November 1, 2014

The Lottery Ticket

Once a week, usually on Tuesday, I drive down to Loutraki to buy supplies. It is the nearest small city in the area, about 16 kilometers from where I live. It's not a big town, but it's pretty there by the sea. It has curative waters, casino, shops and a lot of tourism in the summer.

Now, Mitsos doesn't like shopping day at all: too many stops and starts and too much opening and closing the car doors and trunk lid … it all gets on his nerves. And he does not appreciate being stuffed with so many grocery bags and packages, all of which smell bad to him. His favorite aromas are the fragrances of the gas station.

I also carry some cans that I fill with water from the spring and he doesn't like that either because it wets his carpet. Mitsos also doesn't like being parked near other cars, specially new models. He usually likes to be alone. Really, what can habits and solitary life do? Even Mitsos is affected by it and I understand him plainly.

It was a Tuesday in March and after I finished all I had to do -- did all the shopping, paid electricity and phone bills -- I went to "Bibicos", a coffee house that has the best cappuccino in the little town by the sea. Everyone knows each other there.

I was enjoying a little rest and coffee when a little old man came in shouting, "Jack Pot, Take a ticket, get your last chance! Tomorrow is the drawing. Ten Millions Euros!!"

Everyone was buying lottery tickets and asking for more -- acting crazy. The little old man came to me waving a bunch of tickets waiting for me to buy some. The others looked at me to see how many I would get. I was embarrassed because I didn't want any tickets at all.

The least I could do was to ask how much money he wanted for one ticket.

"Five Euros" he said.

I paid him to put an end to the event, paid my coffee, and found myself in the street with the ticket in my hand. It felt like a grenade and I put it quickly into my pocket.

I was confused. I tried to remember where I parked Mitsos but I couldn't! I even started to get nervous because he always liked to be parked alone. Where was he now that I needed him? I walked several blocks looking for him and after several minutes I finally saw him some distance away, all alone, exposed to the hot sun.

I rushed to open the windows to prevent the heat from further damaging the food. Like a mean mother-in-law, he grumbled about why I was so late and where I was. What could I say? I said nothing. I just took a few deep breaths to relax and then took the lottery ticket out of my pocket and showed it to him.

"What's that?" He asked.

"Jack Pot." I said.

"What is?"

"The Lottery ticket Mitsos. The drawing is tomorrow. Ten million Euros and it cost only 5 Euros."

I sat at the wheel and explained the whole story about how I got to buy the ticket, about the little old man, the cappuccino, my embarrassment, and my amnesia and torment.

"But why all that torment?" Mitsos asked. "This is the first time I've seen you like this."

"Because, Mitsos, it's the first time I ever bought a ticket."

"Wow, you're a novice! As you know, fortune favors novices!"

"You think I'll win the jack pot Mitsos?"

"Sure, why not? You always say that nothing happens by chance don't you?"

"That 's what's giving me anxiety. That's what's making me loose my balance: the thought of winning all that money!"

"So?"

"You know, Mitsos, man today has made a god out of money. Whatever he does in his life -- study, marry, have a social life with friends or relatives, engage in deceit, delusions, crimes, wars -- the purpose is always money. And, my dear Mitsos, with money man buys a pedestal and stands on it. Then he then needs to be seen and project his ego. He feels power, becomes known, and everybody salutes him. They hold him in high esteem and they follow him. His ego gets stronger and he becomes very ambitious. He wants to reach higher and higher and eventually he will even walk on corpses! He's unfair, he violates everything, and respects nothing: there are no laws or ethics for him, only his ego and his victims."

"Come on! you are not like that, I know you!"

"What I want to say, Mitsos, is that people think only about money and nothing else. Man thinks that only with money he can impress other people and gain value in their eyes." I put the keys in the ignition and then we started to go back home.

"You see, Mitsos, money provokes problems -- anxiety. We loose our freedom and start thinking about how to preserve and multiply what we have."

"Yes," said Mitsos, "but you can buy so many beautiful things like a fine house . . . a luxurious apartment in the big city . . ."

"And we would leave our beautiful, natural way of life, our fresh clean mountain air . . . and go down to . . . to urban chaos?" No way!

"You could buy a yacht . . . "

"Yes, and we could ware navy uniforms and play at being sea captains. Come on Mitsos!"

"You could buy a luxury car, with all the comforts . . . oops . . ."

From that moment on there was no more talking. The long pause lasted at least for two or three kilometers.

We turned onto the road that climbed the mountain with its rude, winding, turns when, suddenly, Mitsos 's motor started to misfire. The car lurched forward and then sputtered and lagged as if there was water in the carburetor. Mitsos was in water . . . the water was Mitsos' tears. My old friend was crying. Mitsos was hurt by his own last words. Mitsos was suffering. I had to do something.

I stopped on the right side, turned off the motor, and said to him kindly: "What is it Mitsos?"

"Nothing."

"I know what's wrong, you were hurt by the thought of me buying another car. You are afraid I might abandon you at a junk yard. You see what that damn ticket with its millions has already brought us? Tears, distress, and turmoil! We are loosing our peace and equanimity! Do you see how thought after thought arises and how we loose ourselves in following them?!"

To end this nightmare I took the damned ticket out of my pocket and tore it into a hundred little pieces under the astonished eyes of Mitsos, and tossed them out the window.

"I wouldn't change you Mitsos, not for anything in the world!"

I turned the key in the ignition and Mitsos, now relieved and free from those lousy thoughts, sprang into action. The motor hummed rhythmically and we went right to the house without any difficulties. We were flying . . . and happy.

Once at home Mitsos said: "You' re going to eat fish today?"