Friday, October 29, 2004

The Cab Ride

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living.
When I arrived at 2:30 a.m.,
the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.
Under these circumstances,
many drivers would just honk once or twice,
wait a minute, then drive away.
But, I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as
their only means of transportation.
Unless a situation smelled of danger,
I always went to the door.
This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance,
I reasoned to myself.
So I walked to the door and knocked.
"Just a minute", answered a frail,
elderly voice.
I could hear something
being dragged across the floor.
After a long pause, the door opened.
A small woman in her 80's stood before me.
She was wearing a print dress and had
a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on her head,
like somebody out of a 1940s movie.
By her side was a small nylon suitcase.
The apartment looked as if
no one had lived in it for years.
All the furniture was covered with sheets.
There were no clocks on the walls,
no knickknacks or utensils on the counters.
In the corner was a cardboard box
filled with photos and glassware.
"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said.
I took the suitcase to the cab,
then returned to assist the woman.
She took my arm and
we walked slowly toward the curb.
She kept thanking me for my kindness.
"It's nothing", I told her.
"I just try to treat my passengers
the way I would want my mother treated."
"Oh, you're such a good boy", she said.
When we got in the cab,
she gave me an address, then asked,
"Could you drive through downtown?"
"It's not the shortest way,"
I answered quickly.
"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry.
I'm on my way to a hospice."
I looked in the rear-view mirror.
Her eyes were glistening.
"I don't have any family left," she continued.
"The doctor says I don't have very long."
I quietly reached over
and shut off the meter.
"What route would you like me to take?"
I asked.
For the next two hours,
we drove through the city.
She showed me the building where she had
once worked as an elevator operator.
We drove through the neighborhood
where she and her husband had lived
when they were newlyweds.
She had me pull up in front of a
furniture warehouse that had once
been a ballroom where she had
gone dancing as a girl.
Sometimes she'd ask me to slow down
in front of a particular building or corner
and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun
was creasing the horizon,
she suddenly said,
"I'm tired. Let's go now."
We drove in silence
to the address she had given me.
It was a low building,
like a small convalescent home,
with a driveway that
passed under a portico.
Two orderlies came out to the cab
as soon as we pulled up.
They were solicitous and intent,
watching her every move.
They must have been expecting her.
I opened the trunk and took
the small suitcase to the door.
The woman was already
seated in a wheelchair.
"How much do I owe you?"
she asked, reaching into her purse.
"Nothing," I said.
"You have to make a living," she answered.
"There are other passengers," I responded.
Almost without thinking,
I bent and gave her a hug.
She held onto me tightly.
"You gave an old woman
a little moment of joy," she said.
"Thank you."
I squeezed her hand,
then walked into the dim morning light.
Behind me, a door shut.
It was the sound of the closing of a life.
I didn't pick up any more
passengers that shift.
I drove aimlessly lost in thought.
For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.
What if that woman had gotten
an angry driver,
or one who was impatient to end his shift?
What if I had refused to take the run,
or had honked once, then drove away?
On a quick review,
I don't think that I have ever done
anything more important in my life.
We're conditioned to think that
our lives revolve around great moments.
But great moments often catch us unaware--
beautifully wrapped in what others
may consider a small one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would just like to compliment u on ur choice of story. It is definately true, and it has inspired me to try to do just that little bit more. Keep up the good work. Ciao.