The old man walked through the clearing. He was moving so slowly, that I paused to take pictures of the landscape, the drying clothes, the Shiva gates. I didn’t want to try to pass him on the slippery trail. When I looked back up, he had disappeared around a corner. I followed briskly, drops of water from the deodar trees falling on my head.
I rounded the corner and stopped abruptly. The old man had stopped in the middle of the trail and was taking a pee. His back was turned to me. Again, I retreated and began taking pictures. Several minutes later, I peered around the corner. He was walking again. Now was my chance to pass him. The trail forked off in two directions. Gathering myself together, I walked past him quickly, carefully placing my feet on embedded stones so I wouldn’t slip on the wet, packed mud. The rain began falling harder, so I popped my umbrella open and continued on.
“Ah, excuse me, hello?!” he called out at my back. I turned around. He mumbled something that I couldn’t hear, and I got that mild clenching sensation in my stomach that I associate with Indian beggars asking for money. I didn’t really want to step forward to hear him better, but something made me move. “I’m sorry, what?” I said. He held out his hand. “Five rupees?” he asked.
I shook my head and began walking in the other direction. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t have.” I continued placing my feet on the rocks, careful not to slip and fall. Rain drizzled down and pattered on my umbrella. The rocky staircase was coming into view. I was almost there. Five more steps and I would begin climbing, and quickly he would be out of sight. My conscious wasn’t going to let me off that easily, though.
“Go back,” it said. “Give him the money.”
“NO!” said my other, more stingy voice. “I don’t put down my umbrella and dig around in my backpack for five rupees!” I kept walking.
“Go back,” said the voice. “Give him the money.”
I stopped. When that voice is persistent, it won’t shut up. A fragment of a Biblical parable came into my mind. Hadn’t Jesus said that if someone asks you for five dollars (or five fish, or five pieces of gold), you should give them ten? And wasn’t it possible that this man was actually an angel in disguise? I had just read a line in a book that said something to the effect of, “Angels usually don’t come dressed as kings.” The idea was that you are to give everyone equal love and compassion- you never know who you might be serving.
I sighed and put down the umbrella. Rain dripped down the collar of my shirt and made me shiver. I stuck my hand in my backpack and pulled out my wallet. I found a ten rupee note, the equivalent of about a quarter. Then I turned around and walked back to the man. “Here you go,” I said. His eyes got huge, and he smiled at me toothlessly. He babbled something in Hindi, and I nodded and walked away.
If he was an angel, my soul was redeemed. Even if he wasn’t an angel, I feel like I re-balanced my karma.