I did. It was the same kid who had ushered me into the gift shop, probably the nephew or son of the owner.
“Sure,” I said, but kept walking.
“Do you have everything?”
We were in the winding narrow streets that circle the Taj Mahal in Agra. It was hot and loud. After a whole day exploring the historical sites, I felt reasonably up to speed on my Mughal history, and I was in a hurry to get back to the quiet and air conditioning of my hotel room. In the shop, I had managed to refuse everything apart from two postcards of the Taj. I thought it would be funny to send one to my dad and his wife in Dorset, England — the first postcard from India in five years.
“Sure you have anything”?” the kid persisted. He was strolling alongside me hands in pockets, smiling sideways. He looked about ten, but here kids are often older than they look.
I tried ignoring him, but he kept following me. A few minutes later, I stopped, and trying unsuccessfully to hide my irritation, said, “I’m not going to buy anything else, so you should probably not waste your time with me.”
He looked up at me, his smile now replaced by a look of deep disappointment.
“You left this,” he said, and opened his hand.
It was my change from the postcards. Eighty rupees.
He’d followed me for ten minutes, playfully trying to get my attention just to return this money that he could so easily have taken.
“Thanks so much, really. You’re a great kid.”
But I’d already blown it, I knew. Then, to make matters worse, I offered him 20 rupees. He refused it. Somehow, I knew that he would.
I watched him walk away and felt my discomfort transform into gratitude. Not for the eighty rupees, but for the lesson he’d given me. I mailed the postcard the following week. It never did reach my dad.