It was predetermined. I had decided that if an armed assailant were to demand my possessions, I would give it all up without hesitation.
I crunched the numbers. No other behavior made sense. The slightest resistance had a chance of increasing the possibility of my injury or death. The tradeoff was a fixed cost, an iPhone and a wallet. Easy economics.
In anticipatory alleviation of any stress from the almost inevitable encounter, I even wrote off the loss ahead of time. It was forecasted in my quarterly statement, a cost of doing business in South America.
I had mentally prepared myself, primed as best I could to act rationally when the evening finally arrived.
Or so I thought.
The evening arrived. And all rationality was jettisoned the moment the coin dropped behind us.
When I heard it I knew we were in trouble. My subconscious was aware that there was no one behind us. The sound is heard and it is immediately flagged as an alarming event and bubbled up to consciousness. A well-worn neural pathway that saved many a man from many a tiger. Something’s creeping up on you!
Within milliseconds, my amygdala scurries to pull all the hormonal levers of my fight-or-flight response. My brain chemistry undergoes a dramatic shift.
I don’t know exactly what this new state looked like. I don’t remember feeling much of anything. But whatever rational neurons I’d instructed previously were not invited to this particular neural jubilee.
Instead, it was me and my jacked-up brain and the boy and his jacked-up brain. And the axe.
In an instant, my brain decided it was confident it would know if he was going to use the axe. It asserted it had a good grasp of the back-swing he would have to perform, the step forward he would have to take. All the physics and movement involved. It knew I would have time to react. Threat-level: Low.
I gave him my phone. And then I hesitated.
A full report is run. Losing my wallet means all my cards. I just replaced one of them. It’s a total hassle overseas. I have a flight in two days. Would I have to cancel my trip? I can’t go on a trip with no cards?
My rational, economic neurons remained dormant. Disconnected from the grid. But somehow material loss computation was humming along in overdrive.
“A CARTEIRA!” He contorted his face and lifted the axe. Rage.
But my brain didn’t buy it. It detected fear. Threat-level: Still low.
I reached back and I pinched my wallet. I had it ready in case I detected movement. But my brain was confident I would have time to react. The decision had been made. The threat would have to escalate. So instead, I took a step backwards.
A pair of taxis rounded the corner. The encounter fizzled, the pairs disbursing. Axe-boy and friend one direction, my date and I the other. And then regular consciousness began to return. And it recognized all the adrenaline pumping around. And it was in total disbelief that I hadn’t given up my wallet.
Sure, I was glad. But I was also a bit startled. Cerebral processing changes so dramatically in times of stress. My past calculus wasn’t even considered in the heat of the moment. My fate was turned over to something entirely different. A decision-engine that rarely sees the light of day.
That decision-engine got us this far. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it was able to handle a kid with a rusty axe.