I bumped into Matt in the streets when I returned to the village I grew up in some sixteen years after I had left. It was a nostalgic moment, nothing much had changed—except for the people. I used to know almost everyone back then. Now, I didn’t recognize anyone and except for the occasional jambo (“hello”), it seemed people no longer greeted or interacted as we used to. Back then, you would never have passed anyone, even a stranger, without a greeting.
Clusters of homesteads comprising of near-similar tin-roofed houses lined up the dusty streets, with the fences and gates now more reinforced. As I walked around the main street on a hot Saturday afternoon going to my auntie’s house, I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar. I would have passed him if it weren’t for his darting eyes and edgy demeanor. He looked disheveled, his hair unkempt and head hanging about him like a deflated balloon. Still trying to figure out if this was whom I suspected it was, I slowed down, then stopped. He too halted, but avoided direct eye contact. I took a closer look. A light flickered in my mind.
“Matt!” I called out.
“David!” he said, and we locked in a hug.
“Goodness, it’s been almost fifteen years!” I said as our eyes met momentarily. He rapidly turned his head the other way.
“How are you?” I continued.
“Okay,” was all he said, clearly nervous, and now wearing a troubled smile.
Matt’s manner and appearance were a far cry from those of my childhood friend. He spoke with a slur; I could hardly make out what he was saying even though he stood right in front of me. He was no longer the self-assured boy I was never able to get past in primary school exams. The one whose future had seemed cut out for him. The one the entire class, including the teachers, would have easily voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” As fate would have it, our coincidental meeting was only about two hundred meters from our former primary school, where Matt had been unconquerable.
I sensed the weight of his disappointments as we talked about life since we last met.
“I was heartbroken seeing my dream of further education fizzle out,” he stammered, dejectedly.
“I guess it’s too late now.”
“What are you doing?” I enquired.
We had been very good friends, I hoped we could still talk.
“I am… I am a cobbler,”
My heart leapt. Horror gripped me.
I mustn’t show my consternation.
Helen Keller, the first deafblind person to earn a degree and later become an author, political scientist and lecturer, once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
The unconquerable Matt focused too much on the closed door and got stuck in his disappointment. To be, or achieve, anything significant, there will always be obstacles in your path. Turn them to your advantage instead.