Turn the other cheek

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA —  Even as I have wondered over the source of the abundant goodness I’ve seen here, I haven’t needed the warnings people have thought I did need, not to trust anyone.

I knew that someone would eventually try to rip me off. This was not cynicism as much as realism; I knew this just as  surely as I would know  sinister-seeming surroundings are not necessarily bereft of hope.

So today, when I got in a taxi and asked how much the ride to the hotel would cost, I was saddened but not surprised when the driver coughed into his hand and didn’t answer until we were both in with the doors shut.

Forty, he said, and held up four fingers. People who lie often do it twice — underlining words with some emphatic gesture, as if a lie x a lie = the truth.

That’s 40,000 kwacha, instead of the usual 30,000 that that ride and almost every other taxi ride I’ve taken has cost (with the outliers at 25,000 and 35,000). And that translates to about $2 which isn’t the most anyone’s ever stolen from me, but it’s the thought that counts.

It’s not usually that much, I told him, shocked, hoping he would redeem himself quickly.

But, forty, he said again, holding up the four fingers again.

All right, then, never mind, I said, and opened the door to get out.

Wait, how much do you usually pay?

Thirty to thirty-five, I said, because I never think quickly.

All right thirty-five, he said.

No, never mind, I said, I’ll get another.

Thirty, he said. So I stayed, to honor his attempt at redemption, though most people who know me might note that I never get over perceived wrongs, or even attempted wrongs in the blink of an eye.

I stayed, and during the 10 minute drive back noticed the New Testament, resting in a change compartment of his dashboard.

How could you? I wanted to say. And in front of the very book that might guide you to be better.

But I didn’t, because he wouldn’t be the first to cling to the book but ignore its contents, and because I, too, strive for grace.

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