You were 53. I couldn’t tell your age by looking at you, but you told me you were 53, so why would you lie?
You have five years to go before you retire. “I will go back to Pakistan once my son graduates with his masters.” He is a sophomore studying business.
“For third world countries education is the most important. I could not afford education in my country, but I made a life here so that my son may learn.”
You picked me up from Midway International Airport and I was ready to chat. I spent nearly 24 hours in solitude, and spent my plane ride next to a sweet Indian couple who did not speak English, so I was starving for conversation.
“Tell me your story. How was it coming to America? How old were you? Were you scared?”
He was 23 years old. He was married and needed to support his family, including his parents. He needed a job and he knew America could offer him more money than his own country. He first came through New York and quickly realized he needed to learn English. “I was in the airport and I was so thirsty. I tried explaining to the woman behind the counter that I needed water. I didn’t know English. So I kept telling her Pani! Pani! She thought I was requesting alcohol. Thankfully another man translated for me.”
He moved to California and got a job as a dishwasher at Pizza Hut. He moved city to city: Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Culver City, etc., taking any position. It took him six years to learn English well enough to get a proper job. He decided to move to Chicago and get a job as a cab driver, “because they make a lot of money.”
We talked about how credit cards are a poison and that they slowly kill you. We talked about how the neighborhoods of Chicago have changed these past decades. “If it was winter and at night, you would not find anyone in Wicker Park.” We talked about the Bears losing, my indifference to all things sports, and his love of cricket. We talked about the protestors who held signs outside the butcher, “What they say?” he asked. I read the different signs the millennials were holding: “Meat is murder” and “Pigs have souls!”
He quipped, “Oh, you tell this to someone starving.”
I nodded my head as we drove west on Armitage Avenue.
We talked about our faiths. He is Muslim but sent his son to a private Catholic school all his life so that he would understand values and modesty. We talked about how Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have beautiful faiths and that to have faith in God is most important. “My son will make his decision. I want him to make my decision, but it’s his life. If he can have faith, if he can learn to have faith, then God will find him.”
I smirked with the realization that while my own father did not give me this chance, God and I still found each other.
We arrived to my house after a forty-minute drive, or rather, after a forty-minute story. I wanted more but I also didn’t have anymore money to give.
Cab drivers are some of the best storytellers. And hey, they even get paid for it.
Until the next story…