What Price Forgiveness?

What Price Forgiveness?

By Marion Fischman

(Based on a true story.)


4-carat-diamondShe was lying on the sidewalk in the rear of the Hyatt Hotel in Guadalajara. Scenes like this were not uncommon but I never witnessed one before. For some inexplicable reason, I knew this was different. Then my sympathy turned to anger. This should be the Hyatt’s responsibility, not mine. I would report her body to the manager, then leave and forget it. But I couldn’t move. Somewhere in the deep bowels of my conscience I thought “This could be me.” Curious, I bent over to read the letters on her bracelet. Inscribed was the name “Maria.”

Just at that moment her eyes opened and she turned and looked piercingly into mine, then gradually turned her head away. Covering her face with one arm she weakly motioned with her other one for me to go away. But I couldn’t abandon her. I felt she was now in my care. More than that, she was a part of me, the part I hid from myself and the world. The me that knew right from wrong yet sometimes made the wrong choices. Or the me that would sometimes give up and want to die. Now I was going to be her savior.

How I got her into my hotel room was a miracle. The taxi driver parked in front of the Hyatt was kind and helpful and carefully put the repulsive, foul-smelling woman into his nice, clean cab. Like a rag doll, she was limp and offered no resistance.

During the short ride to my hotel, my mind was spinning with ideas and questions. Would they allow her into the hotel? I’d manage that somehow. Then what? Meantime, the driver followed my instructions and explained to her in a comforting voice that she was in good hands and would be well taken care of. The woman opened her eyes, but for only a moment.

I planned to give her a shower, put clean clothes on her, then give her a nourishing meal. But did she speak English? Was she ill? An alcoholic? Maybe a drug addict or a mentally disturbed person? Or just a homeless street person who could recover with some care. I would be her benefactor. Me, the big heroine.

The taxi driver agreed to wait outside for me while I rushed into my apartment to get a serape to partly hide my new friend. That’s how I was able to get her into my place with no objections from the manager. Still not a word from Maria. Every time I tried to talk to her, the only response was a few words in Spanish.

After I showered her, scrubbed her twice, her hair had to be washed three times. Some of my clothes were too big for her but when we finished, the transformation was gratifying. She stood in front of the full length mirror with tears rolling softly down her cheeks. Mine were inconspicuous compared to hers. She repeatedly touched her now beautiful glistening black hair.

Then I called room service for some food. At first she refused to eat. When she couldn’t resist any longer, she dug in. I caught her glancing at me in between mouthfuls of food. I figured she felt ashamed and humbled. But I had seen enough to recognize she was not only a handsome woman but one with much dignity and pride.

Next was a physical and mental examination and evaluation. Fortunately I knew of a nunnery in Zapopan where this was available for only a donation. One of their rules was this service was for women who would agree to be their guest for ten days. No less, no more. They provided clean sleeping quarters, healthy food and a professional medical examination including a psychiatric study. Then, if the circumstances allowed, they tried to find a job and home for their patient before discharging her.

Mother Mary Elena spoke to me, then privately with Maria. One condition was that she not have visitors for the first three days. Watching her following the nun and not even looking back at me, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was relieved to get away from my “do good” behavior.

Then, upon returning home, I realized that my four carat diamond ring was missing. I had worn it to a party the night before and carelessly left it on my dresser instead of using the hotel safe. Who else could have stolen it but Maria? No wonder she couldn’t look me in the eye. The hotel manager agreed to report the theft to the police and also question the employees. As he suggested, I went to the police station with my friend and interpreter, Raul. The police completed their initial report and promised to investigate—but they were adamantly against questioning Maria.

Borrowing a sleeping pill that night helped stop the churning thoughts of suspicion and anger. Finally I was able to visit her and when I told the nun the story, Mother Mary Elena took Maria into a private room and gently questioned her. Hearing Maria sobbing and repeating, “No, no,” touched my heart. Maria refused to see me. The only good news was that the final doctor’s report showed nothing wrong with her except severe malnutrition. This gave me some consolation but not much. The fire that lit the fury still burned.

Though shamed by my lack of compassion, my suspicions were as strong as ever. A combustible set of mixed emotions caused me to make another search of my apartment. Then in a flash, I remembered. I rushed to the zippered sofa pillow and there was my ring.

Raul rushed me to Zapopan to admit my mistake. But I was too late. Maria had run away, taking only the clothes on her back. There was little doubt she was on the cold winter streets again. The sisters searched for her for days. Even the police made an unsuccessful attempt to find her. We never saw her again. Many times I’ve returned to the spot where I first found her, but I have seen her frail body only in my weeping dreams.

Perhaps Maria has pardoned me. Surely God has granted me His mercy. Maybe someday, I can forgive myself.


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: chapala.com

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