Because I drive the night shift, my cab often becomes a moving confessional. Passengers climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity, and tell me about their lives. I encounter people whose lives amaze me, some ennoble me, others make me laugh and sometimes make me weep. However, none touched me more than a woman I picked up late one August night.
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 have seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always go 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. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her late 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and 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 and glassware.
"Would you carry my bag to the car?" she asked. I took the bag and then turned to assist her. 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 and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"
"It’s not the shortest way," I quickly answered.
"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 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 in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of the sun 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 concerned 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 replied.
"You have to make a living," she ...
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