The sun was covered, far behind the horizon of a
small suburban town.
The calm of a regular evening in town quietly returned to the main street, preparing for a peaceful night.
It had been a busy evening at Mr. Brown’s restaurant and it was time to close for cleaning up. He went to lock up the front door, and hung the “CLOSED” sign on the door. While he was looking at the mess of dishes, cups, and leftovers covering the tabletops, there was a soft knock on the door. Through the glass door, Mr. Brown saw a well-dressed young man. His white shirt and tan slacks told him that he was not one of the low-income working men in this town. With a begging look in his eyes, he gestured, asking to come in.
“Good evening!” Mr. Brown opened the door and gave way to the young man.
“Thanks!” Relieved, the young man stepped in. He looked around for a table, sat down, and pushed the mess on the table aside.
Mr. Brown returned, “Please call me when you are ready to order”. He handed a menu to the customer, and then started cleaning up the table.
When the food was brought to him, the young man couldn’t hide his hunger; he pulled the dish closer, and reached for the fork and knife.
“Sorry, it’s one of my rules; please pay first, and eat second!” said Mr. Brown.
Looking up at the restaurant owner, the young man reluctantly put his fork and knife down, and got out his wallet. His face turned red with embarrassment as he placed it on the table and sputtered out an excuse as to why there was no money in it.
Turning back to the bar, Mr. Brown asked, “What’s your name, son?”
“Call me Kenny,” the young man replied softly, then added; “I’m sorry.
Dropping some ice in a glass, Mr. Brown looked up. “Kenny, you should have been honest and told me before I cooked your meal, but…it’s okay….I’ll let you have the dinner, and I’ll find work for you to pay me back!”
Mr. Brown made a glass of iced water, and brought it to Kenny. “Enjoy your meal,” Brown said, and carried the used dish tray into the kitchen.
* * *
Leaning against the door, his arms folded across his chest, Mr. Brown watched as Kenny, wearing an apron over his dressy clothes, ‘cleaned up’ to pay for his dishonesties. With only two fingers, the young man held the sponge and washed the greasy dishes. He obviously did not want to touch the dirty dishes or dip his hand in the greasy sink water.
Stepping closer to Kenny, the restaurant owner picked up the stainless steel tray that Kenny had just finished washing. He held it up, and asked:
“Kenny, would you want to have your meal on this tray?”
Glancing at the unclean tray, the young man snapped at Mr. Brown: “Of course not!”
Pausing a moment, Mr. Brown took the tray to another sink, and washed it himself. He spoke sadly, as if to himself. “There are two types of Pride…One is Good Pride and the other is Bad Pride.”
Kenny stopped washing and looked unhappily at Mr. Brown. But his curiosity overcame him, so waited for more thoughts from the old man. Unfazed by Kenny’s unhappy reaction, Mr. Brown kept his eyes on the tray that he was washing. The old man continued:
“You think you have Pride; you don’t want to be served with the unclean tray. You want to be respected… and that’s Good Pride…But… you’d let others use this dirty tray. That is …Bad Pride!”
Kenny quickly replied: “I don’t care. I am leaving right after I’m finished with this dirty job, and NO ONE will know that I washed it.”
Mr. Brown carefully dried the tray, and then held it up with two hands, with the reflective surface toward Kenny. He handed it to the young man and looked straight into his eyes. In a soft, but clear and firm voice:
“But, HE knows.”
While the stunned young man regarded his reflection in the shiny tray, the restaurant owner walked away, repeating:
“Oh Yes…HE knows !"
* Story inspired by part of the TV program “Touched by an Angel”
(Incidentally watched on Sunday, 24-10-1998, at 6:00p.m.)
* Told to Vovinam / Vancouver-Canada classes on 1-11-1998, as a “Good Bye” gift.
* The use of English is to let the non-Vietnamese-speaking audience follow the story.
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