When Only Small Bills Will Do

DSC02992I walked into our kitchen, slipped a bit on a puddle of water on our marble floors and nearly shattered my mug of coffee.  All because there was a man squatting on his haunches hovering over my sink.  My sleepy mind had forgotten that my driver had called “our” electrician friend to come and fix our geyser (pronounced “geezer) which is the hot water heater looming over the kitchen.

You need to know something about our electrician.  He is a technician without peer.  Ok, actually he’s not half bad.  In a land where every man claims and actually believes he can be a skilled handyman, this quiet, unassuming guy usually knows what he’s doing.  So while some mothers are known to keep private the names of their trusted babysitters, I guard this guy’s phone number for fear others will monopolize his time.  Picture that kid in your high school who quietly worked afterschool and weekends stocking fruit at the local grocery and you have a snapshot of his personality.  And that’s what makes what I’m going to tell you next so painful.

As a general rule, folks in the laborer class don’t like to be paid in bills over 100 rupees.  100 rupees is about $2.  Not much, really.  Because he had to go get parts and because he had been so conscientious, the bill he presented was 350 rupees.  I told through sign language that I wanted to give him more.  I gave him a 500 rupee note ($10) for three hours of work including parts.  He thought that was too much and gave me 100 rupees back.  I didn’t give it another thought.

Two days later when our water dispenser started leaking, I tried to get our electrician to branch out into the world of plumbing.  My friend Aslam looked down at his freshly-shined shoes and said, “He’s not feeling way today.”

“Oh, is he sick,” I asked.

“Uh…no, I’m not supposed to tell you, but he is hurting.”

“Why, what happened?”  By now, I needed to know.  And the story tumbled out.

“When he left our house to go home, he got on the bus and gave the driver the 500 rupees note for his ticket and asked for the change.  The driver told him to sit down and when he got ready to get off, he would have it for him.  What he didn’t know is that the driver called his friend the policeman who came and stopped the bus.  The policeman came on to the bus, looked at the note and said it was a forgery.  They took our friend off the bus and down to the police station where they beat with rods.  He is very sore.”

I had just gotten the rupee note from the bank.  It wasn’t fake.  So I had to ask Aslam the follow-up question. “So what happened to the 500 rupees?”

“Sir, I think you know.”

So that was it.  A good man was robbed in a sting between a bus driver and a cop for a measly ten dollars.  Two cups of the better coffee drinks at Starbucks that he’ll never be able to afford.  That by itself is bad enough.  But that they had to somehow legitimize their evil by beating a loving father trying to put food on his family’s table made me sick to my stomach.


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