They had us standing in some kind of line to vote. I couldn’t remember how I got dragged into this predicament but when I’d sobered up I was there just like everybody else waiting for my turn to vote.
There was a certain eagerness and enthusiasm for some to take part in the elections. It was something I couldn’t understand. In the end, it didn’t really matter who you chose since the results were already paid for. But some still approached this activity as a fair game and played to boost their chances thinking they could beat the odds and usurp the usurpers.
Anyhow, it was a dry hot day with a bright sun shining over us. It was a long way to the voting booth and I started to feel thirsty. I needed a drink.
One of the men in front of me turned around and asked: ‘So, who you voting for?’
‘Whoever buys me a nice cold beer.’
He gave me a peculiar look and turned back around. I was smirking and brooding with confidence. I was fearless.
Hell, if I was going to take part in electing a new system I might as well enforce my own democracy, I thought.
The whole world seemed to fall easily into this game forgetting that once they stepped behind the white curtain they were really stepping into a play where the actors were pre-determined and the storyline was decided on. They had no actual influence on the way things were going.
The bright noon sun was still hitting hard as the line started to trim down.
People were coming in and out excitedly and gathered in groups around me to discuss their selections.
I heard names being thrown around and about – names of people I didn’t know and ignored even existed – among the voters.
Finally I had made it to the front of the line. I could feel my dry lips aching for a nice cold beer.
The lady at the stand asked for my ID and showed me to the voting booth. I went behind the curtain just like everyone else.
Inside there was no play. There were only white walls and a small table with a stack of papers on it and a pen next to them. It was time for me to participate in the scene, to take part in the duping of my own people.
I looked at the two names written in print on one of the walls. They both meant nothing to me. It took a great deal for a man to display national pride but it also took a great deal to reject it.
These heroes whose names were written in bold font would never go on to become national idols. Very few of us would.
But my insight was handicapped by my indifference and my unwillingness to act on my thoughts and resolve this crazy system. After all, I was just like them, a cog in the great cockpit of society, a pawn on a chessboard.
I voted for one of the names or the other. I voted for both of them or none. To tell you the truth, I can’t remember what I decided on because all I could think of while writing down my choice was the taste of beer against my dry lips.
I went outside and dropped the folded paper in a box containing plenty of other folded papers. I collected my ID and went outside.
The sun was still beaming. The people were still there already trying to come up with predictions about the final results.
I heard some of the men around me saying it would be close, very close. Some said it would go down to the wire.
Well, close for me was romping back to my place and hiding in the shade before collapsing under the burning sun. The wire they talked about was electric and we were all walking on thick black lines with high voltage. I made a few turns and asked some people where I could buy a beer, but they were more interested in talking about the results than servicing me. And here I thought I had become one of them simply because I voted.
There was always going to be a green line separating those who care too much from those who don’t care at all. Those who invested everything and gave their all for matters like elections from those who’d rather just stay home and drink in their underwear and maybe attempt to write a few decent lines.
Maybe they were both wrong. Maybe they were both extreme in their approach. But who is the middle man here? The happy voter who comes down to the voting booth with a carton of beer and distributes alcohol to his potential electors? The middle man had a name, he was called a politician. And he was the worst of the lot.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe voting wasn’t such a terrible experience. But it was an unnecessary one that duped the sheep into thinking they could overthrow the wolf. It gave the hopeless people the impression they could build something and grow when really they were stagnating. It set them up for hope.
And hope is a valuable commodity given to the few.
I walked back home under the blazing sun. A few blocks away from the voting place there was a beggar sitting on the sidewalk. He held a quart of beer and drank from it. Just as I passed him by he said to me, ‘Hey, sonny, you sure look like you could use a drink.’ He smiled and I could see his front teeth were knocked out.
‘As a matter of fact, I could,’ I told him. And I sat next to him and took a hit from his quart.
Feeling refreshed, I handed the old beggar his drink back and asked him, ‘Say, why aren’t you running for the elections?’
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Why you should read this book:
If you’re looking for the next Great American Novel, then this is not it. I promise you this is not a literary masterpiece. I promise you this is not a great book of art. Let us not fall into the illusions of grandeur and simply call things by what they are: A Road Away From Home is a novel, meant to break social boundaries and shatter common beliefs. It is meant to be read with examining eyes and an open heart, for its power lies in its truth. It carries honest words and stems from a very raw, real place. It is meant to contain rough edges, it is meant to contain strong parts that challenge the reader and push him to his limits. If you read this novel and do not feel at a certain point that you want to drop the book or burn it to ashes and move on to something else, then you are not reading it correctly. You are not fully immersing yourself in its story and its social milieu and its characters. This book is made to push you into giving up on it after tough chapters, but as in everything else, the beauty lies in waiting. For only when you see this book through will you truly understand all of its parts and piece them together: every act, every decision, every situation, every thought…and then, just then will the book have proven that it is a whole entity, much more than the sum of its parts, and it will have connected you to its world and its characters and shared with you a piece of their lives in a land perhaps far from yours. But all this, of course, is only possible if you read the book correctly.