Payment expected in the coin of the Realm
I lean propped against my motorcycle and watch the old man pulling against the current. The fat manila rope strains against an iron ring at the bow, wetting the deck of the wooden barge as we crossed the swollen river.
Me and the bike are covered with dust from the Sonoran desert. The old man is covered in sweat. The desert is blooming as the melting snows wash down from the mountains.
I was surprised when I came upon the crossing. It’s not on my maps. Yet, suddenly there it was: raging river, barge, and ferryman...patiently waiting. When I asked “how much,” he smiled a vacant smile and gestured for me to pull onboard.
The desert sky was streaked with purples and reds as we approached the opposite shore. There was a hard, sliding lunge when the boat grounded. The old man pulled off his right glove and held out his hand. I peeled a twenty out of my money clip and held it out to him. He shook his head and reached into a large earthenware jar, pulled out a handful of coins, and let them rain through his fingers back into the jar.
I don’t carry coins. Perplexed, I shook the twenty at him. His black eyes came to rest on my silver dollar belt buckle. He pointed. Now it was my turn to shake my head as I casually hit the starter button on my bike. In one movement, I swung my leg over the motorcycle, parked the kickstand, and twisted the throttle. Catching air at the edge of the barge, I went flying into the darkness...and landed at the stern of the barge, skidding to a halt in front of the old man.
After thirty desperate attempts, I understood: You must pay the ferryman.