Chapter Two – The Dignity
As a man in his late twenties, armed with tertiary education, working an office job, I am tempted to say I am somewhat successful. The reality however is, on my forehead is a label given to a class of people that officially work between 08h00 and 17h00, but more often than not, work longer hours; a class frequently frustrated by both morning and evening traffic; a class that seem to earn a lot, have a lot, but actually own less and earn a salary that is barely enough to cover rent and narrowly escape debt; a class cleverly cornered by credit and overdrafts; a class trapped in an unsatisfying and unfulfilling routine of wok, and no longer love to work but work to live; a class commonly known as the “working class”… the middle class.
So inorder to ascertain and affirm my status in this superficial social hierarchy, I decided to trade in my modest second hand car for a new fast and flashy car of German origin. Anybody that dared to ask me about the upgrade, I would give them the reasons and excuses of safety, comfort, and peace-of-mind as the main drivers behind my decision, whereas the truth is that I was merely exercising my democratic right and had no reason to justify myself to anybody else. For a period slightly over a year, I had a passionate affair with the pride of German engineering, and the world was there for me to take, how much of it I could conquer was restricted by the indeterminate petrol cost.
However, all this came to an abrupt end, two weeks ago, when out of nowhere, I experienced the most unanticipated and, at the time, unexplainable, mechanical fault that seemed to defile German engineering. Just as dusk approached, my car came to a halt, without warning, my car just stopped working. I immediately called for assistance, as it dawned on me that I was instantly reduced to a pedestrian, once more. My naivety and ignorance prevented me from appreciating the problem at hand, as the breakdown happened on a Friday, I expected to have the car back the next Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
Without a convenient mode of transport, all the weekend plans I had preconceived had to be terminated, because public transport service in my exclusive suburb is non-existent. Everybody in this area drives a car, and hence there is no need for taxis, buses or trains. I was now beginning to realize that without a car, I am screwed. How did I get myself to a life so dependent on a car, a life in which a car is no longer just a want but, it is a necessity; a need just like water, electricity, food and air, a vulnerable life? I mean not more than 5 years ago, I did not even know how to drive a car, and not more than 4 years ago I did not even own a car but now, I could not seem to see my life without it.
So Monday morning, I woke up with what appeared to be an upset stomach; however, I managed to still prepare to depart for work. I was not going to call in sick, not for this, though the thought did cross my mind. I then thought of colleagues and friends that I am nearest to, or whose route to work is nearer to my suburb, but I could not think of one. So I decided that it was best to walk and catch a taxi 5 km or so, down the road. I did not see this as a problem since the last fifteen years of the seventeen years of my formal education I received from institutions located five kilometres or more from the place of my residence, and my primary mode of transport at the time, was nothing more than my legs. So a distance of five kilometres, I could certainly do with my eyes closed. Fast forward five kilometres and an hour or so later, it now made more sense to walk the full distance to work, since I was half way there anyway.
Almost at that instant, the most basic and one of the highest priority physiological needs in the animal kingdom knocked on my door. I looked left, right, front and back for public facilities, but I was in the middle of nowhere, where the cars just passed and none of them stopped. The nearest fuel station was as far away as my place of residence is, and the nearest shopping centre was even further away than my work was. I simply either had to abort my trip to work and get back home or fast track the trip and quickly get to work to find relief. I decided, backwards never, and the intensity of the knock on my door dramatically increased, my walking speed was reduced by the same factor. It dropped from 5 km/h to 0.5 km/h, and as quickly as I wanted to get to work, I could only go so slowly. With every little step I took towards my promised land, the intensity exponentially increased, my intestines were turning against me, and my body was betraying me. Then to my left, I saw this municipal dumping field and some homeless people digging through the rubbish. I stopped, and paid attention to what I was looking at, as the battle in my bowels continued. It then became clear that the bowels were not the enemy, the enemy was not within; it was the so-called social status in which I ought to belong; the enemy was the education I received on the so-called human dignity and the preservation thereof. I was suffering not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Because, what really made me better than those guys digging through the rubbish? This and the moment that followed next, was the greatest humbling experience yet.