It was Wednesday night - day six of my trip. It just had my best day so far, what with the events of Maestro, a really entertaining workshop and a beautiful Segway ride around Lake Burley Griffin in the morning.
To finish off the evening, I was hanging out with the dozens of other improvisers at Digress - the official Indian restaurant of the Improv Festival. I saw someone eating what looked like the best fries in history, so I went up to order some myself. The chips were $7. I handed her some cash, got my change and then went back to my seat.
But as I was putting the change back in my wallet, I hesitated. In my hand were two $20 notes and $3 in coins - change from a $50 note. I could have sworn I'd given her a $20.
"Jackpot!" you're probably thinking. "How often does that happen?" And you're right, I did find that exciting. Handing someone a $20 note and getting two back in return is a good feeling, if not slightly unsustainable for the business. I brought up my discovery to the people at my table.
'Jackpot!' said one of them. 'How often does that happen?'
'Are you sure you gave them a $20?' said another.
'Well, not any more,' I replied truthfully.
'That's alright, it's their loss.'
'But I wouldn't be saying that if they'd under-changed me, would I?'
'But you don't know if they under-changed you.'
Reluctantly, I decided I should go back up to the bar to ask. I would love to keep the money, but it would play too much on my conscience. If they themselves weren't sure and said to just keep it, I'd be fine with that. If they said I'd given them a $50, then there wouldn't be a problem. Otherwise, I'd just have to give it back.
I bustled to the front of the busy bar to find the girl who'd served me - a girl with a medium build, faintly freckled face and mousey-blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. I asked her the question:
'Did I give you a $20 or a $50 for my food?' Her face went blank.
'A $50...' she said unconvincingly. 'Is that what I gave you change for?'
'Well yeah, but I'm pretty sure I gave you a $20,' I said feeling ridiculous. I was sure she hadn't this conversation with anyone before.
'Um, well I'm not sure...' She seemed to be feeling just as ridiculous as I was. She opened up the till and checked inside. 'I did just put a $50 in there... Yeah, you definitely gave me a $50.'
'Alright...' I said. I still wasn't convinced, but as far as I was concerned I'd done my duty. I returned to my seat and enjoyed my delicious, delicious fries.
At the end of the night, I was heading out the door when that girl from the bar chased me down.
'Hey, sorry,' she said. 'You've gotten me worried now. Do you mind if I take down your number and if our till's out at the end of the night I'll send you a text?'
'Sure thing,' I laughed and wrote down my phone number on the napkin she's provided. As she ran back to the bar, my friend Jarrad passed me.
'See, I told you you'd get some action on this trip,' he said with a wink. I laughed and shook my head.
'Nope. She's talking to me because she thinks I owe her money.'
Sure enough, as I was sitting in the kitchen of my hostel the next morning, having breakfast and chatting with other improvisers, I got an SMS.
"Hi Michael, it's Lara from Digress. We checked the till last night and we were short, so I did give you the incorrect change. Will you be returning to Digress tonight so we can fix it?"
Well, it was fun while it lasted. I confirmed that I'd be back and, true to my word, I returned on the Thursday night to hand the money back again. She was very thankful and offered my a free drink. I don't drink, so I turned it down. Just happy to do the right thing.
But I mustn't have realised just how much of a good thing it was that I'd done. I went back on Friday night and one of the other waitresses recognised me. She offered me a free drink of her own and when I said I don't drink, she asked if I'd like something off the tapas menu. Being hungry and tight with my money, that sounded very appealing to me. So I enjoyed the rare treat of having a meal fully paid for by the restaurant that cooked it.
I would LOVE for that to be the end of the story, but it's not. There's more. Something happened after that that I haven't since told to another living soul. I'm not even ready to deal with it yet. I'll have to talk it out in the next installment of Canberra Stories. Until then.