Mohammed and me

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This short but true story tells how an accidental brief encounter with a man named Mohammed caused a jaded business man to rethink some of the priorities in life.

Submitted: May 05, 2019

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Submitted: May 05, 2019




This won’t be a long story. It can’t be long, because I only met the man for a very short time. Twenty-seven minutes to be exact. Our first encounter started off badly. It began this way on the morning of my departure.

Fortunate sound sleepers out there may not realize that the world is a dark and dreary place at 4:00 am, especially if you have tossed and turned for most of the night, waiting for the shrill summons of the bedside alarm. As it turned out, I didn’t need the alarm because I was already awake, staring at the ceiling, just thinking about things as people often do.

I dragged my weary body out of bed and finalized my preparations for a one-week trip to Vancouver to meet up with a long-time friend and, hopefully, do some writing on several of my unfinished stories. The kind of stories that keep nagging at you until you finally get to type the words -The End.

I’m in the middle of the dubious process of starting a new, late-life career as a writer. Too bad it took me so many years to finally answer the age-old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?

After a prolonged start, I finally decided that I wanted to write kid’s stories - for grown-ups. The kind of stories that make one feel good, have a happy ending but with some “meat” to them. But enough of that - this story is not about me, it's about him. Or, more truthfully, its probably about both of us.

As I mentioned earlier, my relationship with the driver didn’t get off to a good start. Because my flight was scheduled for an early, 7:30 am departure, my wife arranged for a local taxi to pick me up at 5:30 am. No problem for an early riser like me, so I was down in the lobby with plenty of time to spare. We have an account with a local taxi company and have used their services for many years. The drivers are usually very familiar with the condo building I call home. Except for Mohammed.

To be fair, because the entrance to our building is under construction, visitors have to take a convoluted path through the parking garage to reach the lobby. While waiting for my ride, I heard the building concierge giving detailed instructions to the cab driver to help reroute him around the construction. Expecting his arrival any minute, I moved my luggage out to the curbside and waited. It was still dark with a hint of the changing seasons in the air.

I waited, but nothing happened.  I waited some more before returning to the lobby where the concierge was in the middle of another animated telephone conversation with the driver. From the portion of the conversation I could hear, it appeared the driver was lost. After cooling my heels outside for another spell, I returned once more to the lobby to ask our night man if I should call another cab. He assured me the taxi was now somewhere inside the parking garage and that he had sent the security guard to escort him to the entrance.

By this time, I was starting to wonder if the driver would even be able to locate the airport. Finally, a well-worn taxi, with one missing headlight arrived at the front doors. The security guard was sitting in the passenger seat. He got out and loaded my luggage in the trunk.

Now, I have to admit, I do have a short fuse these days, and a lack of sleep didn’t help my frame of mind. But that’s really no excuse for my behavior. In front of the security guard, I berated the driver for not being able to find the building and for driving a cab with only one headlight. He didn’t respond to my tirade, only walking around the front of his cab to look at the headlights.

The road outside our building is usually well traveled, but, at this time of the morning, it was almost devoid of traffic. Strangely, the lack of other cars combined with the darkness, made the street appear to be a lonely and inhospitable place. From my perch on the back seat, I could see numerous warning symbols lit up on the instrument panel all demanding urgent maintenance attention. For a fleeting moment the warning symbols and the missing headlight, combined with my negative mood, made me consider reporting the driver to the transit authorities.

Instead, feeling a little guilty about my earlier rough treatment, I asked the driver how business was. I was not expecting his response. He said that it really didn’t matter because he hated every minute of his job. Assuming he meant working for this particular cab company, I asked him if he had ever considered joining Uber.

Between the wind noises, the rattling of his old vehicle and my slightly failing hearing, it was difficult to make out his response. The heavy Pakistani accent didn’t help the situation either, but the gist of his answer was that he didn’t want to drive for anyone, he wanted to be employed in his chosen profession.

Now I was curious, so I asked him what that profession might be. It turned out that he had a degree from a well recognized Canadian University as an analytical statistician. Because of family circumstances, he said that he was unable to complete his Master's degree. He couldn’t find work because he wasn’t yet a Canadian citizen and fell back on cab driving for a living.

We were traveling on the main airport highway at high speeds when he lamented that he didn’t know how long he could stand doing a job he hated. He became quite distraught as he related the sad story of the death of his wife six years earlier from cancer, and the subsequent suffering of his young daughter who contracted the same illness shortly after the death of her mother. In his distress, he started to gesture with both hands off the wheel. I momentarily worried that he might be suicidal.

I quickly changed the conversation to safer grounds, and we discussed the state of relations between India and Pakistan, the partitioning of the disputed state of Kashmir by the British and the antics of Donald Trump. At this point, I did not know his name, but I was moved by his willingness to share the sad details of his life.

We were now at the entrance to the airport, so I signed a cab voucher for my ride, leaving a generous tip. Before I could leave the car, he asked me to wait for a moment. Because I was curious and still had plenty of time before my flight, I waited while he retrieved his cell phone. He turned and looked at me directly, and said that he was worried that I might think that he was just a taxi driver making up lies. I assured him that was not the case, but he continued scrolling through the many pictures on his phone.

He finally found what he was looking for, then enlarged it for me to read. It was a picture of his University degree, dated around the time of his wife’s death. I didn’t catch the last name on the degree, but the first name was Mohammed.

I thought we were finished, but Mohammed continued to scroll through the photo collection. He stopped at a picture of a woman in a hospital bed being hugged tightly by a young girl. The girl in the photo appeared very thin and unwell. He said his wife had died just a few days after the picture was taken. As I write this story, I am still haunted by the look on the woman’s face and the vulnerableness of the child.

Full of remorse, I said goodbye to Mohammed, and as I left the cab, I urged him not to give up in his search for a new job. He just smiled and drove off. I wish now that I had shaken his hand.

My guilt attack started soon after I entered the airport. Because I was traveling Business Class, with a Nexus card, I bypassed the long line-ups at check-in and security and soon settled in the comfort of the private lounge, accompanied by an assortment of other fortunate travelers. Being too early for a drink, I sipped on a morning coffee and wondered what the future had in store for a man like Mohammed. Both of us are simply humans trying to do the best we can. What stroke of fate deals such uneven hands in this endless card game of life?

It dawned on me that Mohammed certainly wasn’t alone in his plight. We live in a world of refugees and constant turmoil, and it is all too easy to become jaded with a sense of expectation and entitlement. I have to confess that, as a traditional conservative thinker, these thoughts are alien to me and quite unsettling. Like many of my ilk, I resent change and often yearn for earlier, simpler times.

However, my short experience with Mohammed has started a new change of thought for me. I hope that it will lead me toward a path of more tolerance and acceptance over the long term. My inner cynic says probably not, but I will try anyway.

Sitting aboard a gleaming Boeing 777 at 38,000 feet, I feel compelled to write this story while it is fresh in my mind. The comfort of my Business Class sleeper seat remains a stark reminder of the vast difference in circumstance between Mohammed and me. Stuck in a job he hates, he is prowling the dark streets of the city in search of a possible fare while I lounge in luxury deciding what snack to choose next.

But the differences in our worlds are even more vast. I have a warm and wonderful family, a wife of many years who is not afraid to say she loves me, many close and supportive friends and more wealth than I need. My health is okay, and I have found a new career that is stimulating to me and even interesting to a few readers of my works. I am extremely fortunate with my life. However, this is not so for Mohammed. Not now and, barring a miracle, probably not in the future either. When I think of him and the many others like him, I feel sad.

My aircraft is starting the descent through the deep fluffy clouds to the city I love most -Vancouver. I will spend the next few days in the warmth and comfort of my waterside retreat working on my unfinished stories. I will probably wonder why I spent the entire voyage writing this story instead of concentrating on the job at hand, but, in my heart, I know the compelling reason for the diversion.

 It’s because I met a man named Mohammed.


The End





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