The Butterfly Effect coined by Edward Lorenze, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before. Simply put, every small action in our life can lead to a significant difference at a later date.
A black Sedan idled in a gas station in a middle class neighborhood. Inside the old car, my friends and I casually smoked weed as we tried to come up with gas money. The total for the small fundraiser added up to five dollars: we had spent thirty-five dollars on weed, the beauty of being young, free… and foolish.
“I can’t look at a girl and not think about sex,” the driver said as he counted the coins.
“It’s called being a man you dummy,” my conceited friend riding shotgun explained.
In the back seat, I sat quietly in my solitude and gave them one ear as my mind drifted on to other things.
“You know who I would really love to have sex with?” The driver again.
“That cashier at the Wells Fargo Bank. She is fine…mmmmm.” The driver’s eyes looked dreamy.
My shotgun friend replied in a cool tone. “Her name is Lillian. I tapped that already. Three times last week.”
“For real dogg? You are the man,” the driver said with excitement.
From the back seat and weed in hand, I watched them with mild curiosity. None of them had seen any action in a long time. They were my friends but trust me, you don’t need to know their names. Why? Well, a good example is the driver. He lifts weights and walks around the neighborhood without a shirt on: with a balled up fist, ready to knock down anything, just because it’s standing.
“Martin,” the driver called as he turned to me. “When was the last time you had some?”
“No,” I protested. “Don’t drag me into this conversation.”
The driver turned and nudged his friend playfully. “He can’t even talk to a girl.” They burst out laughing.
“Yes I can,” I said feeling compelled to defend my manhood.
“Oh yee.” The driver turned and fixed me a daring look. “The next girl who pulls into the gas station is yours.”
“Fine,” I said as I took one last drag.
The time was 7pm. A red car pulled into the gas station and the blonde of a head confirmed that it was a girl. I straightened my clothes and stepped into the cold with very little enthusiasm. The girl was in a hurry for no sooner had she jumped out of the car than she strutted towards the store entrance. I hurried to intercept her.
“Hi,” I said.
Without missing a stride, she tossed her blonde hair back and turned to look at me. I stared in awe: she was the most beautiful thing I had seen in a long time.
“Hi,” she replied as she slowed her steps. A hint of pink outlined her luscious lips. It was winter but her face glowed like summer.
‘I… I…,” I stammered then closed my mouth. Realizing that I wasn’t gonna say anything, the girl gave me one last look then walked into the store, leaving me standing outside feeling stupid. A cold breeze brushed against my body and with it came my friends’ laughter. “The fool choked.”
Feeling embarrassed, I took my time to return to the car. It was official, I could never talk to a girl and the whole world was about to know.
“Hey.” A soft voice behind me. I turned. It was the girl. She walked towards me and pulled out a pen. “You got a paper,” she asked. I shook my head not understanding. “Lemme see your hand,” she said and I reached out with my right. She wrote her number on my sweaty palms. “Call me, my name is Vivian.” Her face lit in a warm smile and then she walked away.
I wanted to say something smart but I was slow to thought. She jumped into her car and I watched as the red vehicle vanished around the corner: then I walked back to my friends holding my palm out for them to see.
“I can’t believe what I just saw,” the driver said in bewilderment. “Those kind of things are supposed to happen to me Martin.”
I placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a wise look. “My friend,” I said. “You were right. I can’t talk to women, but I can sure get their numbers.”
I dialed the number the following day after a lot of self-motivation. What would I say? I wondered. Her voice came up after two rings, “Halo?”
“Hi Vivian, this is the guy you met yesterday at the gas station.”
There was a long silence and I heard static on the line. “Oh hey,” she finally said. “I remember you. You didn’t give me your name.”
“Martin. My name is Martin,” I said as my confidence grew. She sounded nice and most important she remembered me. I took my shot. “Vivian, do you wonna hang out sometime?” Another long silence.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said as her tone grew uneasy. “I only gave you my number because your friends were laughing at you.” Ouch! I felt the sting, but I never saw the bee. It hurt. She had given me the number out of pity and not because of my charming looks. I remained silent and started counting down the clock to the moment when I would hang up… to go nurse my wounds in a black hole somewhere on the far corner of the planet. And then she was back on the line with a different tone and this one was kind of playful. “Tell you what,” she said. “I will give you one chance. You name the place and time and I will be there.”
I knew that I was breathing hard as I looked at my watch: the time was noon. “How about dinner at six?” I asked.
“Where?” her voice was indifferent.
“McDonalds, on 6th Avenue,” I said and waited for her to decline.
“Okay, see you in a minute.” She hanged up the phone before I could expound on the details.
Between the hours of noon and six, I was a nervous wreck. I had never picked up a girl before and my previous girlfriend had been a high school sweetheart.
Vivian pulled into the McDonalds’ parking lot at exactly six and her punctuality impressed me. “You look different,” she said as she stepped out of the red Acura. A few folks turned to admire her lustrous car and then her beauty. I lowered my head and gave myself a second look: new blue jeans, a black jacket and a white t-shirt. I hadn’t dressed up in a while and I felt like a kid on his first day in school. I hadn’t smoked weed either and my eyes were clear and focused.
“You clean pretty good,” Vivian said as she buttoned up her long black coat. “Are we going in?” She motioned towards the restaurant.
“No,” I replied. “My home is behind the restaurant, we walk.” I saw her eyes squint at my words but she said nothing. She grabbed a red scarf from her car and we walked one block to my home. My mum opened the door and I heard Vivian gasp.
“Halo,” Mum greeted. “Martin said he was bringing a friend to dinner. You must be Vivian, it’s nice to meet you.” Vivian was even more surprised when my mum hugged her. We walked into the house and my ten-year old sister came out running. She too hugged Vivian and asked her a thousand questions. “Are you going to be my brother’s girlfriend?” Vivian sidetracked the question as she took off her coat to reveal a pretty red dress. She looked ready for dinner: she looked the part.
The aroma of spices and cooked onions filled the house in a homely ambience and the dining table was neatly set for four. We sat down and ate, Vivian next to me, facing mum and my sister. Vivian was good with people I realized as she told stories around the table.
“Thank you for having me over,” she said to my mum as she bit into a plate of roast potatoes and fried chicken.
After dinner we played games under the Christmas tree and my little sister won most of them. “You should hear my brother play the piano,” she told a surprised Vivian and then turned to me. “Please play the piano Martin!”
“Yes Martin,” Vivian insisted. “Please play the piano for us.”
I protested mildly but deep inside I wanted to. It was the one thing that I did right in this world. I had played the piano since childhood and music was my life. Mum served dessert and she, Vivian and my sister sat on the beige couch as I played. At first, I performed a serenade, a soft romantic piece. Then I stepped it up with an exhilarating Pirates of Caribbean song. I could pretty much play anything and Vivian’s eyes told me that she was impressed. It was fun and I hated it when it was almost time to say goodbye to my newfound friend.
I took Vivian to see my bedroom before we left and she marveled at its simplicity. The bed was unmade of course and I quickly picked up the few clothes on the floor.
“You are a mess Martin,” she said playfully.
“I don’t think your room is any better,” I joked and she said nothing.
“What’s that?” she asked suddenly pointing at an envelope pinned on the wall. I grabbed the envelope protectively and threw it into a drawer.
“That’s nothing,” I said as I ushered her towards the door.
She looked puzzled. “But Martin, you haven’t even opened it?”
I shrugged my shoulders and walked her to say goodbye to my family. “Come visit us again,” my mum offered.
Vivian hugged my sister and we walked around the block to her car. It was cold and she tightened her scarf and dug her hands deep in her pockets. The time was 10pm.
“Did you have fun Vivian,” I asked as I studied her face.
She opened her car door and turned to look at me with a smile. “You wonna go to the zoo tomorrow?” she asked.
“That’s an offer I can’t refuse,” I said jubilantly. She got into the car and drove away. I stood there for a long time wondering at the turn of events. Vivian was the only girl I had ever brought home to my family. On this defining day, I felt a change inside me: a kind of clarity to life’s perspective... I was a new man. I dug into my pocket, pulled out the stash of weed and threw it into the grass.
The month was December and winter was neigh. Vivian and I went to the zoo together and watched the Christmas lights event: a display of dozens of lights to the shape of wild animals. We squealed like two children in a toyshop. And when it got too cold outside, we ran into the snake park and warmed up to the sight of pythons and cobras slithering behind the glass walls. It felt like the best week of my life. We had dinner at the Cowboys Restaurant and watched the Flight Denzel movie at the fancy North Field Mall. Saturday however was a game changer.
“Its my turn now,” Vivian said with a mischievous smile.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Its my turn to take you to a place of my choice,” she explained and I understood.
On Saturday, Vivian took me to The Launch, a famous downtown club. We arrived outside the club to the sound of cars blasting rap music. Powerful car engines revved in a show of class as various regulars tried to woo women. Vivian greeted the bouncer by name and she wasn’t charged to enter. And when Vivian wasn’t looking, the bouncer pinned me down with a cold stare and I quickly flashed out my wallet.
“The regular drink?” the bar man asked her and she blew him a kiss.
“Yees Jerry,” she said then turned to me. “What you having Martin?”
“Same as you,” I replied feeling completely out of place.
I took a sip of my drink and distorted my face as I followed Vivian to the dance floor. The men at the club threw amorous glances at her: they whistled and winked. She wore a pink mini skirt and her hips threatened to burst the seams. I was hypnotized.
Right before we walked onto the dance floor, she turned to me and raised her glass. “Cheers, to a good time!” We clanked glasses and I took another small sip. The drink was nasty. “What is it?” I yelled.
“Double shot vodka and cranberry,” she replied. “Drink, bottoms up!” We raised our glasses again and I poured the whole bottle down my throat. I cringed as a fire lit inside my body. She laughed seductively and pulled me to the dance floor.
The beats were cool: standing ovations to the DJ: Murder she wrote. Vivian two stepped around me to the sound of the beats. She swayed her hips from side to side and when I put my hands on her waist, she gently took them off. “Move with me!” she yelled into my ears. I saw her eyes turn glazy as the drink got to her and I knew that the same thing was happening to me. My legs wobbled and suddenly I wasn’t aware of anybody else in the room except her. I was tipsy. She turned and put her hips against my groin and we started moving like a cyclone: around and then up and down. To me, it felt like we were having … then she turned again and put both her hands around my neck as she grinded her hips against my body. I was aroused but I didn’t care. This felt great!
The music eventually stopped. “I have to go to the restroom!” I yelled at her. She pointed me in the right direction and I staggered my way through a blur of party people. There was a long queue at the restroom and I cursed. The smell of urine drifted into my nose and drunk women staggered behind me as they headed to powder their faces. Inside the restroom, a nicely dressed man handed folks towels and I dropped a one-dollar bill into his jar then staggered back towards the dance floor.
Getting high always made me happy but getting drunk was different: a part of me felt giddy and another felt sick. I scoured the floor for Vivian and finally saw her under a shower of glamorous lights, dancing with a rogue of man to the beat of a sexual Rihanna song. She looked different in the arms of another man and I stood transfixed and watched. They danced beautifully and radiated energy. She grinded against the man and both dropped low to the floor then came up real fast. Other dancers encircled them and started applauding. It was like watching a well-rehearsed salsa. Vivian was a fantastic dancer and I realized that she had been holding out on me. My forehead wrinkled when I saw the man put his hands on her ass and suddenly I was sober and angry. I turned and walked away.
How could I have been so stupid? I was a nobody! I meant nothing to her! The man on the dance floor and I were just pawns… toys for her to play with.
She found me an hour later sulking on the leather couches. “Hey you,” she said playfully. “I was wondering what happened to you.”
I stood up. “I’m ready to leave!” I said solemnly.
She didn’t understand. “You are not having fun?”
“I saw that guy grab at your ass!” I yelled blatantly. “I’m ready to go. Now!”
The conversation sobered us both and we headed for the exit. We walked into the cold night and into her car and she drove away. “I’m sorry Martin,” she said. “Please don’t be mad, I was having too much fun and I got caught in the moment.”
She was a fake and it angered me that I had fallen for her charade. I turned and looked outside the window. “I can’t believe that you let him touch you like that!” I was so angry and hurt. I hated to think of her as cheap but the image wouldn’t leave my mind.
“I said I was sorry, okay,” she said as her voice grew louder. “Gosh, you are so uptight. Its not like you are my boyfriend or anything!” Her sense of empathy was impermeable.
“I know am not your boyfriend but what you did back there was not cool,” I tried to match her tone.
“Oh, you wonna talk about cool now?” she said and I realized that things were getting out of hand. I had never heard her use this kind of tone before. “You know what’s not cool?” she yelled. “A 26 year old man living with his mother is not cool: taking a girl home on a first date is not cool: smoking weed with a bunch of losers is not cool: not having a job or going to college is not cool… you wonna talk about cool?”
Her derogative words were true but they hurt badly. “Stop the car,” I said in a low tone. She kept on driving.
“Stop the stupid car!” I yelled and she hit the brakes. I jumped out and heard her call my name. “Martin!”
I cut across the highway and into the neighboring streets. I had no idea where I was but I knew that I had to get as far away from her as possible.
The journey back home was a blur. I remember being very cold: I remember the dark alleys and deserted streets… I remember a yellow cab. I burst into my bedroom at 3 am, gasping for breath and dripping of sweat. I opened the desk drawer and yanked out the letter from inside. I reaped it open and glanced over the first page. Muffled footsteps behind me made me turn. It was my mum.
“Are yu gonna go?” She asked me as she motioned to the letter.
I sat on the bed. “Yes,” I said. “I will go as soon as I can.” I watched her face beam with joy.
She walked over and hugged me. “It’s nice to have you back son,” she said. At this particular moment I felt like I had botched every decision in my past and I wasn’t confident that I would somehow so late in the game get things right.
I left for New York City three weeks later. I hadn’t heard from Vivian and I hadn’t bothered to call her. It was best this way. I boarded the 4pm train to Philadelphia and sat pensively by the window staring outside at the passing scenery. Putting distance between Vivian and I gave me little solace.
“Is it a girl?” the old woman across the seat asked me.
My face flashed with embarrassment. “Yes ma’am.”
“Did you tell her that you love her?” The woman asked.
“No,” I said. “She doesn’t know.” Tears welled up in my eyes and I gulped a wave of emotion.
The woman shook her head regretfully. “The clock is ticking son: live your life, fall in love and when all is said and done, write a book.” And just like that, I started thinking about Vivian. An idea crossed my mind and I turned to the old woman, but she wasn’t there. I stood up and looked around: saw no one. Had I imagined her?
I shook my head in bewilderment and sat down. I remembered Vivian and I being happy at the Zoo and the movies and even a little at the club. I miss you Vivian, where are you?
The trained whistled as it pulled into the station. I wanted to turn back and go look for Vivian, but then again, I remembered the scene at the club and my soul hardened. Vivian was wrong for me. I switched trains in Philadelphia for the last leg of the trip to New York City. My muscles were stiff from sitting still for too long and I was glad to have the whole seat to myself, almost. Just as the train was about to leave, my seat creaked to a weight and I turned and stared mouth agape. It was Vivian!
“Your mum told me where to find you,” she said as she tried to read my expression.
“Vivian?” I didn’t know what to say.
She continued talking. “Your mum said that you finally opened the letter Martin.” It was more a question than a statement.
I was confused and torn: angry with my puny self, yet happy to see her. I gave in to my conflicting emotions and sighed. “It’s a long story Vivian.”
“It’s a long ride ahead,” she replied. I didn’t have a choice and so I told her the story.
“My father helped me with the application form,” I said. “All my life I have wanted to go to Juilliard School to study music.” My eyes turned hazy as I drifted down memory lane to the days when I had been happy. “My dad tutored me to play the piano from a young age. But a few months ago, he passed away from cancer and I have never recovered.” It was a painful part of my life and Vivian sat quietly and listened. The train sped on. “After his death, I lost it Vivian. I started smoking weed: I slept all day and my mum didn’t know what to do with me. That day you came home was the first time I ever played the piano.” Vivian looked thoughtful and I took time to analyze her. She wore a navy blue suit, kind of like a flight attendant. She looked good. “How did you get here Vivian?”
“Ha,” she looked startled. “Oh, I flew,” she said modestly. It was the way she said it. So casually, like it was nothing and here I was taking a cheap train ride. “I haven’t been completely honest with you Martin,” she continued. “I’m very rich.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I didn’t know what she meant by ‘rich’. I mean, were we talking millions or billions?
“My parents owned an airport Martin,” she expounded. “They died in a plane crash when I was five years old and left me everything.” She turned and looked at me. “Do you understand what am saying Martin?” I didn’t. I just gawked at her.
She looked me in the eye and searched for the right words. “I haven’t had a family in a long time Martin and when you invited me to your home, that was the best day of my life: to have a mum fuss over me and offer me food and drinks: to play games with your little sister under a Christmas tree…” A single tear fell down Vivian’s face and my emotions stirred. “I have dated many men Martin, but I have never met anybody like you.”
She had stolen my words. I have never met anybody like you Vivian, I wanted to say. “I’m going to school in New York,” I said. “What happens now?”
“This may sound strange to you.” She paused, “but am coming with you Martin.”
It was my turn to be shocked. “I don’t understand.”
She shrugged. “I haven’t gone to college because I was never sure about what I wanted to do. But when I heard you playing the piano the other day, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I wonna be a dancer Martin and Juilliard is one of the best dance schools in America.”
It made sense. “But its so hard to get admitted there,” I said. “My dad and I spent hours and days on the application. Out of two thousand students who apply every year, only a little over a hundred are admitted.”
“I already called Martin. My father’s friends run the school.”
I leaned back in my seat and sighed. Somewhere along the conversation, our voices had turned soft and sensual. She reached out and took my hand into hers. She turned me around to face her and we looked into each other’s eyes.
“You can pretty much buy any man you want Vivian. You can probably buy the whole Philadelphia,” I jested.
She smiled. “I’m coming with you to New York,” she said. “My family owns a house in Manhattan and you can stay with me on weekends.
“Why me Vivian?”
She didn’t hesitate. “I like the way I feel when am with you Martin. You make me a better person.”
“You make me a better person too,” I replied. “I haven’t smoked since I met you and look at me now… going to school finally.”
We both laughed and she shook her head in amazement. “There it is,” she said, “ the smile I’ve missed.”
I grabbed her head and kissed her passionately. The move took both of us by surprise: a daredevil part of me that I didn’t know existed.
We came up for air and Vivian looked happy. I on the other hand felt like I was in heaven. I knew that we were two different people but I also knew that the strength of love superceded all in the world. Vivian was a wild horse. Her life was not dictated by the society and she was pervasive in the game of life. The best way forward was not to harness her, but love her for who she was. Just like a butterfly I would flap my wings and ride the wave. Was there an elegant solution to my life? Was there a future for Vivian and I? Would there be sex, marriage? Probably not, maybe yes, but by God there would be love!
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...