I could have saved a small village by now. I could have bought a goat, dug a well, built a school and all that other stuff. I could have been so extraordinarily generous that they might have erected a statue in my honour. Or at the very least a plaque of some kind.
But I haven’t done any of that. I am a non-goat-buying curmudgeon, who has never built a school or a well. And why haven’t I done this, you ask? Why am I withholding life-saving goods from some poor Third World country? Why have I allowed my dormant awesomeness to go unrecognized, unappreciated?
Because I am buying textbooks. Because when I carefully calculate how much I have to spend on tuition, cost of living, groceries, the “technology fee” and other such expenses, when I get down to the end of it and think, “Ah, yes, here’s the money for the goats,” I realize that I left out the $200, $300 or even $500 I will have to spend on books.
So sorry kids, no fresh water for Christmas. But hey, tell you what: in 12 weeks, I’ll send you a gently used compendium of various social problems that we face today in modern society. Heck, I’ll even throw in five different anthologies of poems by feminists and dead white dudes! Please excuse the tear-stained pages. Those are tears of joy.
Why don’t I sell them back and then send you the money? Well, you see, the exchange rate on textbook is worse than that of the (now defunct) Zimbabwean dollar. Unfortunately, the return rate on my $180 textbook will only just cover the cost of shipping. I suppose I could send you an empty box. After all, who doesn’t enjoy getting mail? But excitement might dwindle when such a box is opened. Because really, how many times have you heard one of your friends brag about getting an empty box in the mail from their parents?
I don’t like this any better than you do. I would prefer any alternative to buying textbooks: I wish I could build a well, or a school. Heck, I would love to own a goat. Goats are fun. Goats are interesting. Profs don’t assign goats as homework. Goats eat homework. I have never cried over a goat. (Unless you count the tears shed over not having a goat.)
Know, then, that when I walk up to the cash at the bookstore, I do so with a heavy heart. I watch the numbers cross the screen as each book is scanned, and when the total comes up and I’m asked, “And how will you be paying today?” I think of my now empty bank account and the sad, crying children. Oh, the humanity.
Illustration by Anna Farrell.