Responding to a call from a small brick fourplex in a quiet part of town, I assumed I was being sent to pick up some partiers, or someone who had just had a fight with a lover, or a worker heading to an early shift at some factory in the industrial part of town.
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, 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 & knocked.
"Just a minute", answered a frail, elderly voice. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress & a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie.
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 & glassware.
"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she asked. I took the bag & then turned to assist her. She took my arm & 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 rearview 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 & 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 & 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 in front of a particular building or corner & 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. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous & intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.
I opened the trunk & took the small suitcase to the ...
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