The Protected Hope

I had no cash. "Don't take credit cards," the man said simply. "Just pay us later." He wore a flannel shirt and smelled like the coffee beans he was grinding.

"What?" I was skeptical. This was a big, tough city. There were plenty of shysters. I knew the way the world worked.

"Just pay us for your latte when you come in again." The man stayed facing me as he swept up coffee grinds.

"But I don't know when I'll be back. I'm leaving for three weeks." I was almost defiant, waiting for the catch, for the flannel shirt to turn away, for proof that my skepticism was well-founded.

"So pay us in three weeks." It didn't make sense. But it was cold outside and that hot drink would be nice.

"You'll write down my name?"

"No." The shop was called Red Lantern. They also fixed bikes. "Don't have any paper. Just come back."

I once read an interview in The Millions with Mona Simpson. The author was asked how similar she was to one of her characters. We both observe skeptically, she said.

"But that skepticism hides a shy, protected hope."

It was tough to believe that the man in flannel trusted me, trusted the world enough to pay him back in three weeks.

I wanted to be part of a world that trusted like that. But mine was a fragile hope that - out of fear - rarely saw the light of day.

And still, here was a man with a strongly built belief that this was the way the world could work. Who'd left skepticism in the dust and wore his unprotected hope on a flannel sleeve.

I came again three weeks later. I paid back more than I owed.

Sometimes we don't know the way the world works.

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