Ruminations Over Five Pesos
On a bright September morning, I sat in a small cafe in the Barcelona Airport, staring at the change my husband had been handed back from a barista. We were about to leave Spain for New York.
“What is this?” I said, holding up one of his coins.
“It’s two Euros,” Rand replied, disinterested.
“No, it’s not,” I said. I peered at the coin, squinting to make out the text.
“Rand,” I said, waving the worthless piece of metal in the air, “this is a five peso coin.”
I was livid. And ready to go home.
In just a few days, we’d been ripped off numerous times. There was the woman at Montjuic who tried to overcharge us at cafe; the cab driver who added ten Euros to the price displayed on the meter, arguing that it was for “tariffs” (later discussions with friends confirmed my suspicion that such tariffs were fictional); the restaurant that charged us $20 for bread (we ate one piece) that resulted in me dishing out my own brand of vigilante justice; and now this – a coin worth about $0.39 U.S., given to my husband instead of the two Euros in change he should have received.
I sat, glaring at Rand’s unscrupulous barista, trying to figure out if I knew enough words to tell him off. I didn’t. I’d sound ridiculous. I’d probably look ridiculous, too, owing to the fact that I was wearing burgundy harem pants.
So I sat, in my ridiculous pants, quietly fuming.
Rand had shrugged off the whole thing. When I’d held up the coin, mortified, pointing out that it was five pesos, he’d only chuckled softly and replied, “So it is.”
I stared at the coin on the table, sighed heavily, and looked for something that I could steal in order to even the playing field. There was nothing (though I did start to worry that I had developed a nasty habit). I collected our things so we could board our flight. I made sure to grab the coin, and tucked it deep into the pocket of my ridiculous pants. For some reason, I couldn’t let go of it.
We headed to New York.
On the plane, I started to think about all the things that enter your head when you’re at 30,000 feet and feel wronged by someone on the ground. I thought of the number of times I’d seen my own family members ripped off by people stateside. The times I’ve had to confront store clerks because they’d tried to take advantage of a relative that didn’t speak English. This tendency knows no specific language, isn’t isolated to one country’s borders- it’s universal. We’re asses to one another.
I stewed until we were well over the Atlantic, and wondered if we were doomed to con ourselves into oblivion. I seethed and fretted, and felt guilty for not being able to shrug things off like Rand always does.
And then, we landed in New York.
There, we encountered a group of Rand’s friends – colleagues of his from London and beyond. Among them was Rob, who I’ve
ridiculed mentioned on the blog before. Rand urged me to tell them the story of the peso coin, and I did. I even managed to crack a smile, just like he did.
“Well,” Rob said when I was done, “the story’s worth more than the money you lost, isn’t it? Which reminds me … these are for you.”
He reached into his pocket, and plopped two more coins on the table.
I peered at them. They were English half-pennies. One was more than a hundred years old. Rob had found them in London, and remembering the conversation that spurned my blog post years ago, brought them for me. He was even kind enough to point out of which of the men on the coins was, as I had so graciously put it, “Colin Firth.”
And suddenly, staring at these foreign coins given to me by a foreign friend in a city that was not our own, I felt better. A little more hopeful. Yes, there are people out there like the barista, who quietly rip off tourists here and there. And there are rotten people like me, who get angry and pouty and occasionally pee on toilet seats out of spite.
But there are people out there like Rob, who can be so damn considerate. Or like Rand, who simply shrugs off problems and laughs and says, “So it is.” Or like all the wonderful folks I met in Barcelona, who took us out to dinner, and told us jokes, and made us feel at home. Who put up with my miserable, rotten, barely-intelligible Spanish, and even taught me a few new words.
How had I forgotten them so quickly? How was I able to lose faith in people in an instant, when I had so many glaring counterexamples of how wonderful people can be?
I’m sat there and realized, once again, what a miserable, ungrateful, short-sighted fool I can be. In my effort to classify everyone as a jerk, I became the biggest one of all.
I vowed to try to keep things in perspective in the future.
That’s why Rob’s coins now sit in a bowl in my hallway, along with the five pesos. They are not currency I ever plan on spending, but I’m just hanging on to them just the same. Because they remind me that good people are everywhere. In every single corner of the world, ready to pop out and surprise you. And maybe one day, if I work at it, I can be one of them.
(But don’t hold your breath or anything.)
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