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I swallowed a lump in my throat and stayed silent. Sob stories of cheating boyfriends and bitchy girlfriends were the usual back-seat tales I heard every night on this job, but never anything this real and serious, this was a first. I wanted to say I was sorry, that it was a horrible fate for such a young girl like her, but I didn’t. I wasn’t going to act like the funeral was over and there was nothing anyone could do. I heard enough talk like that from two parents already.
“What about treatments?” I asked. She looked healthy, all her hair still there, colour in her skin. No one could tell from first glance.
“Treating it would just...I would spend my last months in a deathbed, just waiting. I want to live, do some more stuff before going.”
A silent moment between us, eye-contact was avoided.
“I haven’t told anyone.”
“My parents are both gone, I don’t have any family. All my friends back there were throwing me a going-away party because I told them I’m taking a position abroad at work.” A pause. “They said I should come back and visit, and I said ‘sure!’ I don’t know why I said that, I’ll be gone in a few weeks. I guess the position abroad is heaven, if it’s really there.”
I slowed the car to a stop at a red light, staring straight forward at the traffic.
“Hey,” she said, making me look at her in the rearview. “Don’t cry for me. Please. That’s not what I want.”
I hadn’t realized how glassy my eyes were. I rarely cried, weeks went by after mother died before I did, but I couldn’t help it. Something about this girl, wrinkle-free and beautiful, getting stomped into the ground far too early just got to me.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said, unsure if it was for my tears or for her story, but I was sorry regardless.
She finally directed me to her house off Camarillo Street. It was ten minutes of quiet driving before we arrived. I pulled into her driveway, which I never do for customers, and we sat there.
“I have a question for you,” she said. “If you believe in heaven and all that, then why’d you say we don’t exist anymore when we die?”
“I guess it’s something I tell myself so I don’t get scared about it all.”
She got out, counting the dollar bills from her wallet.
“No, please,” I said. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” I knew sparing her fifty bucks wouldn’t save her life or cure her cancer or make her happy, but something about taking money from a dying person...
She folded the bills and held them up with an are you sure? eyebrow raise and I nodded. “Have a good night.” I honestly meant it this time.
I didn’t drive anymore people that night. In fact, I went back home right away and called Wendel, begging him to take every hour they scheduled me for. He must’ve thought someone attacked me by the hysteria in my voice, so he took it.
I took some time off. Just a few days to collect myself and feel grounded again after Friday and especially after that girl. The cigarettes I smoked that weekend were the last ones and I skipped my pack purchase for the next week.
When I went back to work, I didn’t take nights or weekends anymore. Instead I drove in rush hour traffic and morning commutes where I didn’t have to deal with drunks and addicts anymore. Now it was small-talking housewives or teens with earbuds in. I was happier this way. No more deep taxi conversations, no more sob stories. It was quiet, the way I like it.
About a year later, I was driving down Venice Boulevard and I happened to think of that girl again for the first time in months. I realized she was probably dead at that point. She was gone, and I was the only person who knew what happened. I felt special, that I was the only one she told, but I hoped she did tell someone else and she didn’t die alone like she planned, lying to her well-meaning friends about taking up a position abroad. They deserved to know the truth.
Ahead of me, a woman had her arm raised, flagging me down. She had sunglasses and a light dress on, a breeze flowing through her. She took one last drag of her cigarette and stomped the butt on the ground before getting in.
I took my phone out, ready to punch in the address. “Where to, ma’am?”
She folded her sunglasses away and let those big blue eyes shine in the rear-view mirror. I couldn’t believe it was her, still here, alive, and in my back seat again. It’s been a year if it’s been a day. The only thing that’s changed is her hair. It’s longer.
“Mind if I open the window?” she asks, the same tragic look in her eye from last time.
“Do you mind if we just drive around for a bit?” she says. “I’ll pay your rate and all.”