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The Taxi Driver
I always wanted to go to Paris, but I always imagined my trip would be a little more romantic. Like, I’d go on a surprise trip with a new, super-attractive boyfriend. I definitely didn’t think it would involve withdrawing all the money in my “emergency” bank account. Or sneaking out of my house in the middle of the night. I put in a lot of time and effort into that endeavor, discreetly carrying my luggage outside and wincing at every creak in the floorboards and my too-loud breathing. Heck, I even left a note. My AP English teacher might have disagreed, but I thought it was the perfect mix of clichés and sincere sentiment. I hope they won’t worry too much, I thought as I closed the back door, gazing out into the murky blackness.
And then the taxi came. The driver pulled up to the curb of my apartment complex, and clambered out of his cab to help me with my bags. By the light of the taxi’s headlights, I could see he was a young man, maybe in his late twenties or so, but his brown hair was already going gray.
“Hello,” he smiled.
“Hello,” I replied.
“How are you this evening?” he asked, as he picked up my bags.
“Fine, thank you.” He was so thin and wiry, I thought even my light luggage would be a burden to him, but he carried them as if they were empty plastic bags. After carefully setting them into the trunk of the car, he turned back to me and opened the cab door for me. So gentlemanly, I thought as I stepped into the car.
The gentleman, however, seemed to forget to ask where I was going. “Philadelphia airport, please. United Air,” I asked.
“Are you sure?” he asked, turning around in his seat. I felt his eyes searching for mine through the darkness and the Plexiglas barrier between us.
“Of course I’m sure,” I said, laughing.
I could hear the engine start, and the blowing of the air conditioner, and the click of all of the car doors locking. Then, it all stopped.
“I’m sorry,” he asked, “but I don’t think I ever got your name...”
“It’s Rose.” I tried to open up a door, but it was still locked. The same was true for the door on the opposite side. And the windows “What are you doing, exactly?” I asked, trying to keep the notes of panic out of my voice.
“You can call me Martin. Charmed, I’m sure,” he said nonchalantly, eyes flicking over to my face. “And, as for your question, we’re sitting in a locked cab parked on the outskirts of Philadelphia to stop a girl from running away.”
“That’s a load of bull. I bet you’re a rapist or something, aren’t you? You’re a real creep, you know that?” I tried not to hyperventilate.
He looked over at me, with a sad, disappointed smile on his face. “No, I am not a rapist. And I thought you were smart,” the driver sighed again. “See this Plexiglas?” he asked, tapping on it with his fingers. “I couldn’t get through it even if I tried. So, how about you calm down a bit and try to work out why you wanted to run away in the first place. Does that sound like a plan?”
I nodded, still not really believing that there wasn’t anything up his sleeve. Still, I steadied my breathing. After a few minutes, I was ready to counter. “I’m just some random girl who wants to pay you for doing her a favor. There’s no reason for you to turn down good money. I do have the money, you know,” I said, fanning out a wad of crumpled bills. “And it’s also none of your business what I do, anyways. So, why are you investing your time and energy into helping me?”
He paused, to formulate an answer, I suppose. I looked out my window. The sky was already changing from black to a dark blue. I couldn’t see the sun rise over the horizon, though. My apartment building, the street- it all looked so beautiful and strange in the early morning light. An empty city, waiting for people to laugh, love, and cry on its grubby streets.
My thoughts were broken when the driver said, “You know, this really isn’t about me, Rose. It’s about you. But, seeing as you were expecting quite a different, erm, experience, I realize you deserve to know why this is happening to you.” He took a long, shaky breath. “I’m new at this kind of thing, you know. Not just locking innocent people in taxis,” he said, smiling weakly, “but trying to change people. Change their lives. When I was your age, I watched my friends make some really awful decisions. Getting into drugs, stuff like that. I didn’t participate or encourage their behavior, but I did nothing to stop them, either. Yesterday,” Martin said, voice choking up, “I- I went to my best friend’s funeral.”
“Oh my God. I’m so, so sorry.”
Tears were streaming down his face in the red dawn. “Yeah,” he whispered, “me too.” He paused for a few seconds. I could hear his breathing steadying, and the next time he spoke with strength behind his voice. “So, I decided that I wouldn’t let this stuff go by anymore without at least trying to help. You just happened to be the first person I stumbled on. So, why are you running away?”
I didn’t know what to say to Martin. My problems seemed so insignificant and self-centered in comparison. “Oh, gosh, it really doesn’t matter anymore. I’m so sorry, for taking up your time and your friend and everything. I’ll go home now. I won’t go away, I swear.”
“No. I’m sorry, but that’s not enough. You’re scared right now because of my sob story, but the impact will wear off, and then you’ll be at the same place again, maybe a month or a year from now. I want to do this thing properly. So, for the last time, why are you running away?”
I brushed a lock of brown curls away from my face. The sky was red now. It was weird how things changed so fast. I tried to think of what was bothering me, exactly. “It’s just the change, I guess. I see my classmates, my friends, all rising up to great heights, in school or sports or whatever, and I’m staying put. I can’t seem to move ahead, no matter what I do. And I know this is wrong, but watching them succeed makes me feel miserable. I figure this kind of thing would happen everywhere I went, but if I went to Paris or something, I’d at least have great scenery to look at.”
“Like you don’t have great scenery here. Look at the streets!” He was laughing, a dry chuckle. Maybe he was making a joke, but I thought, for the first time in my life, that my home was really beautiful. They were bathed in warm yellow light, and looked like the streets of heaven to me despite the graffiti and empty beer bottles and fading neon. Maybe I was just tired enough that everything looked beautiful. Martin looked tired, too. I wondered how long we had been sitting in this cab. I could only judge by the sun.
“But seriously, you’re going to be fine. There are very, very few teenagers out there who would be able to describe their feelings as well as you just did. You’re very good with words, Rose. And that will help you with absolutely everything when you grow up, from job interviews to speeches to calculating tips- well, maybe not that, actually. But you’ll rise, if you let yourself shine. I’m sure of it,” Martin beamed at me, eyes alight with happiness.
For the first time in a long time, I smiled back. “Thanks, Martin. Thanks for everything.”
Martin unlocked the car doors and stepped outside. “It’s no problem,” he said as he opened my car door. “Here, have my card. I wouldn’t mind talking with you again, under better circumstances.”
I took it, and walked back up to my apartment building. The sun rose higher that day, but to me, the light stayed golden.