A couple of years ago I was stressing out about something. I can’t remember what it was but it was pretty intense. The kind of stress that makes you have flashbacks of random moments in your life that you’re not particularly proud of. The kind of stress that makes you painfully wonder if you’re gonna screw this one up like the all the other occasions x, y and z that suddenly feel as if they were yesterday. Now at the time I had already surpassed the zenith of my biological consistency and comparable stress levels had already revealed themselves to be way more brutal than in the good old days. Back pain, panic attacks, the occasional heartburn and a tinnitus are all members of the same gang that has been haunting me since I can see wrinkles at the edges of my eyes. This time I was so stressed out that a new member joined the gang: diarrhoea.
It was bad. It was relentless. I was having diarrhoea all the time for days on end. My stomach was bloated asf, anything I ate was shat out only a few ours later and any attempt at a quiet fart became a dangerous manoeuvre. Taking a shit became torture. It was horribly painful, the diarrhoea was shooting out of my body at such an incredible speed, it felt like my asshole was burning. It was so bad I couldn’t help but constantly curse and make weird grunting sounds throughout this painful process. My body was lacking all sorts of important minerals and vitamins and who knows what. The rings under my eyes grew darker and darker and I was getting more and more frustrated day by day. I got so angry I wanted to set the world on fire. I wanted to crash oil tankers into beautiful pacific islands and hunt endangered species in the jungle. I was furious. I was going mad.
So one evening I got into an argument with a friend online. I can’t remember what it was all about but I do remember the moment my friend broke protocol and asked — “what the fuck is wrong with you?” It felt like a slap to the face and I immediately noticed that it was me who was acting out. I could feel a bad conscience growing at the thought of my misbehaviour so I excused myself and went outside to get some fresh air. I decided to go to to my local späti, get a beer and sit down on a bench at the end of the street. I marched towards the shop mumbling to myself in utter confusion, while trying to make sense of the mix of emotions I was going through. When I entered the shop I interrupted a conversation between the man behind counter and another dude that I’d seen multiple times when walking down the street. He was always either drinking coffee in the café or standing in front of the späti or the mosque, while talking to somebody or just looking around peacefully, with a subtle smile resting on his face. Now I’ve been living in the Richardstreet for some years and it didn’t take long until I noticed that this guy knows everyone and everyone knows this guy. We made eye contact a few times and he would always greet me with a slow nod that made me feel as if he knew me from a previous life. I would nod back but we never really talked.
Since I stormed in I must have made some kind of a grand entrance, because both of them were looking at me quite surprised and asked how I was doing. Now I tend to hide my emotions in plain sight. Ask me any intimate question I’ll jokingly tell you the truth in the twinkling of an eye. I’ll be so direct that you’ll think I’m lying. So naturally I quickly fabricated a joke about me going wild after days and days of diarrhoea. Nobody laughed. They looked back at me, shocked and full of compassion. I was caught off guard. I had accidentally spilled my emotions all over the place and now two strangers were looking at my naked self and seeing my pain. The guy behind the counter was like “I’m sorry to hear that” while the other guy was looking at the ground, slowly shaking his head and saying “that sucks man.” He then looked back up at me as if had just decided to take some time and see if he could help me.
I told him about the argument I got into. That I was taking my anger out on a dear friend. That it reminded me of my youth. How my family and I left our home country Zimbabwe when I was a kid. How nothing was ever the same. My father couldn’t find a job for years my brother and I were bullied for being the only black kids in school. We never recovered from that shit. It fucked me up and I started fucking everybody else up. I told him how I never stopped feeling guilty for all the times I got into trouble, for every time I made my mother cry. How her hair grew white grey in the few years in which I pushed my young life to the edge. How I felt like I needed to make it up to her for the rest of my life and how stressed out moments like these brought back memories of her eyes, full of tears and fear and disappointment. How the thought of my own failure made me furious and led me to repeat the destructive patterns that initially led to the many incidences that fuelled my guilt. A viscous cycle that always overpowered my sincere effort to become a better person.
He told me that a true friend knows who you are. He said if my friend means so much to me, she’ll be waiting on the other side, rooting for me to overcome the obstacles that my life had placed before my feet. He told me about his struggle. That he grew up in the Richardstreet and was part of a gang that roamed the neighbourhood. They had too little of everything and in response took everything they could. He told me how their fury was righteous but the way they expressed it was wrong. He was different in another way. He was one of the only white kids living in the street. He also had to prove a point. He punch way above his own weight and constantly picked fights that he could never win. He told me how one day he found himself at the end of the barrel of a gun. And decided to change. How he converted to islam in a search for peace and reconciliation and how his cry was heard and the wisdom of the Quran gave him faith. He told me that the prophet once said that one must pass through great darkness to acquire great knowledge.
He always found a way to respond to whatever I told him, either through analogies of his own life and suffering or direct quotes from the Quran. He said that I shouldn’t fight my anger but embrace its source and use it for a righteous cause. He said that if I truly aspire to become a better person, I’ve probably already made bigger steps that i’m unaware of. He said that Muhammed teaches us that one cannot watch a flower grow. You must believe in its growth in order to live to see it bloom. You think you know these things but sometimes you don’t. Knowledge runs much deeper than our brain could ever understand. It runs along the heart. Along the veins within the flesh. Words can be felt in a way that relieves the heart of its own misunderstandings. I went home that night and apologised to my friend. The next time I took a shit it was solid and I haven’t had diarrhoea for more than two times in a row since. My mind circled around this event for months. A stranger looked right through me and told me nothing is easy but you must trust yourself in order to stop hating yourself.