Such a Lonely Word

It could have been entirely too easy.

This morning I arrived at Rachel, for my morning coffee and sandwich, as I have been doing every day of this school year. Everything on the dairy side of the cafeteria costs five shekels, and I may be piss-poor, but for fifty shek a week I wake up every day and get a decent cappuccino and scrambled eggs with cucs and tomatoes on a fresh, whole-wheat roll.

Lior, the proprietor, knows to froth the milk the moment I step inside, and if there are no sandwiches ready yet, he calls into the kitchen to have someone make one special for me. I don’t need to utter so much as a “good morning” for him to recognize me, but I always do. He asks about my week and classes, and we wish each other a good day.

Sometimes, if I don’t have any small change he’ll tell me to sit, relax, and I’ll come back as I’m leaving to pay.

That was the case yesterday. I only had a 100 bill on me. But there was traffic, and I didn’t have very long to sit and solve the paper’s Sudoku before I had to make my way to the library. As I was leaving, I stepped up to the counter. “Lior, do you have any change yet?”

He waved me away. “Tomorrow,” he said graciously. “Don’t worry about it.”

And so, this morning, as I handed him the 100 NIS, I reminded him “This is for yesterday, too.”

The change came back. And it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do actual math, but this wasn’t rocket science. In my hand there were two bills and two coins: a fifty, a twenty, a ten and a five.

It was only five shekels. And it would have been entirely too easy. For a split second, I hesitated. And in the few hours since, I’ve been kicking myself for that split second of hesitation. Again, in the grand scheme of things, what difference would it really have made?

It would have been all too easy to remain silent, to quietly pocket the five shekels that didn’t belong to me.

But my conscience, queasy and disgusted at my mere contemplation, snapped me back into reality. I handed Lior the extra coin, saying, “Yesterday it was ten, too.”

For some odd reason, in the past few days my memory has been drudging up an incident that happened just over a year ago. One that, at the time, I was shaken up about, but brushed aside, knowing I was just a statistic, hoping I’d forget.

It was the last day of the first course I accompanied as substitute secretary in the Training Center. For three and a half weeks, I photocopied papers, translated slideshows for lecturers, called the airport about missing luggage and became acquainted with some twenty five educators from around the globe.

I was the only one in the office that day. My three colleagues had left earlier. But someone needed to stay around to make sure all the shuttles heading back to the airport left without a hitch.

Throughout the day, the trainees came in to say their goodbyes. Most came bearing gifts. I got a fan from Vietnam, two pictures of Machu Picchu, coffee from Colombia and hugs from everyone.

At around 3:45, just some fifteen minutes before I was to leave for the day, in walked Geoffrey, the bigshot from the Kenyan Ministry of Education, looking for my boss.

“She isn’t in,” I said.

He came and sat down in my office.

The conversation is a bit of a blur. I do recall him taking out his iPad, showing me pictures of his house and his children, telling me I should visit. Great skiing on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

And then he got up, to say his goodbyes. I rose too, and leaned in for a hug, as I had done with all his fellow course mates.

And it was over ten seconds. And he didn’t let me go. He pressed up against me, and I could feel his excitement on my stomach. And he took my head in his hands and smashed his lips against mine, and it was all I could do but to stop shaking long enough to push him away, “That’s enough! Please go now.”

And he did.

And it was all too easy.

It was all too easy to take advantage of the friendly girl who innocently gave out hugs, alone in the office, before heading on a flight back home to another continent.

It would have been all too easy to continue, to not heed my plea, “That’s enough!”

Why was it so freaking easy?