It was my last afternoon in Thailand before I would fly back to Korea for work. I was relaxing on the beach with a few friends, chatting about the past week of beautiful beaches, delicious foods, and the easy-life. Every now and then a peddler would come by trying to sell us things like trinkets, jewelry, t-shirts, and just about anything else you could carry. They were mostly women or cute little children who would give you their best convincing English in an attempt to make a little money. Usually we just gave them a nod or a polite No thanks, and they would be on their way to the next foreigner.
As the sun started to dip into the ocean, I could see a short elderly man walking up the beach balancing a huge tray of grapefruit atop his head. I made the mistake of making eye contact with him, seeing as he looked much too old to be so graceful, and he trotted through the sand in my direction.
I tried to turn away putting on a look of disinterest because I have always had a gross dislike of grapefruit. In fact, it’s one of the few foods I hate. It’s much too bitter for my tastes, but nevertheless, he came up and set down the tray on the chair beside me.
“No thank you,” I said. He showed a few teeth in his smile, pulled out a knife and quickly started carving up a grapefruit. “No, no, no!” I said nodding my head and making an X with my fingers, but he just kept slicing away.
“Very good,” he said while digging the blade through.
“I’m sorry. I don’t like it,” I replied.
“Very good,” he repeated. “You like it.”
Again, I tried giving him the X, this time with both of my arms. My friends were laughing at our exchange and I felt bad because even if I did like grapefruit, I couldn’t pay him because I didn’t bring any money with me to the beach. My friends didn’t have any money on them either.
So I told him, “Sorry. I have no money.”
“You no money?” he said looking a bit confused. “I no money too!” At which point we all burst into laughter.
He picked up the two halves of the fruit and put them into my hands. “You enjoy,” he said.
“Really! I’m sorry, but I can’t pay you for this!” I pleaded. He stood up and tucked his knife away.
“That’s OK,” he said. “You pay me tomorrow.”
Another round of laughter.
“I would, but I can’t pay you tomorrow,” I said, “because I’m leaving tonight.” I tried to quickly place the two halves back but he snatched up the tray before I could get them on. “You go tonight?” he said thinking and balancing the tray on his head. “That’s OK. You pay me next year!”
My jaw was open as I sat there in disbelief and watched him walk away, vanishing into the beach umbrellas. I looked down at the two glistening halves dripping in my hands.
“Well…now I just need someone to give me a spoon.”
I sat there eating until both halves were empty and the last tip of the sun slid away into the water.
It was the best grapefruit I’ve ever had.