by Alberto Valenzuela—
While waiting for a connecting flight in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, I had my shoes shined. I had arrived at noon and my next flight didn’t depart until 3:00 for Roatan, one of the islands in the Caribbean.
In the oppressive noonday heat, the man working on my shoes told me about his daughter. She was 20 months old, a few weeks older than Camy, my daughter. She was sick with pneumonia, and he didn’t have money for the antibiotics.
In the way some people have of letting you know their life story, he shared that he hasn’t seen his wife for several months. They’d had their first child when she was 16, and she left him when their second child was barely a year old. He thought his mother-in-law might have taken his wife to the United States.
“I think she went as a mojada (wetback), but I’m not sure,” he said. “I have to work and take care of my children.”
I knew he wasn’t telling me a made-up sob story because I had overheard him talking about it to another shoeshine guy. It just broke my heart. I gave him 120 lempiras (about $12) to get the medicine for his daughter. He was so surprised he didn’t know what to say.
About an hour later, when I had already forgotten what he looked like, he came to where I was waiting and said, “Jefe, what’s your name?”
“Alberto,” I told him.
“My name is Miguel,” he told me as he shook my hand. “When you come back Friday, I’ll look for you. God bless you.”
He’d never been able to pay for a full series of antibiotics to his daughter. “Her name is Jessica,” he told me. He just couldn’t afford them. The days weren’t long enough to shine enough shoes to buy the medicine his daughter needed. As I took the plane out of Tegucigalpa, I prayed that little Jessica would make it and not become another statistic.
That Friday I returned to Tegucigalpa. As I approached the American Airlines counter, Miguel came up, all smiles, to greet me. “I was looking for you upstairs,” he told me while he vigorously shook my hand. “I brought my son with me so you can meet him.” He then proceeded to carry my luggage and place it next to the counter. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he said and disappeared.
When I had finished checking in, I went outside. Miguel was there, beaming with pride. “This is my son,” he said, presenting a little boy dressed in very clean clothes who didn’t seem to be any taller than my Camy.
“What’s your name?” I asked the boy.
“Miguel Angel,” he said shyly. I shook his hand and placed 40 lempiras in his other hand. He immediately put the money in his pocket.
“How old are you?” I asked him, trying to make conversation.
“Tell him how old you are,” Miguel urged. Miguel Angel raised four fingers to show me.
The father turned to me. “Do you want me to shine your shoes?” he asked. “It will be a ‘courtesy.’” He used an expression in Spanish that means something like “on the house.”
“No, thank you,” I told him. “My shoes are fine.”
I noticed that Miguel Angel was vigorously chewing on some gum. I remembered that I had a packet of gum somewhere. I found it after searching in every possible pocket and offered it to him. He took it and immediately threw away his old gum. I also found a pack of breath mints and gave it to him as well. I told him not to chew on them but to just place them in his mouth. His intelligent little face, a small replica of his father’s, nodded with understanding.
“I bought the medicines for Jessica,” Miguel told me. “She is doing better already. I’m going to buy her some more with what I make today.” I felt sorry I didn’t have a single lempira left. The money exchangers wouldn’t take my traveler’s check.
“When are you coming back?” he asked me.
“I don’t know. I have no idea.” I told him, really sorry that I couldn’t do anything else for his little Jessica.
“I’ll look for you every day,” Miguel told me as we shook hands in farewell. I left him by his shoeshine box. Miguel Angel was energetically chewing gum while thoughtfully watching the people who came to take the planes bound for the United States.
I doubted I would ever see Miguel again. I hoped Jessica would get to be as intelligent and good looking as her big brother.
I couldn’t help thinking about the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers. He had healed all 10 of them, but only one came back. Evidently, he knew by then who Jesus was. This former leper came back, not to ask another favor of Him, not to take advantage of His miraculous powers, not even to present Him with a request for someone in his family. He came to thank Him.
Miguel had spent enough time with me that he recognized me immediately. He knew when I was coming back. He knew that I lived in the United States. As far as he was concerned, I was rich. I had dollars. I had the power to heal—because I could afford to buy the medicines that I needed or that my family needed.
But he didn’t come to me looking for another favor. He didn’t come back expecting me to provide for him and his children. He came back to thank me.
It’s been a long time since I met Miguel at that small airport. I haven’t gone back. But I don’t doubt that Miguel keeps an eye out for me with every international flight that arrives. To thank me again.
Alberto Valenzuela is associate communication director for the Pacific Union Conference and editor of the quarterly magazine, the Pacific Union Recorder, which is published in both English and Spanish.