“Masters of Our Own Fate” by William Greene

I’m leaving now.

Leaving home hoping to find something better–something better for me and them. Leaving them behind is difficult when they’ve always been around for me… all the time. I’ve learned it’s not good to look back when you say goodbye, no use in looking back, reminding yourself what you’re leaving behind.

However, I still carry them with me, in my heart. Now, I’m far away and I’ve got the sunlight in my eyes while flying above the clouds at 30,000 feet, right about where the skyline meets divinity. Soon, I’ll land on American soil where my endeavors for a better life will begin.

When I’m alone with just my thoughts, all I do is think and worry. The anxiety builds when I think about how I’d be able to afford everything for them, it just eats me away. I feel the responsibility to do well for my family, always the family. They brought me up to believe-if you receive, then you must give back. And now, all the debts in the attempts at the good life are piling and turning tomorrows from hope to dread, I’m left clueless. I’m looking at all the people that pass by and they all look so happy in their new clothes and glittering jewelry. How can I be like them? I must do something, anything.

Every morning I was searching for jobs left and right. Applying to all the positions I could find that will provide a half-decent paycheck to help me get by. I landed a job as a babysitter. It wasn’t paying much, but it was honest work. It excited me to start this new role because that meant I could send money to my family. This was it, the beginning of something better. I was doing crazy hours, night and day working tirelessly, but it was never enough. There was always a bill overdue, something unpaid for… no matter how hard I was working. The days felt long; the nights were sleepless. The bank account was thin and my belly was empty most days, I kept the hunger as a reminder.

This is not how I envisioned this. I always felt like a victim of this capitalistic society, being a slave to credit and debt, trying to make ends meet. At night, I rested my head on the pillow and I was thinking of all those fortunate people on the street… so, so happy. They probably didn’t have a care in the world while I seem to have all of them, and it’s all because of those pieces of paper. They say money is an instrument to measure wealth. Wealth seems such a far-fetched dream that I can’t even comprehend how to achieve it. I tried to motivate myself, keeping that real and emotional hunger I could move forward. I doubled my shifts, and I was looking out for opportunities, any opportunity. My eyes were feeling heavy and the bags under my eyes showed. Tired, poor. I went to the local bar, intending to take my mind off things by watching people come and go, imagining the hard lives they live. Imagining others as miserable as myself helped me gather my thoughts. That’s where my opportunity found me.

“Hey,” a voice said. “Can I join?”

“No, not really,” I replied, feeling uneasy.

“I think you want me more than I do,” he said.

“I can’t stop you from sitting, but you can’t stop me from leaving,” I told him while looking towards the exit.

He talked, I was watching people come and go, mostly leaving worse off than they arrived. That should have told me something. We made small talk, because I tried not to give too much away. He was a stranger, after all! We shared a laugh or two; I finished a glass of wine he bought and grabbed my jacket to leave.

“Wait!” he suddenly said. “Let’s have another one.”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “I should get going now.”

“Do not worry, it’s on me,” he paused. “Please, I insist. I have to tell you something important.”

Skeptical, with an eye on the door, I listened to what he had to say.

“Look, you don’t seem to be around here,” he said.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“Your accent… you also seem to be more polite than your average American,” he said while observing me. “Tell me, am I wrong?”

“No, you’re right,” I answered.

“I’m from a small country back in Europe. I came here hoping I could find financial stability to help my family back home… It’s not exactly how I imagined it. However, enough about me, what did you want to tell me?”

“Oh, I see, I see,” he whispered softly. “You might be exactly what I was looking for.”

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“Well, you seem like a trustworthy and brave person,” he said, smiling. “My boss is interested to expand his operation outside of the U.S. To do this, we require a key person to help us… how can I put this?… to help us bridge the gap in between continents.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” I said.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Iris,” I replied.

“Pleasure to meet you,” He said shaking my hand without saying his name, smiling with that look again.

“Ok, Iris, here is the deal,” he said while getting serious. “Two weeks from now I will buy you plane tickets to go back home.”

“What!?” I replied, my back pressing into the back of the chair.

“You’ll be our consultant for eastern European affairs,” he said.

He explained in a way someone explains why you want something you didn’t know you wanted. “I will buy you a first-class round-trip ticket to go back home. Before the flight, I will come to your place and give you a luggage bag that you will take on the flight with you. After you land an associate of mine will pick you up from the airport. You’ll hand over the luggage, go see your family, and $25,000 will be waiting for you when you get back, your consulting fee.”

He said while pushing his glass away and getting off the chair, “It’s easy, just like that! Look, you do not have to give me an answer right now. If you want to do this, come back here the day after tomorrow at around the same time. Then we can talk more. Think about it. Opportunities like this don’t come often.”

It left me in a dilemma. Did he say $25,000? At the rate I’m going, it would take me a year to get that money. I could pay my debts and also help my family with everything they need. It definitely sounds risky, I know he is up to no good, but… Should I do it? Shouldn’t be too hard. Just a suitcase… on a plane… I am so used to traveling by plane, anyway. Never getting checked, there’s always a first time.

That night I wasn’t able to sleep. All I could do was stare at the neon glow outside the window. Listening to the city streets grind hope into desperation. I kept talking myself out of the job, imagining all the scenarios. In my mind, there was a constant battle of risk versus reward. I’ve thought about the struggles of my loved ones from back home and then I’ve thought about my health and for how long I could keep it up working like this for nothing. The next day I called and said I won’t show up for work. Desperation can make you do things you would only imagine others doing.

I walked into the bar as instructed. He approached me, smiled, and handed me a piece of napkin saying:

“Write your address on this and I will show up in the morning two weeks from now. Be ready and pack lightly. I will take care of everything else,” he said. “I am glad you did the right thing for you and for your family.”

I wrote my neighbor’s address. It felt like eternity; I don’t remember breathing. I didn’t recognize my handwriting with my hand shaking so much. He took the napkin quickly and swiftly got lost like the last time.

He arrived early in the morning on the specified date. I saw him in the door peephole and opened the door before he knocked. Confused by the wrong door opening, he must have assumed it was the bad handwriting. He handed over one common looking luggage bag and told me I shouldn’t open under any circumstances.

I didn’t want to, even if I could. I was feeling slightly better if I wouldn’t know. He drove me to the airport, gave me all the instructions and wished me good luck. I entered the airport and I could feel the sweat pouring down my spine while I carried the unknown content. Headed towards the boarding gate while clenching my passport and my bags. Smiled and handed the passport and the ticket, then proceeded to the security check.

I was becoming more and more nervous. As I was approaching the security gate, I blocked everything out, telling myself it’s all or nothing. To my surprise, I encountered no issues; they allowed me to move forward. I quickly grabbed my bags and rushed for the boarding gate. My heart pounded that I could barely hear what I was thinking. My senses cut off. The only thing I could see was the boarding gate. I didn’t feel the hand on my shoulder or the voice accompanying it.

“You need to come with me,” the man in the dark suit said. “Please follow me.”

My knees felt weakened and my vision was getting blurry. I felt how I was losing the grip on the luggage and the strength to stand up. I woke up in a room with dim lights and no windows. The agent that stopped me was sitting on a chair next to the bed. I didn’t understand what was happening, only hearing words smuggling and prison.

My body started shaking and all I could think about was my family. Tears were coming down my cheek, but I knew it was too late now to feel sorry about what I have done. I should’ve known better. Nothing in life is easy. Why should this be? I was already missing all the small things, the sunshine and the phone conversations with my family; the underpaid salary and the tiring working shifts; I was missing everything now.

I was to serve two years in a federal prison. They wanted me to serve more, but I cooperated and the judge gave me the lowest sentence based on their guides. Next time you tell yourself that time goes so slowly, think about staring at the same wall for two years. Time is relative and the relativity behind these walls are never in your favor.

The first thing I did after getting out was to find a way back home. I worked to exhaustion to scrape enough money to get the cheapest ticket I could find. The trip back felt like it lasted days.

Years passed, and I realized you have to create your own opportunities. I created my opportunity in helping people. Helping people who travel abroad by helping them find a job in advance, connecting them to people in their travel destinations so they won’t feel lost when they reach on their own in uncharted territory. Building communities of like-minded, motivated and family-oriented individuals who all they desire was a better life. Every day I receive emails from people thanking me for the support I am offering them and how it changed their lives. It is in those types of moments that I truly realized there are way more important things than money. We are all wishing for more, but never cherish what we have. We are seeking material satisfaction while losing our essence.

Let my example be your lesson for a better life.