Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

My $20 Doubts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

My $20 Doubts

Article excerpt

The clanging at my gate was as insistent as the Jamaican heat that summer afternoon. "Dr. Rapley," ordered the voice. Dozing fitfully under a fan that felt more like a blow-dryer, I had neither the patience nor the energy for this today.

My shirt peeled away from my chair like wet wallpaper when I rose to go to the veranda. I recognized a face I knew from the ghetto: a menacing-looking young man, a bandage on his arm covering the evidence of an apparent knife attack.

"What do you want, Troy?" He did not catch my dismissive tone and approached. Instinctively, I looked down to see that the grill separating us was locked. "I've told you before, I don't want you coming to my house. You want to see me, you go wait for me at my office." He waved deferentially, and left.

I wasn't surprised when I arrived later at my office and saw him waiting. "What is it now, Troy?"

"Doc, I need help. I want to get my license so I can get work as a driver."

"How much?" I interrupted, unimpressed that he couldn't come up with a better line to get money for a night out.

"A thousand dollars, sir" (about $20 US). I had half a mind to send him away. But he had recently become one of my "godchildren" - a term in Jamaica that refers to the poor children who "adopt" middle-class adults as substitutes for absent parents. Troy had landed in my lap after his own "godfather," a close friend of mine, had emigrated. Troy's expectations of me were somewhat legitimate: My friend had told him to come see me if he needed anything.

But another voice in my mind raised security concerns, both for myself and my family: "If the begging doesn't work, the knife will come out. Forget about loyalty. He'd probably cut up his own mother if there were money in it ... and if he still had a mother. Pay your protection money and be done with him."

Somewhere, buried beneath the cynicism and obscured by the competing voices, there was still a hint of compassion. Duty, if you want to put it that way - a sense that because he

was poor and I was not, I had to share with him. "All right," I said, "but only for a license. …

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