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Discrete Discernment

Nuff wasn’t feeling as he’d usually feel. The weather was being fickle, and he usually enjoyed that.

“How can you possibly stay in a place that’s sunny all the time? I need an ambience of temperamental-ity.”

He’d asked for it. Over the last two weeks, there had been hail, sunshine, rain and bursts of cloudy haze. He hadn’t been enjoying himself though. He slept for far longer than he usually did, ate far less and didn’t even speak out very often.

“What’s wrong Nuff?”

“Stop bothering me and get back to work. That course isn’t paying for itself.”

“Don’t snap at me man. I can tell that there’s something bothering you. What happened?”

“I’m bored. Let’s go out for a walk.”

We only made it to the bus stop before he decided to plonk down on a bench.

“Come on Nuff, that’s hardly a walk. Let’s keep going.”

“No let’s catch the bus. I need some interference.”

By interference, he meant the rattling of the bus. Some external “flux” usually helped him channel his thoughts. Four minutes later we were on the bus.

“Damned hybrids – with good roads and great suspension, how’s a fellow going to get enough interference to think?”

Just last week, he was telling me about the growing number of miscarriages because of the worsening condition of urban Indian roads.

I wanted to stop Nuff from thinking too much. So I thought I’d get him to start talking about something he’d always enjoyed – telling me what I could be doing.

“Nuff – what do you think is important for a guy our age? Someone who…”

“…isn’t balding, and who’s idea of a Friday evening isn’t a puzzle game?”

“Well, yeah… more or less. Wait, was that a dig at me?”

 “No. I wouldn’t let you sink to that. Anyway, first of all – you need to realize something. Most people are over-reachers. Ambition and a generous sense of self might drive that forward, but that’s also a beachhead for burnout. The dancing flames of the ego are stoked, crackling about like the tongue of an adolescent rattlesnake on a cream popsicle.”

“Eh, what?”

“Nothing. Man, that girl was pretty.”


“The one who got off. I mixed my metaphors up.”


“So underneath those eyes that shine like uncut diamonds lies a need for self-assurance. It’s what keeps them up at night – making sure they’ve covered a problem set properly, making sure the day’s build reaches the other office on time, making sure their girlfriend is happy.”

“Say what?”

“I was still looking at her.”

“So what?”

“She’s dating that other girl.”

“Oh. How did you…”

“Right. Attention to detail. That’s what I’m getting at. In the midst of all the distractions and all the work, remember that details matter.”

“But how did you…”

“..and then, of course, there’s knowing what to think about. Some things need to be dropped the moment they come up. They don’t go anywhere, and they are nothing short of emotional time sinks.”

“Did you know her before…”

“So don’t get caught up with stuff that doesn’t matter. When every action is an exercise in discrete discernment, when every thought is an abstracted chain of reasoning – life is easy. It takes care of itself.”

“…it doesn’t matter… right. But then if you’re always thinking three steps ahead…”

“Then you’re always off-step on the current bar. So then things get challenging. People become difficult to manage. There are misinterpretations, misunderstandings. Humour is convoluted. Reasoning goes the way of Jaeger on Friday.”


“Down. Hard.”


He burst out laughing as well.

“But then you get to my age. Well, then things change.”

“Wait, how? You’re just three…”

“If you’re always planning things out, then nothing surprises you anymore. There’s nothing to look forward to.”

“Is that why you’re here?”

“I’m here to free-load-off you, and the weather’s nice.”


“Where would you be without me? I get you on to more roofs that you’ve ever been on.”

“That’s true.”

“And you wouldn’t know what to do with your time if I weren’t around.”

“One note off the bar, Nuff…”

“Get it? Free-load-off…?”

“Oooh. Snap.”

“Let’s get off here.”

We were back at the coffee shop. We always ended up here.

“So what, those girls were wearing each other’s socks or something?”

“No, I was just yanking your chain. If you’re asking me what people should do, I will treat that with the seriousness it deserves.”

“And how serious would that be?”

“Like teaching sign language to a monkey so that it can ask for permission to scratch itself.”

Nuff said – “You know you’re life is wrong if its background score is a chirping cricket.”