The day had been a typical Sunday in Tampico. We had started the day with a taxi ride to Iglesia Torre Fuerte for Sunday school and worship. I always enjoyed the services at this church even though I didn’t understand much of what was being said. My Spanish is not as good as Helen’s by a long shot. She would interpret some of the service for me, but mostly I would listen using my limited language ability and following the scripture in my English Bible to preach my own sermon in my mind.
Following the long service, we stopped at a little café for lunch before taking another taxi to the large HEB supermarket not far from where we were living. With our loaded grocery cart, we wheeled out the exit and hailed the first taxi in line. Placing all of the bags we had just purchased in the trunk of the taxi, we headed home.
We liked taking the taxis in Tampico. For twenty pesos or about a dollar and a half, the two of us could go anywhere in the city. The taxistas were generally friendly and curious about what these two Americans were doing in their city. Tampico is an industrial sea port. It is not a place visited by tourists. Their curiosity gave us a chance to tell about our mission work. Almost all of them were happy to receive a Gospel of John or other Christian literature. What surprised us was when we would start to tell a taxi driver where we lived and he would say, “I know where you live. I’ve taken you there before.” In a large city with hundreds if not thousands of taxis, to have this happen was almost shocking.
Two hours after being dropped off by the taxi from HEB, Helen was taking a siesta while I was at the computer writing emails. I heard someone calling from the sidewalk in front of the casa. We had learned that in Tampico, people would not open the gate and walk up to the front door to knock. They would stand in front of the casa shouting “Buenos Dias,” and tap on the iron gate with a key or coin.
Looking out to see who was calling for us, I saw the taxi driver from HEB standing in front of the house. I opened the door and he started talking to me rapidly in Spanish. He was excited about something. My quizzical expression must have mystified him. To make me understand, he repeated himself, only louder. He seemed to be saying something about a purse. I asked him to wait a minute while I went to wake Helen.
Helen understood exactly what he was saying. She turned to me and asked if I’d seen her purse. This day, Helen had used a black leather backpack as her purse. She had also carried a bag with our Bibles. The bag was in the house, but not her backpack.
When Helen explained that she couldn’t find her purse, the taxi driver opened the trunk of his taxi, reached back behind the spare tire, and pulled out Helen’s backpack. We were both shocked and greatly relieved to see it.
Helen was ecstatic in thanking him for returning backpack. He explained that right after dropping us off, he had picked up a man who left the taxi carrying the backpack. Stopping him and retrieving the backpack, the driver had stashed it behind his spare tire. His work shift had just ended, so he drove to our casa to return Helen’s backpack. She did everything but kiss him to let him know how much she appreciated what he had done. I gave him twenty pesos for the fare he missed by driving to the casa empty.
After we calmed down and the driver went on his way, Helen went through the backpack to make sure everything was there. As she laid out her driver’s license, credit card, passport, and visa, we looked at one another realizing what a disaster we had just avoided. We would have been in a heap of trouble if these items had been lost. Helen then asked how much I’d given him. I was embarrassed to tell her I’d only given him what would be the fare to cover his driving to the casa from HEB. She announced we needed to find him and give him more. I agreed.
Finding this particular taxi driver was going to be a little like finding a needle in a haystack. We did, however, have one thing to go on. Of the hundreds of taxis in Tampico, almost all of them are little green Nissans. This driver had a silver Dodge Strata. Also, since he had picked us up at the taxi stand at HEB, he had permission to work at that spot. Our best bet was to keep looking for him each time we were at HEB. Since this was the biggest supermarket in Tampico, and the one closest to our casa, we were there often. Each time we walked to HEB we checked the taxis waiting in line.
Two weeks after the incident, we spotted the silver Dodge waiting in line. A group of drivers were clustered nearby talking about whatever Tampico taxi drivers talk about. Our driver was there. As we approached, he noticed us, and asked Helen if she knew where her purse was. We all had a good laugh at his remembering us. The other drivers must have thought it strange that our driver was joking with a couple of gringos. Helen then walked up and handed him a two hundred pesos bill. He looked surprised. The other drivers held out their hands as well. She turned to them and explained that he had earned these pesos by his honesty. Seeing his face light up not just for the pesos, but also for having Helen commend him in front of his peers, was an additional payback for us.
The remainder of the time we lived in Tampico, we would occasionally see him. He always mentioned Helen’s backpack and gave us the warmest smile imaginable.