Vagabond Dreams Outtakes #1 — Avarice Disturbs My Immediacy


Vagabond Dreams Outtakes are “deleted scenes” from my book. Think of them as a “Special Features” disc of outtakes and curios. This incident took place in the highlands of Guatemala…

Within days I had become a regular in the Parque Central and the vendors left me alone. But on the day of my arrival I was constantly assailed. Most went away after two or three polite “Non, gracias.” One didn’t.

I was reading John Steinbeck with my legs stretched out in a patch of sunlight. I wasn’t bothering anyone; I just wanted to be left alone. The old Indian woman spotted me from a distance and circled in like a hungry shark.

“What do you want to buy?” she asked, thrusting her aggressive presence into the sanctuary of my silence.

“Nothing, thank you.”

“Look at these bracelets. Very nice. Wallet? Change purse?”

“No thank you.”

She kept on talking as though she hadn’t heard, chattering incessantly while squatting on the ground to empty the contents of her basket on the stones between us.

“Look at these blankets. Look.” She unfolded several, held each one up, and dropped it onto a growing pile. “A hat then. A small statue. Buy something!” I kept shaking my head no, and then I finally went back to my book, ignoring her completely. I was too polite to simply tell her to fuck off, and so she continued her tiresome monologue, pausing only for breath.

“Something for your mother then. For your wife.” She’d sunk to new depths, appealing to a Latin sense of reverence and guilt that I didn’t possess.

The simplest thing would have been to get up and walk away, to find another bench. But I was comfortable there. I’d done nothing to deserve this. I’d been polite. Her incessant badgering was the worst tactic she could have tried on me. It only made me more obstinate. I was determined to hold my ground.

“Make me an offer! Buy a shirt, a necklace.” She shoved them in my face with meaty, wrinkled hands. I brushed them aside and continued to read, but I could feel the annoyance bubbling up inside me.

A young girl passing by paused to show me her basket.

“Would you like anything?”

“I’ll buy that bracelet,” I said, pointing at one of the many draped over her arm. I didn’t bargain. I didn’t ask the price. I simply handed her the money. She smiled and thanked me, then walked away.

It had just been an impulse. The girl was pretty, and I appreciated the politeness of her approach in contrast to that of the bullying old hag. But I’d also done it out of spite. More than anything, I hated being told what to do. That fact had probably been responsible for most of my high school suspensions. Tell me that I “need” to do something and I’ll resist it to the bitter end, even if it’s in my best interests. I hate to be confined.

The old woman watched this transaction in shock. When it was over, she exploded.

“Buy something from me!”

“I don’t want anything. I’ve been telling you that for twenty minutes.”

“You bought something from her!” She pulled at her hair with both hands, and for a moment I thought I’d fallen into a Greek myth. “You have to buy something from me! I showed you all this stuff!”

She’d gone and said “have to.” My resolve was absolutely sealed.

“I didn’t ask you to show me anything,” I said, looking directly into her greedy eyes. “You shoved it rudely in my face.”

At that moment she realized she had lost. Silence. Glacial cold. She thrust her shirts and blankets into her basket with punches of frustration, and then paused to shoot me an icy glare.

“You are a very evil man.”

I smiled sweetly, using kindness to get in one last dig. She set her back rigidly upright, turned slowly, and stalked away.

I saw that old lady again several days later, using the same belligerent tactic on other new arrivals. They always gave in to her incessant badgering, simply to get rid of her.

Age is just as wicked as youth, and we are all capable of being thieves.

Get your copy of Vagabond Dreams from Amazon and other fine bookstores.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • I can resonate with that story, as I encountered similar situations during two trips to Jamaica on missions. There’s nothing like being a foreigner in the marketplace, especially when you have red hair.
    I’ve spent most of my life proving to people that I don’t need to do what they expect of me. I think a part of me wants others to understand that they don’t have to live up to expectations – that they can continue to surprise people every day of their life. I feel like it’s my obligation to show others that there IS another way.
    I think this thought from your Manifesto sums it up perfectly:
    “I believe that we are not our boxes, and that we’re free to assume whatever form suits us at that moment.”
    That’s a model to live by. Something that I read as a child has stuck with me and helped me to apply this principle. It read, “let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” I keep that in mind whenever people tell me “you need a new car,” “you need a new job,” “you need to go back to college,” etc.
    All the best,

  • Thanks very much for posting that, John. This whole thing about the boxes we burden ourselves with, how we form them and how they become invisible to us, is something I wrote about extensively in my book. I had to travel alone to a place where no one knew me or my past, where they didn’t have a ‘label’ for who I was supposed to be, in order to come to the startling realization that all the assumptions I’d always made about myself may have been false—and that I could be so much more.
    I think the process of that pivotal ‘first journey’ is something every traveler can relate to. All of our journeys are meaningful, but nothing shatters and reshapes you like that first time you set out alone on the road.


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