I was coming home to Rio de Janeiro after spending a trying, difficult year in the US. I was ill, tired, and disappointed, but happy to be going home.
It was a long flight from Boston—around twelve hours, with a stop in Washington D.C. The overnight flight from D.C. to Rio was around nine hours, so I was very happy to find three empty seats in a row so I could lie down (sort of) and try to rest. It wasn’t restful, and the hours dragged by endlessly, but it was better than sitting up all night.
When I roused myself for breakfast in the morning, my first thought was, “How will I make it through customs?” I was worn out and could barely stand up to go to the bathroom. Plus it was a long, long walk to customs after leaving the plane and I knew I’d never make it. I was feeling a bit rattled, and wondered how I’d bear up if the officer made me open my bags. If I made it to the customs area, that is.
As I was exiting the plane, I looked up and my gaze was met by a slender middle-aged man with glasses standing next to a folded wheelchair. He smiled kindly at me and I said, “Could you…?” Yes, he could. I had never even thought of a wheelchair! I’d never used one before in an airport or anywhere else. I thought you had to be really incapacitated before you could use one.
He settled me in the chair with my carryon on my lap and then pushed me and dragged my suitcase so fast I felt like we were flying. We zigzagged between all the people walking towards customs, leaving them in the dust. Before I could catch my breath we had stopped in front of the customs officer, who actually looked quite pleasant, sitting at his table. He asked me if I had bought anything in the USA. I said “no,” and that was it. I was home free!
My sweet chair-driver guided me out to the exit area where I saw my friend Dulce and her favorite taxi driver waiting for me. There were warm greetings all around. I turned to my angel driver and said, “What’s your name?” “Josimar,” he replied. Then I started chatting with my friend, and in my excitement and relief to be home, forgot all about Josimar and that he was probably waiting for a tip. I just kept jabbering away, and the next I knew, he was gone.
To be honest, I really didn’t remember the tip until I was installed in my temporary apartment in Copacabana, and then I felt so bad—I actually felt pain and remorse. After all, Josimar was my guardian angel. He had rescued me from an impossible situation, and I had forgotten to tip him!
Believe it or not, I thought about this for months, and even a year or two later it would occasionally pop into my mind. I thought, “I should have tried to find him. I should have called the airport. Why didn’t I call the airport?”
Why such a fuss over a forgotten tip? I don’t know—there was just something about Josimar.
I’m sure he has long since forgotten the incident, but I never have. And I often include him in my prayers in a whisper of gratitude.