2 min read

What if we stole a goat?

“Look! Those are not buoys but oyster farms. I bet we could slash the rope, fish out one container and have ourselves a feast,” the words linger in the air long after the ferry has called at the port on the tiny Greek island of Thassos. The author of these words is a middle-aged tourist from Latvia, one of the many men in crumpled T-shirts and sandals munching on sandwiches prepared in the morning, 2000 kilometres up north. He could have commented on the angry seagulls snatching whole Cheetos from spoiled kids. The beautiful mountains of Thassos we were approaching. Or the small desolate islet we had just passed. But no, it was the floating oyster farm that caught his attention. Or, to be more precise, the hypothetical scenario of stealing some.

Photo courtesy of my wife

I can sneer all I want, but I can’t really judge him, as my thoughts often take me to similar places. I wouldn’t even call them thoughts, they’re more like instincts. You see something left without a watchful eye, and the first thought-instinct knocking on your door is “I bet you could take it.” Just swipe it. Even if you don’t need it. Just for the fun of it. A nice road bicycle parked on my shopping route? I can’t help myself but take a quick glance at the lock. Of course, I wouldn’t take it, even if it were standing there all unlocked and shiny, enticing me with its carbon frame. But I still can’t stop the glance from happening. Or when I see a cigarette carton on the floor, some instinct compels me to pick it up. Resisting the instinct is easy, since I don’t smoke, but the instinct is still there, sending its signals from my lizard brain.

Usually, such thoughts stay subdued in polite company, but when they get out, they can help one bond with others. Birds of one feather flock together, and these birds are also thinking the same thing when faced with the purely theoretical opportunity of petty, non-violent, witnessless crime. The readers who have shoplifted a record or candy bar when they were kids know the thrill a five-finger discount brings. As good, mature citizens, we don’t commit the crime, but we contemplate the possibility for a milli-second, as our eyes scan the surroundings. And when we utter something like “let’s snatch ourselves some oysters”, we establish bonds with potential co-conspirators of our imaginary crime.

As my vacation days pass by slowly, I meet more people partaking in the same mental game of “what if” as the man on the ferry. What if we stole a goat? What if we poured the open bar drinks into a bottle and brought them home? What if we caught a fish with our bare hands, brought it into the restaurant and asked them to cook it? At least one of these mischievous suggestions came from me, but I can't claim it as solely my own. There’s something collective about these hypothetical scenarios. We all laugh together at the thought of mischief, even if we do play by the rules most of the time. Micro-dosing on imaginary and sometimes very real transgressions helps us move on with our lives.