Oriana perched on the seat of the bus shelter like a cat ready to pounce. Soon enough the object of her interest appeared almost precisely on schedule: A tall skinny man with red hair over burdened with a hiking backpack that was obviously well loaded with goods, and carrying a case of a dozen tins of beans. The man’s clothing was simple, it was also well worn, and his hair looked tangled. It was a rather warm day and the man was clearly suffering from the heat of the day, but still he pushed on with determination. He came to the road he always turned down at this time of day. This was the point Oriana had chosen to intervene. She skipped across the road and brought herself up alongside the man dragging the heavy load.
“Hi!” she chirped
The man looked up at her and blinked before allowing a friendly smile to grace his lips. He returned her greeting politely, but pushed on without asking her any questions. Oriana, who wasn’t used to not being paid attention to, was not sure what she should do next. She found herself just walking uncomfortable next to him. They had walked about a hundred metres in silence before she decided that she hadn’t made this bold move to learn nothing.
“What’s your name? I’m Oriana, but you can call me Ori,” she said in her most enthusiastic voice.
“Hi Oriana, my name is Kent. Pleased to meet you,” he said politely, and kept walking on.
“I have seen you walking up and down this street all the time, sometimes late at night, and yet there are no houses on this street, only factories.”
Kent smiled to himself, “Yes, your observations are correct.”
“Well, I’ve been wondering if you lived down here, that’s all.”
“I do,” said Kent simply.
“But where? There aren’t any houses here.”
“Are you from the government?” he asked her.
“Why do you ask me these questions then?”
Oriana frowned, “Curiosity, I suppose, my dad owns one of the factories here and often I sit and read in the factory office and I see you walking around here all the time. It’s a mystery. I want to know why and where you’re going.”
Kent considered what she had said, “Now supposing you found out that I lived in one of these factories illegally, what you would say to that?”
“I would say that’s the answer to my mystery.”
“Would you inform the government that I was breaking the law?”
“What if there was a reward for reporting me? Would you turn me in then?”
Oriana took a few moments to puzzle over this question before answering, she wasn’t used to being asked such questions, “No, I don’t think I would turn you in.”
“Because you haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But I’ve broken the law.”
“Yes, but you haven’t hurt anyone. At least, I don’t think you would hurt anyone.”
Kent smiled, “No, I haven’t hurt anyone.”
They continued walking, however, Oriana found herself being the quiet one this time as she was thinking about whether or not it was wrong to break the law. Breaking some laws was obviously wrong: theft, assault, rape, and murder for example. But some laws were silly: cutting down trees on your own property without permission, taking drugs, J walking, and swearing in public for instance. She was nineteen now, but when she was sixteen she had had a couple of beers at a friend’s place. That had been illegal; she had broken the law. But she wasn’t a criminal, nor was her friend’s brother who gave her the beers. It seemed silly to call someone a criminal for having a drink, and yet with these laws huge swathes of the population were labelled criminals without any consideration of the fact that no one was harmed or forced into doing anything they didn’t want to.
“You’re very quiet there,” said Kent.
“Sorry, I was just thinking about what you said, about breaking the law and well, it’s really silly isn’t it? So many things are illegal and they’re actually completely harmless.”
“Such as?” asked Kent.
“Well, think about red lights. Well sometimes when I am driving, I don’t know if I will get through the lights on the amber or not, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Well one time I judged it wrong and I went through just as it turned red. I got a $600 fine for that, which my dad had to pay, but I was thinking about it. I wasn’t in danger of hitting anyone because the lights hadn’t turned green for the other cars, and I wasn’t in danger of being hit myself. What did I do wrong exactly? I mean, if I arrived at the lights when they were already red and tried to cross… well, that’s just nuts isn’t it? When there’s traffic, that’s definitely nuts. It’s suicidal to drive through a red light so only a crazy person would do that and what do crazy people care about the law? But just say it was in the middle of the night and there’s no traffic, why shouldn’t I just drive through that red light? I am not harming anyone am I? So it shouldn’t be illegal.”
Kent stopped and beamed at Oriana, “Oriana, you’re a philosopher!”
Oriana smiled and blushed a little, “thank you. I think. What’s a philosopher?”
“A philosopher is a person who doesn’t merely want to appear right, they want to actually be right.”
They had arrived at the end of the street under the shelter of a willow tree that obscured them from sight of the factories and warehouses nearby. Kent put his backpack and cans of tinned beans down by a blue stone wall nearby and sat down on top of the wall facing Oriana.
“Ok, so are you going to show me where you live?” she asked.
Kent looked at Oriana pensively. Oriana raised her eyebrows pleadingly.
“Since you’re so curious, you may.”
Kent produced a long steel bar from behind the bluestone wall. He motioned for Oriana to step back off a manhole cover beneath her feet. The end of the bar had a special attachment on the end which fit snuggly into a hole on the manhole cover. With a nimble jerk of the bar he hoisted the manhole up, and casually dropped his backpack and can of beans through the hole. Then he replaced the manhole cover and stowed the steel bar back from where he had produced it. Oriana watched with amazement as he stepped on the road, lay prone in front of a stormwater drain, and then skilfully shuffled himself through the gap and down into the drain. A moment later his head poked up from inside the gap.
“Well, would you like to come in?” he said cheerfully from the drain.
Oriana stepped back, shook her head slowly, turned, and ran away down the street.
A disappointed Kent drooped his shoulders, bobbed down out of sight as the echo of Oriana’s retreating footsteps echoed in the street.