Living in a Free State
Vanity of Vanities; all is Vanity – Ecclesiastes 1:2
Another day to the streets, the crawling, creeping, beeping streets and those who drove them. It had been three weeks now, and Donal Mannion had found his place. A revelation it was, to recognize that that place was behind the wheel of a taxicab, but his life to that point had carried its share of surprising revelations. This was no different, really, and, on the whole, a bit more reassuring than the other realities that had punctured his younger years.
The panoply of characters that crawled into and out of his cab kept him fresh. Stories floated through the air like the scattered remnants of dandelions, and his capacity for absorbing them, for finding each one peculiar in its own way, made the days pass sharply. At first, during the early days of his driving, he just listened, the ready ear that many of his fares had sought. But occasionally there would be a tale, or a lament, or a loss, that touched him inexplicably, and he might offer a response. Nothing profound, or much beyond the acknowledgement that his passenger had been heard by another human being, and that that human being had a like heart. It was enough.
In the late morning a young man, tattered and more than a bit disheveled, flagged Mannion down near Union Station and gave him an address in the northeast part of the city. The young man settled into the back seat with a dirty backpack and muttered a profanity.
“Rough morning, is it?’
"No rougher than most. It’s the nights that you have to be wary of.”
Mannion drove, and the two said nothing until the cab turned up New York Avenue. It was the driver who broke the silence. “We’re heading for my old neighborhood,” he said. “I grew up on these streets. Never really left them behind.”
“No one ever leaves these streets,” said the young man. “It’s what we’re born to, and there’s no call in fighting it. Just make the most of it all, and grab what you can.”
“Has the grabbing been good for you lately?” Mannion asked.
The young man smiled and leaned forward, his arm on his backpack. “Yeah. A good week this has been. Let me ask you, did you ever have a really good teacher? Someone who taught you everything you really, truly needed to know, then showed you how to make it work for you?”
“If I did I wouldn’t be driving this cab.”
“I do. Knows everything there is to know about these streets. Who walks the sidewalks and where they live. How they live. And what you need to do to find your way through them. How to take what you need and never think about the costs, then disappear like a whisper. Do you know how much freedom there is in knowing these things, then having the courage to act on that knowledge?”
“You sound to be fortunate young man,” said Mannion. “It’s the brave who are truly free. The rest of us cower into our little holes and mistake safety for comfort.”
“You know these streets, you said. Do you still live around here?”
Mannion chuckled, “And if I did, would I be telling that to you?”
“No worries,” replied the other. “You don’t seem the type to have riches stored up, at least to the point where it would interest me.”
“Ah, the storing up of wealth is the stuff of vanity, haven’t you heard? I’m a simple man, my young friend. And I’ll spend the rest of my days in that simplicity.”
“But you’re not brave.”
“No. Not brave at all. I’m as courageous as a churchmouse.”
“Then you’ll never be free. And there’s great freedom to be had on these streets.”
Mannion pulled the cab to the curb. “Here we are. It’s $6.50 on the fare.”
The young man pulled a $20 from his back pocket and gave it up the seat to Mannion. “No change needed.”
“Jaysus, that’s generous.”
The young man stepped out of the cab to the curb, then leaned over to the driver’s window. “Consider it a gift from the Free State of Andrew Gentry”, and with a laugh he turned to the streets and lightly strode into his new day.