crowd. His table was an upturned cardboard box on which he was demonstrating his game. He had three solid disks – very much like coasters – and stuck underneath one of them was a sticker depicting flowers. That’s the sticker that the suckers had to find.

The game was Three Card Monte, and I’d heard enough about it to know it was a swindle, yet still I couldn’t pull my eyes away from this man in his fifties with his newsboy cap and his sagging jeans with yawning pockets.
His hands were constantly at work, flipping and manipulating the three silver disks in front of him. It seemed to require a lot of focus and thought, yet the man manipulated those coasters as if he was knitting while watching a movie. He’d juggle them around a bit and then lay all three face down, and the bystanders would toss crumpled notes onto whichever disk they believed held the sticker. Not just any notes either. These were 10- and 20- Luka bills, which was about five hundred rand a pop.
Without breaking stride, the huckster would reveal the disk holding the flowers, and collect up the money that was wrongly bet. There were often winners too, and the huckster would dispense the winnings without discussion.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrel
Pictured: Accurate re-enactment of me approaching the honest gamblers.

The performance passed without drama. People won and lost without protest. Each time the disks settled it was like watching carved wooden figures in an elaborate German cuckoo clock striking the hour. People stepped forward and threw down their money. The huckster would redistribute funds as appropriate, and then they would step back to await the next round.

It was a funny thing, watching all this going on. You see, Dear Reader, I knew this was a con, and I tried to find the trick. Solid disks would be more difficult to maneuver and palm than playing cards, so I didn’t see how the huckster could be using slight of hand.
From the sidelines I was able to pick out the disk with the flowers every single time. I saw other folks throw money down on disks that were clearly blank, which was a result of their own poor eyesight, I presumed. Never once did I follow the flowers and get proved wrong. If that had been the case I would have turned around right then and walked away. Instead, I stood transfixed, playing the game by sight alone, without wagering a dime. It was a dangerous voice that crept into my mind and whispered I can win this, and it wouldn’t go away.
I supposed that it wasn’t a con. Perhaps it was just a skilled man with nimble fingers and hands fast enough to deceive most eyes. But not mine.
It occurred to me that watching without wagering was a lot easier than guessing while gambling. I thought that if I actually pulled out some money with the prospect of losing it, my adrenaline would surge and my focus would falter, so I held back. I became rational, and I began to walk on by, and as I did so I felt ethereal tendrils pulling me back, compelling me to try my luck.

I turned back to the action, and I saw a tall black fellow looming over the other spectators. He had been standing there a while, but now I noticed him for the first time. The disks settled, and with barely bridled confidence the black fellow leaned past an older lady and placed his well-worn smartphone onto the disk closest to where I was standing.
No, you fool! That’s the wrong disk! I thought.
Without breaking stride, the huckster revealed that disk to be blank, snatched up the smartphone and dropped it into his yawning back pocket before distributing money back to those who had won.

There was a collective expulsion of breath from the spectators, all of them sympathetic to the blow that the black fellow had suffered. I mention the colour of his skin only because it indicated that he was an immigrant, and being a stranger in a strange land is terrifying and isolating enough. But to lose your phone on top of that suddenly cuts you off from the loved ones you’ve left behind. I felt that this poor black fellow hadn’t just lost his phone, he’d also lost access to his community. Judging by the quality of his clothing I surmised that losing a smartphone was no minor nuisance. Losing something like that was surely a blow to him, and although the others were audibly sympathetic to his loss, they knew that the rules of the Chilean streets took precedence over the comfort of a foreigner.
The fellow was clearly embarrassed and devastated, and with a good-natured smile he beseeched the huckster to return his phone. He had to be good-natured, I suppose. Any sign of violence and the crowd would surely move to defend their compatriot over a foreigner. I was too far away to discern all that was said, but I did make out the phrase “This is how it works in Chile.”
No one was angry, they were just apologetically explaining to the fellow that rules is rules.

Forget it
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chile.”

Even before the fellow had placed his phone down I had seen that he was wrong. So as I began walking to my next class I carried with me the confidence that my eyes were sharp, and the conviction that if I had played, I would have won. The ethereal tendrils began pulling at me again, urging me to turn back and bet. Trying to shake that urge was like trying to walk out of a nylon stocking – the further I walked, the stronger it pulled back at me. I won out in the end. I got out of there without losing a cent, but before I walked away completely I took one last look at the huckster and his game.
My final glimpse was of the huckster placing the smartphone back into the hands of the foreigner, and the black fellow leaning down to give him a hug as the bystanders applauded.