I’m reading a book from Richard Branson the founder of Virgin Group. You know, the record label, the airline, the mobile network, the trains, and the first company that will take tourists to space. The book is about his approach to life and business, and to say that he’s been living an extraordinary life would be an understatement. The guy is crazy – in a good sense, and reading his stories, I realized I share certain character traits with him. (Let’s hope this means that I’ll become a billionaire, too.)
His unquenchable thirst for adventure, that he thinks outside of the box and always finds another way to do something if one approach doesn’t work, that he believes that no system is set in stone and rules can be interpreted more loosely sometimes, and his constant urge to learn and act make me feel less of an outsider and accept that just because there are people who don’t approve of things I do, I can still do them and get somewhere.
One thing that we have in common is that we are honest, straightforward, and outspoken people, however, we both tell white lies to make things better or to get out of confrontational situations. He shared a story from when he was in boarding school.
He got friendly with the principal’s daughter and spent the night with her. When he was returning to his room at dawn, the door was closed, so he had to climb through his window to get in. He got caught and had to report to the principal, who asked him why he was climbing through the window. So he told him as it was, that he was coming back from his daughter’s room.
He got expelled straight away. Fearing that his parents would be upset with him, he quickly jotted down a fake suicide note, gave it to the most gossipy person of the school and told him not to open it until a day later. His plan panned out exactly the way he wanted, and of course, when his parents arrived to pick him up, instead of reprimanding him, they were exceptionally nice to him.
This story made me remember one of my lies from my teenage years. It was more like a stunt, which I pulled off so truthfully that I’m bearing the consequences until today.
I was fourteen years old and seeing a guy, who lived far away from our house. Getting home from his place was always a pain as the bus I had to catch ran only every hour or so and we never managed to say goodbye fast enough, so I would always miss the bus.
This caused me trouble as I had a curfew and if I missed the bus, I was definitely not going to make it home on time and my mother would be utterly upset about it and would lecture me for days. I was late already on three occasions that week, and guess what, I missed my bus for the fourth time. I felt really bad. Not so much for my mom, who I knew would be worried about me, but for myself, knowing that she’d be angry with me and I had to face her.
I didn’t think I could take another fight, so I decided that dishonesty was the way to go. I figured that if I pretended to be sick, my mom wouldn’t start an argument. But I “had to be” really sick. So sick that she wouldn’t call an ambulance, but so sick that her motherly caring feelings would overtake her motherly nagging feelings.
It couldn’t be a simple “Oh, mommy, my belly hurts.” sort of thing, it had to be something more grandiose. And it had to be believable. So, I got on the bus, collapsed onto a seat, and curled up in fetal position. I closed my eyes halfway and tried to make a miserable face. I was trying to go for the effect when someone is in excruciating pain and suffering in silence. I must have been authentic as people around me started staring. (It’s strange how they always look but never say anything.)
As my stop was approaching, I gathered all my energy (at least, that’s what it must have looked like from the outside) and pushed myself up from my seat. I shuffled across to a guy sitting by the window and told him that I wasn’t feeling well and I didn’t think I could make it home without help. He stared at me like I was from another planet, but I didn’t let him off the hook. I asked him whether he could get off the bus with me and walk me home. I could tell from his facial expression that he was cursing the moment he opted for the bus instead of a cab, but I kept insisting and grimaced as if I was in a lot of pain, so he surrendered in the end. (I was a fourteen-year-old harmless girl after all.)
I made him walk me to the door of our apartment. We lived on the eighth floor. And I made sure that he stayed with me until my mother came out. I needed a stranger’s reassurance for her that I was being unwell. The guy squirmed, and I almost felt sorry for him but I couldn’t ruin the stunt by showing empathy for him. Not when I was so close to succeeding. Mom grabbed my arm, nodded a thank you to the guy, and took me into the living room.
I kept my eyes halfway closed and by then, I mastered the facial expression, so my poor mother had no idea what to do with me. Fully clothed, she helped me on top of the bed where I placed myself in the fetal position again (thinking that it suggested vulnerability) and started to breathe heavily. I also shivered a little, just to make sure. My mom said I was pale as a ghost. (I don’t know how that happened, but I didn’t argue.)
And then she asked me whether I was on drugs. Boom! I was devastated that she would even consider something like that. I’d always been a good girl. No drinking, no smoking, no drugs. “WTF, mother?”
I told her that, of course, I didn’t take any drugs, but she kept saying the whole night,“You know you can tell me everything, don’t you? Even if you took drugs…” I almost broke and told her the truth. But then I didn’t. I just went to sleep and woke up healthy next morning.
Sixteen years later, I took Mom out for dinner and confessed. I told her the whole story and said that I owed her an apology. She didn’t believe me. She knows me and she knows that I never touched any drugs in my entire life, but she still thinks that on that particular night, I slipped and I’m too ashamed to admit it.