Her Last Ride

The cab driver arrived at the caller’s address and honked. He waited a few minutes, then honked again. Since this was to be the last fare of his shift, he considered just driving away, but instead walked up to the door and knocked.

“Just a minute,” said a frail, elderly voice. He could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90s stood there. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie.

Next to her 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 one corner was a cardboard box filled with photos.

“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she asked. He took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took his arm, and they walked slowly to the car. She kept thanking him for his kindness. “It’s nothing,” he said. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.” “Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said.

When they got in the cab, she gave him an address and then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?” “It’s not the shortest way,” he answered. “Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”

He looked in the rearview mirror. Her eyes were glistening. “I don’t have any family left,” she said in a soft voice. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”

He reached over and shut off the meter. For the next two hours, they drove through the city. She showed him the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. They drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had him 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 him to go slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring, saying nothing.

Suddenly she said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”

They drove in silence to the address she had given him. It was a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as they pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They had been expecting her.

He opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. She was already seated in a wheelchair.

“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse. “Nothing,” he answered. “You have to make a living,” she said. “There are other passengers,” he said.

Almost without thinking, he bent and hugged her. She held onto him tightly. “You gave an old woman some moments of joy,” she said. “Thank you.” He squeezed her hand and walked away.

Behind him, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

He didn’t pick up any more passengers that day. He drove aimlessly, lost in thought. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if he had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But a great moment often catches us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what we may consider an insignificant one.

(In this essay, I have borrowed extensively from an article by Kent Nerburn, who was, I believe, the cab driver. —Joe Barnett)

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