I had just sat down in the local ice cream shop to enjoy a treat and answer any question that the group I had just taken on a culture walk might have, when the guy who works at the ice cream parlor interrupted me. “There is someone waiting outside to talk to you” he said. I looked towards the window where customers can place orders as they walk by on the street and sure enough a Uyghur women stood there craning her head to see me.
I excused myself and step out to see what she needed. She smiled warmly and greeted me by name, which sadly I could do in return. I didn’t even recognize her, and yet it was obvious that I was suppose to know. She noticed my confusion and graciously said “You don’t remember me, do you? You taught my daughter English a few years ago.” That didn’t narrow it down to much, but I faked a smile of understanding and said “Oh right, right”
She continued “I never paid you for the last few weeks of teaching and it has bothered me ever since, so how much do I owe you?” She had already pulled out her wallet and was ruffling through the bills.
I still had no memory of this women, or her daughter, or being owed any money. I stalled. “How is your daughter? How old is she now a days?” Her answers to my question slowly started to draw the memory of who she was to mind. I remember teacher for this family… I had only said ‘yes’ as a favor to another friend. After one or two months of teaching I had cancelled on them with the lame excuse that my classes and work load were just getting too busy to keep teaching.
“So, how much?” she asked again.
“Don’t worry about it” I had always felt kind of bad for the way I had dropped their daughters class so suddenly. “That was a long time ago you don’t need to pay me”
“No,” she said very insistently. “It has bugged me for four years. I must pay what I owe. I lost my phone and didn’t have your phone number or else I would have called you a long time ago. I was so glad when I saw you out walking this afternoon. I tried to call you name, but you didn’t hear me. So I followed you for the last few blocks and chased you down to this ice cream shop.”
“Oh let me give you my number now,” In truth I was still stalling over the whole money issue. I felt weird that this woman I barely remembered had her wallet open under my nose and was asking me how much I wanted. I recited my number and she immediately called it back so that I could save her number. But I didn’t need to the second my phone ranger this woman’s name popped up on the screen. I still had her number saved in my phone from 4 years ago. I try to clean out unknown number ever year or so, since my phone log quickly gets filled up with the names and numbers of random people I meet on the street once and never hear from again. But despite regular discards of unused numbers, this women’s name was still saved in speed dial. She laughed when she saw it and said “Oh, you still have my number. You should have just called me and asked for your money”
“I had totally forgotten about it. Please don’t feel like you have to pay me now”
“No,” she insisted, “It was like 250 ($40)”
As she handed me the ‘outstanding debt’ we chatted a little more and realized that we were practically neighbors living only a couple of blocks away. Getting paid lead to making plans to be in touch and hang out some time.