One of the many benefits of living in New York is that there is always, and I mean always, a taxi ready to go. Less than a minute later, even in the dead of night, a yellow and black wrapped car eased out of the river of endless traffic and glided gently to a stop beside me. A quick glance at the interior and the face of the cabbie was enough to assure me that it was safe enough to enter. The back was clean, no left over food containers or crumpled tissues. The front was as well; passenger side clear save for a worn novel, no tacky decorations hung from the rear-view mirror, and no little Hawaiian girl danced on the dashboard. Even the cabbie was clean cut; his dark hair with wisps of silver cut close and a white dress shirt without too many wrinkles. He turned in his seat as much as the seatbelt would allow as I slid in and greeted me with a smile. Laugh lines framed his bright eyes. He’d make a terrific grandpa, if he wasn’t one already. “Hello.”
“Hi.” I gave a nod and busied myself with the seatbelt, arranging my purse on my lap. My phone buzzed, vibrating through the Louis Vuitton leather. The great search started as I tried to remember just where I shoved it this last time amid the various pockets and other necessities of life.
“Anywhere in particular?”
“Oh, oh!” My head snapped up. That was right. He needed to know where to go. Stupid, thoughtless me. “Home.”
I found my phone, hiding under the Kleenex, three sticks of lipstick, and a thrashed to hell pack of cinnamon gum. It vibrated again and this time I could see the blue flash of the light indicating my unread messages. My fingers fished through the debris and claimed my prize. Three text messages, one Hangout, eight Facebook, two Instagram, one Snapchat, twelve tweets, and ten emails all vied for my response and attention. Some were social, others work, everything a huge mesh of the two realms making it hard sometimes to tell where one stopped and other began. And neither one ever really stopped. Thank goodness for long lasting batteries and recharging sticks. Such was my life these days.
As the cab eased itself back into traffic, I busied myself with the unending task of trying to clear my notifications. Sometimes I felt like that guy from Greek mythology who was always pushing a rock uphill. No sooner would I finish responding to the last piece of communication, then off my phone would go off again, starting the whole process over. I was so engrossed, I never bothered to look up at the streets or buildings that slid past my window.
“Looks like you’re quite the gal in demand,” the cabbie commented.
“…Yeah. Always something going on.”
“Business or pleasure?”
“Depends. Both.” I frowned at the screen, trying to concentrate on my reply to my boss about a client she had a question on.
“Seems like a heavy load.”
I clenched my jaw to hide the frown. I hated the talkative cabbies. If I wanted conversation, I would start conversation. Couldn’t he see I was busy? He wasn’t going to earn any extra brownie points or larger tip for trying to keep me company. In fact, the general rule of thumb was the more they talked, the less I tipped. Hopefully this one would take the hint. “I’m really needing to focus on this right now.”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry ‘bout that.”
I nodded, not even bothering to look up.
“Just to clarify. You said home, right?”
“Yes. That’s right.” I hoped my voice didn’t sound too harsh. But then again, but I wasn’t overly concerned if some of my irritation leaked through either. This one was proving to be less astute than most.
Please, dear sweet goodness, let him get it.
The cabbie got it. The rest of the ride was blissfully silent. I even manged to respond to everything and a few extras that had floated into my phone by the time the cab stopped.
“Here we are,” the cabbie said.
“Thank you.” I opened my purse and began the hunt for my wallet. Movement drew up my eyes.
The cabbie had his hand up. “No need. Rides home are free for the ladies. Especially this time of night.”
That was a first. “Well…Are you sure?”
“Sure as sure,” he grinned at me through the rear view.
“Okay….Thanks.” He nodded.
I unbuckled, stepped outside, taking care not to miss the curb, and closed the door behind me. Only then did I look up and realize I was at the wrong location. This wasn’t home. In fact, I was nowhere near my little condo nestled tightly in the embrace of Chelsea. Instead, we were in the suburbs of College Point. And I was standing in front of my parent’s home. The house I grew up was standing in front of my parent’s home. The house I grew up in and left over a decade ago, never to return.
Most of the lights were off, but I saw the light in my parent’s bedroom still on. Mom was up. She always had been a night owl. After Dad died, I heard through the grapevine that it only got worse. With no one to chide her to bed at a decent hour, she was up until the wee hours of night now on a regular basis.
Not where I wanted to be.
Not where I needed to be.
I turned around to get back in and tell that to the cabbie, but the cabbie was gone. And when I say gone, I mean gone. No sight of him rounding the bend, no flash of tail lights, no sound of the engine. Nothing. Gone. Like he had never been there in the first place.
My first instinct was to call another cab. I had my phone out and even had the number pulled up and ready to dial. All I had to do was press the call button. My finger lingered over the screen. As if they had a mind of their own, my eyes drifted back to the illuminated bedroom window. It had been so long. But I couldn’t go back. That proverbial bridge had not just burned, but had an atomic bomb dropped on it. My father had been very clear on that point. Whoever had said blood was thicker than water didn’t know a thing. I turned away, back to the cold, empty street. I needed to go.
Maybe if I didn’t say anything. Maybe if I just walked away. Pretended like I didn’t hear her. In the dim street light I might be able to pass for a stranger, mistaken identity. Panic fluttered in my chest; a trapped bird inside a cage that was far too small. I hit send and brought the phone to my ear. I turned to my left and retreated.
“Gabriela Nicole Henderson! Stop right there this instant!”
Apparently she was not going to mistake me with a stranger. And even after all these years, I was not going to disobey my mother when she used that tone. I doubt anyone ever would, ever could.
A soft and distant voice spoke from my phone, “Good evening. Thank you for calling Yellow Cab. Where do you need a ride to today?”
I hung up.
Slowly, I turned to face my mother, my gaze trained on the broken concrete at my toes. “Hi, Mom.”
Scurrying down the brick inlay path ,thick fuzzy pink robe held closed with one hand, my mother ate up the distance between us. I know I should have walked towards her, met her half way. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t after what I had done. Why couldn’t the ground suddenly open up and swallow me whole? That would have been a mercy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come here. I must have given the cabbie the wron-”
“Look at me, Gabby.”
I held out for about three seconds before my eyes drew up to meet hers. People always said we had the same dark chocolate brown eyes. Right now, hers were filled with pain, confusion, and a million other emotions for which the human tongue has no name. I’m pretty sure mine held only one; guilt.
Her hands came up and grasped my arms, fingers digging through my jacket. Her robe fell open to reveal a long line of her thin floral nightgown. She didn’t seem to notice. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Mama…” I shook my head and swallowed hard against the painful squeezing in my throat, rendering me speechless.
“It’s okay, baby girl. It’s okay.” Her hands ran up and down my arms. “I never blamed you…Now. Come inside now…You’re home at last.”
Home. The cabbie’s words echoed through my mind. I never had given him an address. How had he known?
A clatter followed by a sharp crack near my feet informed me that my phone had fallen. Screen was probably cracked now. But that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I was wrapped up tightly in my mother’s arms.
I was home.