I stopped by at ‘Coast Books”, Camp’s bookstore, because I wanted to order a travel book on Finland. The store loomed empty and Camp was leafing through some bills.
“Pretty quiet day?” I asked, instantly feeling stupid.
Camp looked up and said: “Is a grave yard quiet, is it quiet at the north pole? I could point out that the only customer today was myself because I didn’t want to have a zero day. Looks bad on the books but now with you here I have two customers.”
“Come on Camp, I’ll buy you a pint.”
“I’m not complaining, it is after all my choice to run this store. I could just as easily apply for a job on the ferry or at the pulp mill. We make our choices and then try to live with them.”
We bundled up and briskly walked down to the pub, which was just as quiet as the bookstore. Vicky was leaning on the bar and greeted us with a big smile. “I knew I could count on you two,” she said.
“You probably could have stayed home,” I said.
“Yes, but then I made the choice that it’s easier to be bored at work then in my cubicle and it’s a better view and company here,” she said.
Choices. We all have them. Usually it’s between at least two options: left or right, stay or go, buy this or that or not, answer the phone, the door or the mail or not. Choose between red, blue and black or yellow, green or white. We sat down and I chose to pursue the subject. “We have choices. It’s what makes us human,” I said.
“Yes, we choose because we can,” Camp said, “but do the poor of this world really have any choices. Choices seem to be the privilege of the rich and do women in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan really choose to wear the niqab or the burqa?”
“They have a choice to wear it or not but the consequences could be severe. Ultimatums are not choices. To confess under torture or be shot is not a choice and some choices are forced on people,” I said, like when you’re under assault. You can choose to stay or die or run for your life. I know this sounds extreme but if you’re stuck in a war zone these choices are real and as for the poor they do have limited choices like eat the bowl of rice or share it”
“You’re reaching here,” Camp objected. “When you’re starving in a refugee camp you’re lucky to get a bowl of rice, sharing it is not a choice but a requirement. That’s the beauty of living in the ‘free and rich world’. We can make choices others are denied in repressive and war torn societies, but nobody chooses to be poor except some wacky saints, and nobody chooses to be homeless and sick.”
“And falling in love is not a choice either.” I said.
“True, but you can choose to pursue your infatuation. There are circumstances which limit choices and sometimes we make foolish ones which result in unfortunate or even catastrophic outcomes.”
“And we choose to forgive and forget,” I said.
“We can forgive but we’ll never forget. Memory is not something we can choose. We may not remember an incident but something like a smell, a sound, or a word can bring it back like when Muriel talked about the Olympics and what we remember. Not who won the gold but we both remembered Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsled team.”
“When I was young the personal choices were many, so many I hardly new which way to turn, but as I got older the field narrowed and today the choices seem simple in comparison to immigrate, marry, have kids, move, buy a house, quit jobs, divorce, remarry, go back to school, buy a restaurant, travel. Today it’s much easier,” I said, “since most of my life-defining choices have already been made. Now I have dilemmas: like to choose between wine or beer for dinner, watch TV or read a book, go on holiday or stay home.”
“You’re a lucky guy but I almost feel sorry for you. Big choices are exciting like I’m thinking of running for mayor next year or pull up stakes and move to a warmer climate, like Costa Rica or the Caribbean. Not: should I put yogurt in my cereal or not, or stay up late and watch a movie or not. I still have a life to live,” Camp said adamantly, downing the remainder of his pint in one long draught.
“Ok, I get it, has this something to do with Muriel?” I asked, did she ask you to run for mayor and now you want to run away to Costa Rica?”
Camp just grumbled something unintelligible and he was saved an explanation by Vicky, who appeared at that very instant with a life-defining query. “Do you boys want another pint or not?”
“Is the pope catholic?” Camp said with a mischievous grin.