San Diego Yellow Cab
“Wake up kid, you got me working late,” said a distant voice.
I groggily sit up and examine my surroundings– I’m in the back of an old taxi watching palm trees, dim orange streetlights and tightly packed houses slowly pass me. The iconic smell of old leather, tobacco, and piss fills the cramped space. The first street sign I see says Devon Court, I must be at Mission Beach. I don’t remember much besides the landscape surrounding me, a familiar nostalgia slowly taking over. The old man driving beams over at me before turning back around.
“You’re up,” says the old man. “cases like yours have been up lately.”
“What’s going on here?” I ask.
The old man eases on to the brakes at a stop sign and turns back to me, watching me closely.
“You’re dead,” he says. “I’m just here to guide you.”
The old man turns on to Mission Boulevard and continues to drive as we sit in silence. I wish I could say I didn’t believe him, but this entire time I haven’t seen a single car or person besides us. It was quiet, a type of quiet not possible for San Diego, especially this close to the airport. Intrinsically, I knew he was telling the truth. Still confused, I break the silence.
“So are you God? Buddha?” I ask.
“Think whatever you want,” he replies. “everyone sees me differently, some people like you imagine me with arthritis apparently.”
As the old man laughs at his own joke we pass Tiki Town Adventure Golf, a Hawaiian themed mini golf place. It was always a little run down, but it had a charm to it that kept me coming back over the years. I’d take my sister there when she got home from school sometimes. I like to say I always let her win, but I never really had a clue as to what I was doing. The more he drove, the more my memory appeared to come back.
“What happens to me now?” I ask.
“Don’t know yet.”
“Some god you are,” I reply.
The old man lets out a hearty chuckle and lights a cigarette. His demeanor suddenly shifts, the seriousness that overtakes him is palpable. “We have some time, why don’t you tell me your story.”
“Don’t you already know?” I ask.
“I had a pretty rough life, like most people I guess.” I explained. “Parents died early in my life, so I had to raise my sister myself and when she was old enough to be alone,” I choked up, struggling to finish the sentence.
“Keep goin,” he says, lightly puffing on his cigarette.
“I killed myself.”
The old man goes silent for a minute. It’s as if he’s toying with me, letting what I said out loud sink in as the only noise that can be heard is the faint sound of the taxi’s sputtering engine and my own thoughts. Thinking about my sister, I can’t help but start weeping.
“You’re a good kid, it’s a shame,” he says sternly, turning on to Garnet Avenue.
“Am I going to hell?” I ask.
“There’s no such thing as hell kid, everyone moves on in their own way,” he replies. “Your case is special but it isn’t uncommon.”
“You see a lot of people like me?”
“More than I’d like,” he says under his breath. “They never do it twice though.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re here,” he says, abruptly parking the cab on the side of a street between a few houses and a large medical building. The bright sign reads: “SAN DIEGO URGENT CARE.” The old man inspects his cigarette, not quite ready to put it out yet. “We have some time left, c’mon get out.” Looking at the cab from the outside for the first time, I couldn’t help but think about the nostalgic charm these old cars have. Once a staple of major cities, these bright yellow early 2000’s Crown Victorias are quickly going extinct. The old man digs around in his pockets for a moment.
“Heads or tails?” he asks.
“Pick one,” he replies.
He tosses the coin in the air.
The old man lets out a groan as he bends over and looks at the coin. “Heads,” he says as his chuckling turns into a fit of coughing. He puts out his cigarette and goes back into the cab for a minute to dig around in the glove box. The old man returns with a Ruger short-barreled revolver.
“Alright kid, here’s what’s gonna happen,” he says, looking deep into me. “You’re going to feel the same pain you put your sister through.”
I look at the ground for a moment, tears building in my eyes.
“Take care, kid.”
The old man looks me in the eyes and pulls the trigger, aiming directly at my chest. Instant, unbearable pain spreads from my chest to my fingers. In a second I fall to the ground, a burning sensation taking over my body. I writhe in pain staring at the calm, dark sky. I deserve this, I think to myself. I close my eyes and take it in.
A dream? No, can’t be. I force my eyes open.
“You’re awake!” a familiar voice says. “I took a cab over as soon as I heard, what were you thinking?”
“Huh?” I spurt out. It’s my sister. I can’t get many words out, my head is pounding.
“You jumped off a building next to the beach,” she says. “The doctors said the trauma caused cardiac arrest; your heart wasn’t beating for 12 minutes.”
I scan the room with my eyes, then I notice the window. Outside, an old yellow taxi drives away from the building.