I couldn’t move. My western-oriented eyes stared at the scene with curiosity and awe. “The entire city must be here,” I thought as people mingled, walked, ran and shopped at the central outdoor market. Women standing side by side yelled out to passer-bys hoping to sell their home baked goods. Smells of sausage and bread mixed with fish, perfume and unidentifiable scents. Odd colored lazy-boy chairs for sale blocked the path of shoppers. Row after row of colorful tented stalls had everything from tooth paste to chicken. If I needed a frying pan, I’d probably find it next to a pair of fur-lined boots. Scratchy American music blared from stalls selling home-copied cassettes. Mothers held tightly to children’s hands probably wishing for a “Lost Parents Stall” just in case they got separated. This is one place you could “leave home without it,” your credit card, that is.
“I have to exchange money,” I suddenly remembered. “I better hurry before the bank closes,” I whispered to myself. The pedestrian-only street was practically empty. A man and woman walked arm-in arm. An old man shuffled along not having the strength to even lift his legs. Women selling fruits and vegetables in small stands peeked around stacks of oranges and bananas. The bank building was on the right sandwiched between a small shop that sold a little of everything and a deserted store. It hardly looked like a bank on the outside. Only a small sign identified the business transactions that took place inside. The heavy, green metal door slowly opened as I pulled. I stepped into a small entry way and waited. “Click,” I heard the door unlock.
Stepping into a larger entry way, I saw him sitting behind a small desk. A blond headed young man clad in fatigues with a semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder. “Now that’s security,” I thought. He watched as I turned left into the bank. There were no customers. Looking at the long row of counters, I wondered, “Now which one do I use?” I noticed a board with what looked like the exchange rate near one window. Nervously, I walked towards it desperately trying to remember the words for money and exchange in Russian. “Oh, well, I’ll just show my passport and dollars. They’ll know what to do.”
A woman with a pleasant smile sat behind the thick plastic window. A multi-colored curtain blocked the view except for a space large enough for only one person to do a transaction. I quickly slipped my blue passport with gold lettering under the plastic window. Removing dollars from an envelope hidden in my coat, I handed them to her. When she saw the amount, she shook her head. “Now what could that mean?” I silently questioned. She pointed to her money drawer and shook her head again. “Could she really not have enough money to give me?” Not knowing exactly what to do, I looked around. There was a young man with a short, leather-type jacket standing near the wall. Seeing his Russian passport, I hoped, “Maybe after he exchanges his Russian rubles into dollars, she’ll have enough money to give me.” Exchanging rubles is a common occurrence as it loses value and the dollar continues to gain. A savings account is money in dollars, not money in the bank.
Retrieving my passport and money, I motioned for him to go before me. I backed away from the window as he slowly walked to the counter and handed the professional looking woman with short hair his passport and…and just enough rubles to get one dollar. I stood stunned. One dollar. He wanted one dollar. He turned and sheepishly looked at me. Suddenly, my face felt hot. I felt embarrassed for him and me. I had waited for his big exchange and he had wanted to have a big exchange. Quietly, I hurried out the door, passed the man in fatigues and out into the nearly deserted street. The cool breeze ruffled my hair.
“One dollar. He wanted one dollar,” I continued to repeat as I walked down the street. “He exchanged enough for only one dollar.” Still muttering under my breath, I faintly heard, “What will you exchange today?” “What will I exchange?” I asked. The voice was louder, “Give me all you have.” “But Lord, I don’t have very much to give you,” I protested. I thought of the abilities I wished I had; the great things I wanted to do for Him. “Do you have one dollar’s worth?” I stopped walking. “One dollar’s worth?” He gently said, “Exchange it. What I have is worth more.” “Alright, I’ll give you what I have,” I sighed.
The sun slipped from behind the clouds as I continued down the street. I smiled as I thought, “One dollar. I exchanged enough for only one dollar.” It was enough.
Copyright © 1997 by Jane Carole Stein