The Cab Driver

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I have journals for both of my boys. In those journals I have written some experiences I have had in my life, I also write down stories about them when they were babies and over the years. I have written quotes and other inspiring stories I have come across that have somehow touched me. I want my boys to know bits about my life too so I try to choose carefully which stories to share. And this one about the cab driver, is important to me. It was a unique, brief encounter all about kindness from a stranger.

The year was 2005 and I was in my second year of university. Dressed in my usual jeans, trainers and green corduroy jacket, I had taken the train from Barking to West Ham and stood waiting for the Jubilee line. I looked up at the time schedule, 15 minutes. That was very unusual and I felt my underarms become heated and my heart started to pound. I had to change trains again, but the DLR only came every ten minutes and I would definitely miss my deadline! There had to be another way to get to Prince Regent Station on time. I quickly walked, okay it was more like half running, out of the station to the pay phone by the ticket booth. There were numbers for cabs everywhere. I dialled a few mini cab numbers but the waiting time was too long. I had a deadline creeping up fast! So I called for a black cab. They were posh and pricey but I was desperate. A shiny black cab pulled up and I ran to the door. In a possibly stressed tone of voice I said to the driver-

“To the university please! I need to be there before 4 o’clock! I don’t know how to get there from here on the roads.”

Calmly he replies- “No worries!”

My watch said it was already 3:47. I looked out the window. In my head I thought, black cabs are notorious for taking the long way or driving slow just to cash in! How annoying that I always take public transport and don’t know the roads! Here is another time living in London when I missed having a car! Somehow having car meant more independence. Relying on public transport meant that I was constantly at the mercy of them keeping time! I said a prayer in my head that this will turn out ok.
The driver disrupted my negative, yet hopeful, thoughts with-

“What’s your essay on?”

That was a surprise. I looked at him. Middle aged, brown hair, pleasant face. It was then that I noticed the cab was very clean as well and had no bad odours. It took a second to think of a reply but he went on before I spoke-

“My daughter is in college, deadlines can be stressful. Don’t worry though, I’ll get you there.”

He was calm and his voice sincere. He spoke to me the way any girl would want a father to speak to her. And he was being kind to me. An unpleasant, stressed out stranger. His words helped my heart stop beating so fast. He drove on roads I had never seen before and pulled up to the backside of the main building, a side I never saw because I am not a part of the car world.

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He spoke again-

“Just go and turn in your essay, I’ll wait here.”

I quickly glanced at the money meter then opened the door and ran down the long hallway to the main desk. I couldn’t believe he trusted me! A young, possibly dodgy, university student! He was just going to wait for me? That was going to be so expensive! Darn Jubilee line and tube delays! He seemed nice though and if he trusted me then maybe I could return the favour and trust him back. I handed in my essay to the lady at exactly 4pm! Relieved, my steps slowed down but I could feel a migraine growing behind my forehead. I walked to the cashpoint on the opposite side of the building from where the cab was supposedly still waiting. Taped to the cashpoint were the dreaded words “out of order”. Are you kidding me? What luck today!

I ran back to the cab and he was parked in the very same place. I was not even sure if he was allowed to be there but he didn’t seem to care. Apologetically I said-

“I am so sorry but their cashpoint is out of order! Can you just take me to Barking station? There’s another one right inside.”

He reached over and turned the meter back on. I thought he was going to charge me for waiting and all the time of his I was taking, but he was only charging me for the driving. I sat back in the cab seat. The trains were delayed. The cashpoint was broke. I barely made the deadline. And I have been a wreck. In the midst of my challenges today, God sent me this particular cab driver. He pulled up to the side of Barking station where other cabs were also parked, I got out and the smell of cigarettes and fried chicken hit my face making my migraine worse. Again the driver patiently waited for me as I went to that cashpoint.

After such a hectic afternoon, he only charged me £25! Despite my previous bad luck of events, I then felt very lucky!

There was that moment where I wanted to hug this stranger who no longer felt like a stranger. I wanted to tell him that I hoped to see him again! I wanted to tell him that I hoped God would bless him forever for being so kind to me. But I just said thank you several times and we said good bye. He drove off, and I walked back to the station and headed home to share this story with my family.

I think about these encounters often and want to document them. I feel the most important thing he did for me that day was not getting me to the university on time for my deadline, but he instilled in me an experience of hope. Hope for kindness. Hope for good. Hope that there are people who are fair in these business dealings with me. Any true story that demonstrates kindness from strangers is a story I want my children to know.

Photo credit (cab)

Photo credit (UEL campus)

The Kindness of Strangers- A True Story

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(photo credit)

I started work the usual way. Clocked in on the register, bid farewell to my co-worker who had just finished the previous shift and placed my belongings in the cupboard beneath me. How I started work is not significant. Just that I thought it would be another normal day.

Most of my customers were regulars. I did not know them by their names. I knew them by the brand of cigarettes they smoked, their favourite beer, the quick dinner they grabbed on their way to work, the candy bar they always got on their way home, all combined with their daily task of filling up their tanks. Yet they knew my name because I had to wear a name badge. Not everyone called me by name. I had nicknames, and this affection of having a nickname made me feel like we were not quite strangers but not quite friends either, somewhere in between. And although for a long time I only knew these people by their purchases and type of car, one night would change that. The night I learned so much more about them, not from what they said to me, but what they showed me.

The start of my shift began when the sun slowly tucked itself behind the horizon and one of my first regulars was on his way to work. He stood tall, not handsome as one would see in a magazine but still a pleasant face and very friendly. As he came inside the small kiosk he immediately began our conversation from two aisles away. The usual “how ya doin?” greeting. After he grabbed his juice and sandwich he came to the counter where I stood waiting.

“Number 3 and these please. Wait a minute, don’t tell me you’re here alone tonight are you? Haven’t you read the news? It was in the papers, look there! (he grabs the Beacon Journal) ‘A large armed man has been caught on camera robbing the gas stations around the Massillon/Canton area. Those working should be on high alert, especially around ten o’clock.’ And your manager left you all alone?”

I honestly never read the papers or watched the news so I had not heard about this potential danger. And there was 5 foot, 20 year old me in a small gas station working the night shift. My manager had said nothing to me but maybe she was not aware either?

This man never stayed long but tonight he kept talking to me. He told me of his wife and how much he appreciated her and how she had helped him battle through addiction and he was so happy and in love with her. In detail he described his work day as if I were in training. He explained the different purposes of his factory work suit and what he ate to stay healthy. Until another customer came in and the two quickly exchanged words and off the first man went, late for work.

This second customer was a lovely lady. I really enjoyed seeing her come in. She worked in an office and I genuinely did not understand what she did exactly but it seemed important the way she raised her eyebrows and slowed her sentences when she spoke about her tasks. That night she had just come from bowling with her co-workers and was on her way home. She expressed how tired she was but she was wanting to treat herself to some chocolate. She took a long time deciding. I watched the clock. She had stayed with me nearly an hour.

Soon the door jingled its bell to let us know someone else had just walked into the kiosk. An older man with grey hair but a youthful face had come in to pay for his gas. He was actually not a regular and had come straight to the counter so I knew he wanted to be on his way. The woman who had been with me quickly and quietly exchanged words with him, bid me good bye and left. The grey haired man suddenly held up his finger as if he had just remembered that he indeed wanted a cup of coffee. He analysed our coffee maker, our choices of sweeteners, he read every label on our cappuccino machine and seemed to memorise each flavour. He looked around the kiosk as if searching for something. Finally he came to the counter where I stood quite entertained by his many animated expressions. He started our conversation with, “Why are you working in a place like this?” He then told me that in his younger years he had gone to college, as if that was where I ought to be. He now owned a laundromat and dry cleaners down Cleveland Ave. In fact, he was looking for someone else to hire in case I was interested and gave me his business card. He did not have to stay long, another customer came in and they exchanged words before he walked out into the now very dark night.

And so it went all night. Customers who quickly spoke to each other and I was not left alone. Not for a moment. The armed man might have been a threat elsewhere, but because of the kindness of strangers, I knew I’d be okay.

As I reflect on that night I see it as a miracle. When it comes to helping others, it is easy to write a cheque and make a donation, not much time required. We can easily give away something we own but no longer want, not much time required. And then I have often heard excuses why someone cannot help someone else. Mainly due to inconvenience in their plans or schedules.

When these people gave their time to make a young girl feel safe and cared about, it really touches my heart, especially because that girl was me. Who was I to them? Just a girl behind a counter at a gas station. He made himself late to work. She was tired but stayed. They all stayed and gave me some of their time. They showed a young person how the world should be. Mindful of each other. Caring for each other. I witnessed good citizens of society watching out for each other.

God bless them.

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