by Sheila on October 6, 2010

The Passenger

I arrived at the address where someone had requested a taxi. I honked but no
one came out. I honked again, nothing. 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 90’s stood before
me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it,
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, and 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, and
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
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, and 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 driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have
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.



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: