A change of mind

It was 11 years ago yet very few travel encounters have come close to matching the experience of myself with six of my, then, close friends on a bus across the country from our university in the small city of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, to the big city of gold, Johannesburg, in Gauteng province, unbeknownst to our parents, to a multi-starred mega music concert that we had won tickets to.

I lost a hat I’d had my entire life on that night of boarding that bus, but what I gained - the lesson of unconditional acceptance - has stayed with me and continued to grow in me since that long time ago.

We were six, all of us between the ages of 17 years to 19 years, bushy and bright eyed, as they say of youth, we got on the bus, with a particular Miss Thing whom we had harsh opinions on who was the then girlfriend to one of the fabulous six’s male friends, intent not to mingle but keep to our cool and funny selves (which we were) until 20 hours later when we would disembark that bus and go on about our own business before heading to the concert. Although still uncertain of the details of the rivalry, our attitude was the same for other winners from another rival university. Strange and dreaded characters that, a third of the way to the concert, also joined what we had by then deemed *our* bus. What we did not know then is that, 20 hours in the same bus is a long time to harbour petty tensions based on unfounded presumptions about each other’s idiocy or intelligence, coolness or dryness. The walls had to crumble, the masks had to come off and we had to move on from, ‘*I don’t know why but I think you’re dumb and I don’t quite like you’*, to, ‘*you aren’t so bad after all*.’ The traverse from sour to kind of sweet instigated by Miss Thing’s offer of strawberries. How dare she be nice! Her tentative small chatter and offer of fruit brought the truth of the clichéd saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ home. Plus, small spaces and the endlessness of long journeys in slow busses will break anybody and call for unity, even friendship even if it be a temporary arrangement, just to make it through. I must say that, regarding the other winners, our presumptions were right. Some of them were unruly and just acting dumb, but surely they were not all entirely so. Obviously their way of letting hair down, all be it unsavoury, was different from our way and I suppose there was no better or worse way but just different preferences.

The encounter on this trip was not necessarily with a special person I have nostalgic reminiscence about or a music personality at the show. The encounter was more with me and being faced with the revealed information of the truth about an attitude that resided in myself but did not have to: one of making unfounded and unfair presumptuous judgements on those around me that were not part of my clique. Realising that we are all special and contain much to offer was an eye opener to my younger self and a viewpoint with which I, many years later, still choose to approach that which is not obviously and initially interesting or exciting to me. It has led me to many people and places, immensely enjoying myself as much as I did the night of that concert eleven years ago, and glad I not only took a chance but also gave a chance.

Unfortunately shocking or funny, blame it on mischievous youth. I learnt in later years that, the ‘win’ had been fixed! Eek! The logic being, ‘who would be the most fun to be on a bus for almost 20 hours across the country to a mega music concert with?’ You decide. What I will say is no people were more appropriate for that win. I speak for all of us when I say, a number of dreams to see specific musicians perform live came true during that concert and I cannot imagine when and where else they would have come to pass had it not been for the fixing? Eek! I repeat, while laughing at the short-sighted flaws of youthful logic.

N Mqulwana

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