I like to eavesdrop. It’s not something I deliberately set out to do. There’s no conscious decision – Oh, today’s Saturday. I think I’ll go sit in a café and listen in on someone’s conversation. But if I’m there, and you’re at a table beside me, talking loudly enough to be overheard, I’ll listen. If I’ve nothing better to do. And I’m alone.
And there are many like me. There’s a fab repository called Overheard in Dublin, full of classic drops from the city.
Lately though, the quality of the drop has fallen dramatically. It’s all so boring. And trivial. And inane. It’s amazing what people can get so worked up over – C’mon man, like, yeah, like, Canadians definitely have an accent, like, for sure, mon.
I was in Trinidad, enjoying a coffee in the shadow of the nineteenth-century cathedral, surrounded by other tourists on day-release from the all-inclusive Playa Ancun. There they were, miles from their suburban North American homes, in Cuba, in Trinidad, in a UNESCO city steeped in history with as yet just one foot in the twenty-first century. And all that was on their minds was the exchange rate. I know, I can fixate a little on that, too. But there isn’t 30 minutes worth of conversation in it. Is there?
[BTW – turns out, even though my bank changed the CUC to USD before taking it in EUR, it is still cheaper to use an ATM in Cuba (if you can find one) than to exchange cash.]
To my left, sitting on a wall, was an older man. Let’s call him Hector. He looked liked a Hector. He was grinning away to himself, laughing up a storm. He had a bottle of what looked like rum and a cigarette and was enjoying life no end. His wardrobe looked like it had seen a wash or seventy and he himself was a little worse for wear.
When the band struck up, he started to bop. At first in his seat on the wall, and then on the steps out in front of everyone. He wasn’t doing it for money. He wasn’t doing it for attention. He was doing it because the music got to him.
Conversations carried on around me. Comparisons were being made between Cuba and St Lucia. Between Cuba and The Bahamas. Between Cuba and anywhere else people had been and Cuba wasn’t coming out of it very well. All the while, Hector kept on dancing and laughing.
Song over, he came back to his wall perch and gave me a big smile. He thumbed at the table next to me and shrugged as if to say ‘They don’t realise how good life is.’
And he smiled again. And I smiled back and thought what a hames we make of life when we over-complicate it, when we forget that simplicity, in is simplest form, is worth appreciating. Hector’s life seemed uncomplicated. He spends his days sitting in the shade by the steps near the Cathedral watching the world go by, sipping his rum and smoking his cigarettes. And dancing. The bar staff slip him the odd drink and the band like having him around. He gets fed. No complications. His smile seemed genuine and his happiness real.
The lesson was there for the taking. Keep it simple. Enjoy the moment. Don’t make it any more complicated than it is by looking back on yesterday or looking forward to tomorrow. Live today.
And for that reminder, Hector, thank you.
I shook his hand and slipped him a fiver as I was leaving. He dropped a cigar into my bag and put his finger to his lips in that universal gesture of silence, and winked. Enough said.