The off duty lights atop the cab idling in front of our hotel were ablaze, but as we approached, the driver motioned us toward him while simultaneously opening his sliding passenger door. Giving our destination per his request, he advised 'Cash only'. We explained the truth - that we had only our credit cards. He advised that his credit card machine was down, but after some hesitation, he gestured for us to get into his cab.
A few blocks melted away before he asked what seemed the obligatory. Or, if one were easily prone to those darker states of mind, the alarming...
'Where are you guys in from?'
'What brings you here?'
'Have you been here before?'
I found myself answering coldly, defensively even.
Then I noticed his meter was off. And it was at this point that I myself fell prey to those darker states. I had assumed that after he had been told we had no cash, the bit about the credit card machine being down..that state of disrepair I have heard so many times from so many cab drivers in so many places around the world...had been vanquished. An insincere claim that often disappears when faced with the real threat of losing a certain fare, regardless of perhaps a less lucrative payment mechanism.
So I asked him to please turn on his meter. In response, he said 'It's ok, it's ok.' And rather than fall prey to the good in these words, the good in their potential meaning, the good in his intentions, I fell back to the dark.
To the suspicious.
To the doubtful.
I likened the meaning of those words to variant situations where the meter had been inexplicably turned off and entrusting the driver, I had not said a word en route, only to be surprised with an astronomical, irrational fare at arrival. A fare that simply was, because the driver said so.
So I asked our driver again to turn his meter on. And again, the reply was 'It's ok.'
I resigned myself to the notion that the dark would prevail again. That given the situation, it was not worth continued pursuit if the worst result was just an expensive fare.
More small talk. Our driver said that he was from Mauritania. He had been in the States for some time after finding a way to bring over his wife and young daughter.
We arrived at our destination and he opened the door. Staring at the illuminated credit card screen on the back of the seat, I asked him how much we owed. And it was here he said, 'Nothing. I told you, my credit card machine is down.'
I held silent in veritable disbelief, simultaneously feeling amazed at all the goodness surrounding around us in the world, and the guilt for assuming otherwise first, even if momentarily.
He handed me his business card and said 'Next time.'
Indeed, next time. And every time thereafter.