It’s an average weekday. The post-holiday slump, the hangover of end-of-year introspection sticking like sludge in my step. What happened to all those grandiose promises I wooed myself with? I thought things would be different this year. But perhaps I’ve seduced myself back into torpid complacency. Safe, sweet complacency.
I step into a tobacconist’s to buy revenue stamps, and I’ve got 1 euro change. “Keep the euro, and give me one of those,” I point to a scratch ticket, and muster up an awkward smile. The clerk hands me my stamps and the ticket, and I look up into his face. Mouth turned up, eyes turned down. There is no familiarity or warmth in that hollow, forced gesture. My own tight smile dries up as I turn on my heel and step out of line.
I duck around the corner to scratch my lotto ticket, back turned to the world. For some reason, I don’t want anyone to catch me in the act, to see the faint glint of hope in my eye as I try my luck. I scratch, and the lucky number comes up: I’m a 1 euro winner. One euro in, one euro out. I’ve broken even.
Now, I ask: Do I try my luck, and get another ticket? I realize I’m already lucky to have broken even, and I should quit now. But quitting now is tantamount to complacency! Why not just try? I’ll never know if I settle for breaking even.
Approach another tobacconist, exchange the winning ticket for a new one. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Loser. Guess I shouldn’t have taken my chances, after all.
I realize that this is about more than a stupid lotto ticket.
Stuff the loser in my pocket, and start sauntering toward work. On the way, a man with a misshapen head and heavy jowls is playing accordion. Under the bland, gray sky, it sounds like an elegiac processional hymn. The gray sky starts melting into me, turning it all into one homogeneous paste. I wade on.