The kindness of strangers.

Last night I had planned on taking Scott out to dinner for his birthday. After begging him to pick somewhere special, he settled on Orinoco, a local Venezuelan restaurant. It isn’t by any means a fancy type of place, and the meals are actually quite affordable, but I coerced him into ordering a dish perhaps more expensive than our usual $5 arepa fare, and I splurged on a carnivorous platter that hovered around 20 dollars. In keeping with the theme, we both ordered beer and sangria, respectively, and settled in for a casual night of dining.

We were very quickly interrupted by a very chatty woman who sat beside us—the tables there are packed very tightly together, so you practically bump elbows with your neighbors. To be honest, I instigated discussion, by asking what her husband was having. She persisted in asking questions, and we graciously (and excessively) rambled on about how wonderful our neighborhood is, and since they were visiting from out of town, where they could go for wonderful, memorable meals, and on and on. My lips became unusually loose; I’m normally very shy and reserved, but the sangria was flowing quickly and the nature of this woman was very comforting and maternal. So as they tucked away their meal, I casually recommended dessert, and we told them where they could find some wine. They left quietly and politely, saying simple good-byes without looking back. Scott and I continued talking, musing on the future.

A moment later, the owner of the restaurant came to our table and, smiling widely, a bit puzzled, said, “I just wanted to tell you, the table next to you paid for your check.” Scott and I looked at each other with open mouths, completely baffled, wondering if he was joking with us, or if perhaps there was some mistake. As we pressed him for answers, all he could say was not to worry about anything because they had covered our meal. My eyes welled with tears, in disbelief that complete strangers would actually pay for a rather expensive bill for complete strangers. They were out of sight at this time, and we had only just gotten our meal, so we couldn’t run out the door to thank them, but I think they planned it that way. We left with very confused smiles.

For the duration of the trip home, we walked in silence and disbelief. When we did speak, it was to question the motives of our charitable dining neighbors. To say that they reinstilled a sense of faith and hope in humanity is an understatement: we immediately began thinking of ways to do the same for others, to offer something to the unexpecting, the needy. We came to the somewhat mythic conclusion that they were once in our shoes, young and in love, eating at a place beyond their means, and someone picked up their tab, planting a seed in them. And, deciding that this was the best theory (because the theory that they were just rolling in money and had more of it than they knew what to do with was unappealing), we decided that we will one day do the same, when we have the chance.

I never expected, when we left the house last night, to have such a memorable meal. And I think that Scott may have received the most wonderfully unexpected birthday gift.

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