Public Key (Lxxv)

It didn’t take much internetting to determine that there weren’t six strings to be had in all Lesotho. I wasn’t about to cross the border just to look for basses and trebles. Short of asking Oakley’s smuggler buddies to pick up a few packs during their next international drug deal, I didn’t have many options. I would just have to order them online.

This faced me with with four important considerations: payment, shipment, destination, and delivery. I couldn’t order anything without using a credit card, or some digital equivalent, which of course I couldn’t do. I couldn’t place a transcontinental order for guitar-strings without running the risk of drawing some attention. I certainly wasn’t about to meet the UPS guy at my front door and sign for a package. And last but not least, international shipping was just expensive as hell.

This latter made me realize that, if I was going to place an order of any kind, it might as well contain as much stuff as possible. It was simply more economical that way. More importantly, it gave me an excuse to buy more stuff.

What kind of stuff? Oakley asked.

We were sitting on the floor in his living-room, drinking cold skunky beer out of water tumblers. There were five people in the camp that afternoon. We decided to steer clear of the main lodge. If only to save my famous face from the exposure.

I want some things, I said.

Uh. Like what.

I want to order things. Things you can’t get here.

I don’t know, you can get pretty much anyth-

Things from home.

Oh. Oh.

Guitar-strings aside, I need a good microphone for recording. I need a good sharpening-stone for my knife. I need tea. A sample-pack of tea. Herbal tea. Fruit tea. Ridiculous fucking teas that only Americans buy. I need a Frappuccino. I need shitty takeout Chinese. I just need a few things from home, y’know.

Yeah. I know.

I’ve got a little money, I said. If I watch what I spend, I won’t notice that it’s gone.

No, yeah. You deserve some new shit. Long as it gives you things to do, right?

I smiled. You make life sound like such a chore.

Sorry.

But for right now I just want to figure out a way to place an order.

That is tricky, isn’t it?

Seems that way.

I’d just let you use my plastic, Oakley said. But that wouldn’t look to good.

That brought me up short. What do you mean?

I mean, say the cops show up here a day later. Say it’s the package that leads them to you. Or they just show up and find stuff I’ve ordered in your hut. They’ll know I ordered it for you. For you. And before you can blink I’m an accomplice. And I’m fucked even if they don’t look downstairs.

Point taken, I said. Yeah, that won’t work.

Doesn’t mean I can’t find someone else to take the package.

Oh yeah? Someone you don’t mind getting fucked?

Basically.

Oakley-

Relax, mate. I’ll ask Tiisetso to set something up. He’ll think I’m ordering a blowup girl or something, he won’t ask. He’ll probably put it in the name of some six-year-old six villages over. Won’t take him five minutes.

How much is he gonna charge me for those five minutes?

He can put it on my tab.

No, I said. Thanks, but-

I’m not giving you a handout, Oakley said sourly. This falls more under favor, comma, friendly.

Alright, I said. Thanks.

He shrugged. You just find out what you want to order. And come up with some greenbacks to pay for it.

Will do, boss.

I really hate it when you call me that.

I can tell.

Aren’t you afraid that one day I’m just gonna hand you your ass on a platter?

Yes, boss.

Want another beer?

After a while he went down to tend his garden and I stayed up with my laptop to steal his wireless. I did much the same the next day, and the next. I browsed up and down Deep Amazon, looking at all the things in the world that money could buy. They might not have been the most productive three days of my life. They were far from the least pleasant.

I didn’t want to buy stuff for the sake of buying stuff. I wasn’t exactly in a situation where I could find meaning-in-life through compulsive shopping – nor did I want to be. I wanted to get things that I would use. That would give me new things to do, or at least make my day-to-day life easier, happier, more like a life.

I made lists of things I wanted, lists of things I wanted to do, lists of things that I had stumbled upon and just looked shiny as hell. I made lists, edited them, triaged them, threw them out. I wondered what I wanted to have in my home, to wear on my person, to hold in my hand. What I really wanted. What I could really use. What I would not miss if it broke, for who knew when I’d be able to get a replacement

What did I really do in life? I read, I cooked, I walked, I played the guitar. I did each of those things pretty well. Sure I could do them better, but not by throwing money at them. I could only improve with practice. And practice I planned to do.

After careful consideration, I had the following items in my shopping-cart:

– a box of guitar-strings, containing 24 individually-wrapped sets. High-tension nylon, silver bases, black trebles. I certainly had the time for tie-ends. Besides, a little ritual never hurt anyone.

– a high-quality but inexpensive USB microphone, 20-20,000Hz Fs. I’d have to build a stand for it, which was another good project to undertake.

– a big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s. I settled on Eucalyptus. It didn’t burn as badly as the Peppermint, didn’t sting my eyes like Tea Tree, and didn’t make me as hungry as Sweet Almond.

– two sticks of all-natural SPF30 sunscreen. Each was supposed to last for two hundred applications. We’d see about that.

– a firesteel, with a wooden handle and a steel striker. You struck it and it made sparks. Better than a lighter. Or so the web site assured.

– six pairs of sunglasses. I was always breaking sunglasses. At $2 a pair, I could afford to.

– an all-weather compass. Especially if I decided to once more go, as Oakley called it, walkabout.

– an LED flashlight with a hand crank. Bright as day, or so it said. Batteries were in short supply up in the highlands. Elbow-grease I had to spare

– tea. Good tea. Lots and lots of tea. Eight ounces of Fuka-midori sencha, eight ounces Longjing dragonwell, a 500-gram cake of Yiwu Lady pu-erh, a sampler of black teas containing a total of sixteen ounces. The hours I spent selecting from among all the available teas were just magical. And I sure drank enough of the stuff.

– a tea-pot, with infuser. I settled on unadorned cast-iron. It wasn’t designed for a campfire, but I bet it would do in a pinch. Also this way I wouldn’t break it like I did my mother’ teapot. That had happened fifteen years before and I still didn’t trust myself around the things.

– spice blends, one ounce each. I took Vadouvan, Tan-Tan, Shichimi Togarashi, Bajiao, Rogan Josh, Ras el Hanout, Piri-Piri, Berbere, Harissa, Garam Masala, Panch Phoron, Cantanzaro, Baharat, Za’Atar, and good old American mulling spices. I couldn’t afford to ship much real food to the other side of the world, but a pinch of spice into what I was already cooking might go a long way towards bringing the world to me.

– a kilogram of chocolate powder. I could think of about ten thousand uses for that.

– a big jar of Nutella. Because… yeah.

I also threw in a little something for Oakley. It was the least I could do, and the most I could afford.

When all was said and done I had spent about three hundred dollars. Less shipping, which was another hundred even if I had the package sent by pterodactyl. I handed four c-notes to Oakley and he disappeared with them. A few days later he told me it was done.

He handed me back one of the c-notes. He said he’d been able to get free shipping. That seemed well on the far side of likely. I decided to believe him, and be very glad I’d bought him a present.

I was trepidatious from the moment the order was placed. It didn’t help that they knew I’d been in Durban, and God knows how much more they knew and were keeping to themselves. As ever I just had to go on like they weren’t out there looking for me. I just pretended that the world ended at the edge of the river and the ridge of the mountain.

In the meantime I built myself a bookshelf, to store those things I’d soon be getting. I set to reading a new book. I downloaded a Sotho language guide and starting trying to pick up a few things. I read a book on wilderness survival that seemed designed for Americans in the piney-woods, a book on emergency medicine that seemed designed for ER doctors.

Also Oakley had me give him a hand loading eight big crates into the back of his jeep. In the middle of the night. Then he disappeared for two days, and came back without the crates. It took him another day before he stopped looking ashen and jumping at every little noise. And I thought my job was tough.

It took seven days for the package to reach me. It came in to the post-office at Qacha’s Nek, some sixty miles away as the crow flies (and a hell of a lot more by car or foot). One of Tiisetso’s brothers picked it up in the family pickup truck. I picked it up from Tiisetso’s shop. Oakley never touched the package. Which he preferred, and I insisted on.

I disposed of the contents of the package pretty much as I thought I would. I strung my guitar too quickly and had to restring two strings, after which it kept falling so far out of tune that I put it aside. I ate six spoonfuls of Nutella right out of the jar and immediately wished someone would take it away from me. I recorded a song to prove the mic worked, then put it up on the shelf. Next to it went the flashlight, the compass, the tea-pot, the suncscreen and the sunglasses. The Dr. Bronner’s I would leave until I finished off my current bottle of Castile. The chocolate powder and spices I would use as soon as I was hungry again. Presuming I could stay away from the Nutella.

At the end of the day, nothing I’d bought really changed my life that much. It had dulled the blade of my knife from cutting through all the packaging. It had let me play my guitar again. It had given me a stomach ache. Even the spices weren’t the revolutionary things I thought they’d be. Mostly they just made my food taste like a stranger, like it was out of place. I found a little pinch, here and there, made for an interesting season. But too much and the food stopped tasting like Lesotho. It just wasn’t right.

I couldn’t go to the world. So I had the world come to me. It was important that I had done so. It made me feel like I had control of my life. But really, I had plenty of the world with me. And really, what more of the world did I need? I had needed to prove it could be done. I proved it, then. Time to move on.

At the very least, Oakley liked his present. A box of biscuits from America. I knew he would. He opened the box then and there and we each had one. They weren’t better than his mom’s, weren’t worse. Just different. And that was as it should be.

 

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~ by davekov on 5 March 2011.

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