Taxi Ride

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Bailey ran down the dark, grimy, city street. Her cheeks stung from the cold air. Her stilettos pinched her toes. Her pencil skirt pinned her knees together.
"TAXI!" she gasped.
A canary-yellow car pulled up to the curb and Bailey threw open the door and flung her body on the grey seat. She took a deep breath. The cab smelled faintly of day-old cigarette smoke and another acrid stench she couldn't place.
"Where to, Miss?" recited the driver.
Bailey gave him her address. "1704 West Elm please."
The driver shifted the car into Drive. "Right-O."
Finally relaxing, Bailey glanced at her watch. Three AM! She thought. My goodness, how could that have taken that long? I mean, sure, maybe I spent a little too long at that sports bar...
"You alright, Miss?" the driver's eyes peered at her from his rear-view mirror. "You look like you just ran a mile."
Bailey gave him a polite smile. "Yes, other than my sore feet, I'm fine."
The cabby smiled back, but it was a sardonic smile. "Sure. You know what 'fine' means? It means Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional."
The smile vanished from Bailey's face. She was surprised by his insight. "Um..." Words failed her.
"You ever seen 'The Italian Job'?" asked the cabby, breaking her train of thought.
"No, I can't say that I have," she responded, annoyed by the irrelevant question.
"Oh, well, that's what that's from." He gauged her lack of comprehension and clarified, "The FINE acronym."
Bailey nodded, not caring. She had too much on her mind to pay attention to movie-junkie cab drivers.
She put her head back against the seat. She let her thoughts wander to happier times: a strong pair of arms encircling her, waking up and nonchalantly sharing a cup of coffee. How she wished she hadn't taken those times for granted.
"Hey, you asleep?" The cabby's voice cut through her reverie like a cleaver.
She picked her head up, gave him an annoyed stare. "No. I am not asleep. Not like I'd be able to sleep with you swerving all over the road."
"Hey, hey. That hurts." He pounded his chest over his heart. "Right here."
Bailey rolled her eyes. The cabby noticed and his mocking manner dissolved into sympathy. "Hey, seriously, what's the matter? I'm only joking. I don't mean any harm."
She tried to give him her familiar condescending scowl reserved for only the lowliest of society (such as annoying cab drivers), but instead, her resolve broke and the emotion, exhaustion, and effect of two glasses of wine overtook her. She screwed up her face, trying to fight the tears welling in her eyes. They came anyway. The cabby, sat in helpless silence for a moment, and finally made up his mind and pulled over.
Bailey ignored her social instincts and fell across the seat. Her tears stained the grey fabric. They sat there while the minutes passed. Her sobbing soon slowed and her heaving breaths quieted to shudders. When she had calmed down enough, Bailey sat back up and smoothed her pencil skirt over her legs. She tried to wipe the black streaks from under her wet eyelashes, but she only smeared them more. The cabby handed her a small package of tissues from his pocket. She laughed appreciatively at the gesture, taking a tissue and pressing it to her eyes.
She then looked at him, embarrassed. "Thank you," she breathed.
"Just doing my job," he shrugged.
Bailey let a smile slip through. The cabby's face turned serious. "Now, I believe you owe me an explanation."
Bailey dropped her eyes to the mascara-stained tissue in her hands. "I-it has not been a good day."
"Well, obviously," the cabby rolled his eyes. "Please, enlighten me."
With a defeated sigh Bailey launched into her explanation. "I told you, my feet hurt. And, well, I finalized my divorce today."
The cabby waited expectantly. She didn't know how to continue. Am I really going to discuss this with a random cab driver? But she realized she wanted to tell him. She wanted someone to care. She began to tell him about how she had thought she had found The One. He was perfect: he was ambitious, he was handsome, he was smart, and he was funny. It had been so nice in the beginning, but then she was offered a promotion which would require her to travel to Prague three months out of the year from then on. She had wanted to take it, but he wanted her to stay home, maybe work less. He wanted to start a family. She didn't. She wanted to make her mark on the world and expand the company to all six continents. That's when they realized that maybe they were not so perfect for each other. She realized that he was not the perfect arm candy who made six figures and bought her expensive things to show her friends. He had his own ambitions that countered hers. She loved the idea of him, not the real him. With each night came a new fight, and eventually, neither one could handle it anymore so they filed for divorce.
Bailey, who had told the entire story to the dirty tissue, glanced up expecting disapproval on the cabby's face. Instead she saw empathy.
"You know," he started. "I got into Stanford."
This seemingly unrelated statement surprised Bailey. In fact, she was a little offended that he started a new subject after she just divulged more of her feelings to some shabby cab driver she had just met than to any one of her closest friends.
The cabby took her silence as encouragement. "I was so excited, and my mother was so proud of me. I packed up all my things, planned my courses, and bought all the books. I even went and finished my first semester. Straight A's." He smiled at his past life. "But then my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had two choices: stay in school, get a degree to help them later, or go home, get a job, and take care of them now. I chose the latter."
Expecting the opposite answer, Bailey inclined her head toward the cabby in disbelief. "Why? Why would you give up your future like that? You should have done what is best for you. Your family would have understood."
"Ah, but that's where you are wrong," he corrected with a bittersweet smile. "Going back was what was best for me. I did not 'give up' my future, I merely chose a different one. "
Yeah, the wrong one, she thought, but she said nothing, allowing him to continue with this pointless story.
"I went home and I worked at the grocery store as a bagger. It didn't pay very well, but it was still money. Then when I was old enough, I started working for the Taxi Company. I tried to pay my mother's medical bills, but it was not enough. Soon, there was nothing more to do, but wait. She died later that year." At this the man's voice faltered. Bailey, despite herself, felt sorry for him. He composed himself and continued. "Despite what you think, coming home was the best decision I could have made. I showed my mother I loved her and I was there with the rest of my family to grieve. I still don't have a fancy degree, but I have a wife, a house, and two beautiful daughters: Mila and Ginny. I'm happy, and that's all I could ask for out of life."
Bailey felt a twinge of guilt. She thought of her own mother, for just a moment, she remembered the last time she saw her, how her mother had tried to stress the importance of family, but Bailey would have none of it. She had stormed out, ranting about her mother holding her back and they hadn't talked since. Bailey had heard enough of the cab driver's story. She knew what he was trying to tell her. Inclining her head just a bit to show her superiority, she yawned, "That was a lovely story, but I do think I should be getting home."
The cabby gazed at her, as if wondering whether to speak or not, for just a moment before silently putting his seatbelt on, shifting the car into Drive, and reclaiming his position as driver. The rest of the drive, neither one broke the silence until he pulled up in front of her house and muttered, "You take care, Miss."
She nodded, grabbed her black, alligator clutch, and stepped out into the world. She walked, straight-backed, into her foyer. As she hung up her cashmere coat on the coat rack, she gazed at all the things that once represented her life. The antique Swedish clock that was a fifth anniversary gift, her framed business degree that she had thought determined her life, her favorite princess-cut diamond earrings, the cliché couples photographs on the beach holding hands and stiffly posed in argyle sweaters looking off into the distance at the life that could have been...
Exhaustion swept over her and she trudged over to her leather couch while simultaneously kicking off her Jimmy Choos, her feet finally feeling some relief. She let the soft cushions envelop her. How is it fair that that cabby is so happy? I should be the happy one. I'm successful! I just got promoted to VP of my firm! I just freed myself of a man who was holding me back! I- I-
"Oh who am I kidding!”? Bailey cried aloud into the cushion. Suddenly, with an idea, she sprang from the confines of the couch, rushed to the phone, and dialed a number she hadn't dialed in over half a year.
A very tired voice croaked, "Hello?"
Trying to sound nonchalant, Bailey answered, "Hi Mom, how are you?"
The voice on the other end didn't answer right away. When it did, it was cautious, as if afraid of scaring away its audience. "Bailey? Darling, is that you?"
Bailey couldn't help but smile. "Yes, Mom, it's me."
"Well, is everything alright? You're not hurt or anything?"
"No, I'm good, why wouldn't everything be alright?"
Bailey heard a yawn on the other end. "Well, Dear, it is five in the morning and I haven't heard a word from you in over six months, what am I supposed to expect?"
"No, Mom, I just called to talk," replied Bailey, now questioning her own rash reasoning.
"Oh, Bailey, I'd love to talk to you, but can it wait until the sun is up? How about you come over for dinner with your father and me?"
Her spirits lifted. "I'd like that Mom. What day were you thinking?"
"How about Thursday? Or are you working late? I heard you got a big promotion."
"Yes, I did," said Bailey. "But, I am free Thursday."
She could almost see her mother's familiar smile at her words. When they were finished hashing out the details of what time they would eat and what Bailey's current favorite meal was, they said their goodbyes and hung up. Bailey dragged herself to her room, undressed and flopped down on her comfy Egyptian cotton sheets. As she lay there, on the edge of consciousness, she saw the sun peek over her windowsill. She was going to see her mom! That made her happy for the first time in half a year. Not even her feet hurt anymore. With that, she smiled and slipped to sleep.





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