Sunday, October 23, 2011

Unexpected, Unsolicited and Undeserved... Trust

This story starts with Robbie’s beard.  As you probably know, Robbie has had full facial hair since age three.  “Pruitt hair,” as it is referred to in his family, is passed down through the generations on his father’s side.  Always genetically dominant, it is thick, wavy and dark—even thicker and courser in its facial manifestation.  I have to say, I just love Robbie’s beard.  Ever since the day we met, his ruggedly handsome mountain-man look has made my heart flutter.  But, as I recently discovered, his beard also has other effects.  It gives him more credibility as a Bible teacher because he looks like Moses.  It causes little Haitian kids to run after him on the street shouting, “Jesus!”  And, it shreds sheets.

Now, Robbie totally denies the sheet shredding.  But to me the evidence is unquestionable.  A couple weeks ago, I noticed that there was a rip in our fitted bed sheet—a lavishly soft cotton that we’ve been using since we got married.  A couple days later, I noticed another little tear.  And then another.  Within a few days, a decent sized area of the sheet—suspiciously right where Robbie’s beard and neck are—was ripped to shreds.  Was his beard the culprit, slowly wearing down the sheets with every toss and turn of its sandpaper-like stubble?  He says “no;” I say “yes.”  You can judge for yourself.

Either way, we needed a new fitted sheet.  I thought about picking up a set next time we were up at a housewares store up in Petionville, but we don’t go up there much, it’s a little pricy, their sheets seemed crunchy and uncomfortable to me when I saw them before, and we didn’t really need the full set.  Just one full-size fitted sheet.  I also thought about asking my mom to send one in the mail, but it just seemed like more trouble than it was worth.  So, I just did nothing. 

A couple days later, I was walking home from the women’s Bible study.  It was Thursday evening, when Robbie always does our laundry.  Though it was already dark and most of the market ladies had gone home, I noticed one who was still out at her spot on the sidewalk.  She had a little tarp laid out on the ground, with a number of rolled-up cloths neatly arranged in rows.  Under the street light, it looked like she was selling blankets, towels, and—wouldn’t you know it?—sheets. 

I approached the machann and said hello.  She was happy to show me some sheets that she had, but it didn’t look like what I was looking for.  I fumbled around for words in Creole to describe “fitted” and “full size.”  Speaking in a second (or third or fourth) language can be such a round-about affair.  After a minute, she got the picture and unrolled one of the bundles.  The size looked right.  Though secondhand, the fabric seemed clean and in good shape.  The cream color matched our set, and it was even soft to the touch.  I told her I would be back after double-checking the size.

Back at home, the size of the sheet looked right, and I was eager to return to seal the deal.  Since our weekly laundry slot was tonight, it would be perfect timing, I thought—we could throw the sheet into the washer and have a new whole and un-shredded sheet ready for bedtime.

I scrounged around for some cash to make the purchase, trying to guess at what the price would end up being.  I found a few 5-goud coins here and there, some of which were so used and worn down that several market ladies had already rejected them on multiple occasions.  A few miscellaneous small bills.  A couple US quarters.  Some 1-goud pieces.  Hm.  I might be short, I realized.  But, maybe not.  It would probably cover it if she took the US quarters.  And all the worn 5-goud coins.  And the little 1-goud coins.  Maybe.

Unsure, but wanting to give it a shot anyway, I walked back down to her corner.  The machann was pleased to see that I was back so soon, and I was pleased that she still hadn’t gone home for the evening.  We haggled a bit for the price.  She came down significantly from her original offer, but I wasn't sure that I had enough to cover it.  I handed her my handful of cash, and waited to see what she would say.  She counted through it.  When she came to the quarters, she frowned.  “What is this?” she asked.  I tried to explain that together they were half of a US dollar and that they would add up to 20 gouds.  She didn’t seem to understand or want to accept US coins.  She also frowned at the old and shabby 5-goud coins.  Apparently, the only person who will accept ugly 5-goud coins as payment or change is an American right off the plane who doesn’t know any better.  “Well, I guess I’ll have to come back later,” I said, a little disappointed.  So much for new sheets tonight, I thought.

Just as I was starting to say goodbye and turn back home, she reached out and touched my forearm.  “Now, listen carefully, cheri,” she said, looking right into my eyes.  “I’ll take this money today,” she said, holding on to the legitimate part of the payment.  “You take the sheet, and tomorrow you come back with the rest of it.”  Before I quite knew what she meant, she thrust the rolled-up bundle into my hands, along with the rejected coins.  “I’m always right here.  You can find me tomorrow, God willing.”  And with that, she said goodnight and sent me on my way.

Walking back up to the gate, fitted sheet under my arm, the whole exchange didn’t quite make sense to me.  I mean, this woman had never met me before, and she basically gave me a short-term interest-free loan.  But, she didn’t take any collateral.  She didn’t check my references.  She didn’t run a credit report.  She didn’t even get my name and phone number.  She just trusted me.  She just let me walk off with some of her merchandise with a smile and a good-faith promise of completion of payment tomorrow.  Just like she would trust one of her regular customers.  Just like she would trust someone more like her, who shares her culture, her language, and her skin color.  Just like she would trust someone who understands the importance of a few gouds when you’re a mom trying to put food on the table and send your kids to school.  And just like that, she trusted me.

And so we come to the end of the story.  Of course, this story started with Robbie’s beard.  But, for me, it finished with unexpected, unsolicited and undeserved trust.  And with the deep gratitude and humility that comes with that kind of confidence.  And with the reminder that I so often need, that it is only when a leap of faith is taken that a promise can be fulfilled.

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