Maxwell Morrison was well and truly screwed. He was standing in a courtroom in Bangkok, waiting for his sentence. The offence was drug trafficking, and if found guilty, the sentence would be life in one of the most horrific prisons in the world. The problem was that Maxwell was innocent. the drugs had been found stashed in a musical instrument he had agreed to carry through the checkpoint for a woman who had appeared to have her hands full with a baby, two young children and a whole lot of hand luggage. Of course, the moment the sniffer dogs singled him out for special attention, the woman and her children evaporated into thin air.
He had tried to explain this to the judge in his super-fast-track case, which had so far lasted less than 45 minutes, but the prosecution had countered by pointing out that it would take a very stupid person indeed to be suckered into carrying anything through a security checkpoint for a stranger – especially in this modern post-9/11 world. They had also pointed out that back home in Nottingham, Maxwell was a police officer. A security expert, who could never be as naïve as he was now pretending to be. Maxwell’s only counter-argument to that had been, “Appearances can be deceptive”. The Judge had given him the strangest look when he said that.
No, things were certainly not going well for him in this case. His only witness had been a British passenger who had seemed a bit drunk during her testimony. She admitted she had seen the woman hand the instrument to Maxwell, but added that they appeared to be travelling together. Again, Maxwell’s defence was, “Appearances can be deceptive”.
He remembered with irony the first time he had actually heard the expression “Appearances can be deceptive”. It was in the eighties. He was a teenager going through a punk rock phase. He wore nothing but black, had multiple body piercings and was always playing with a scary-looking flip-knife. All the kids in school were afraid of him and steered well clear. One afternoon when he was enjoying some peace and quiet behind the boat shed, listening to Grateful Dead on his walkman, he heard a commotion. Three kids were bullying a foreign student. They were about to throw the little kid into the river, and the poor boy kept crying, “Please! Please, I can’t swim!”
Maxwell intervened. At first, the three bullies wanted to fight it out, but Maxwell was a good three inches taller than the tallest of them. Plus, he had his knife, and he made them believe he was happy to use it. So they dropped the little foreign boy and went off to find a new victim. Maxwell asked the relieved kid if he was alright. The boy adjusted his glasses, looked at Maxwell for a long moment and said, “Appearances can be deceptive”.
“Why do you say that?” Maxwell asked.
“Well, everybody thinks you’re scary. Some kids even said you stabbed a teacher once. You’re the last person I’d have expected to come to my aid. But thank you for doing so. I would have drowned if you hadn’t. In Thailand where I come from, you owe the person who saves your life an eternal debt which you spend the rest of your life paying back. My name is Tran Pack, and I will never forget what you did for me.” With that, he shook Maxwell’s hand and ran off.
Back in the Bangkok courtroom, Maxwell allowed himself a wry smile as he recalled that childhood episode. Thirty years after he saved a Thai kid’s life, he was now a 45-year old policeman, about to spend the rest of his own life in a Thai prison, all because appearances can be deceptive. He snapped out of his reflections as the judge banged his gavel three times. It was time for the verdict.
Judge Tran Pack could not believe his eyes when Maxwell Morrison walked into his courtroom. Thirty two years had not done much to change his appearance, so Tran recognised him at once. He listened patiently for 45 minutes and then banged his gavel three times before giving the verdict. “Mr Morrison, appearances can indeed be deceptive. Not guilty. You’re free to go.”
My people, I know I don’t need to say much more about the lessons from these two stories. As you live your lives, please take every opportunity to do something unforgettable for someone who can’t pay you back today. They’ll pay you back tomorrow with interest.
Kindness is not a debt you pay, but an investment you make.