The man relaxed in the backseat of my taxicab, pleased with himself. Standing alone at the TTC subway station he had waved me over and then bargained me down to $5.00 for a fare he claimed was ‘just outside the city limits’. I had accepted. It was Christmas Eve. He was well dressed, middle-aged, nothing cheap about his watch, but he was a con-man. Mile after mile he told me, “just a bit farther,” and we had now travelled the equivalent of a $20 fare. If he had told me he was poor or made up some story about losing his wallet I would have given a free ride, but he preferred to con me.
Twice I slowed down to a near stop, pretending I would leave him alone in the cold if he didn’t either tell me a street address or at least an intersection but he had calmly insisted it was ‘just a bit farther’.
I was the ultimate pink-cheeked rookie. I wasn’t going to leave a man out in the cold on Christmas Eve and he knew it.
There was no chance I would make the tail end of Maryanne’s Christmas party she held every year for her lonely friends. I was stuck here way out of my regular area driving north in a growing snowstorm.
At least there was no traffic. Anyone with any sense or with friends or family was inside somewhere with egg-nog and good cheer. I was stuck here with this shyster.
On a stretch of lonely roadway we passed a man alone walking north on the snow-covered sidewalk. He was a big guy with just a thin jacket on, ordinary shoes and no hat. I slowed to have a better look at him. The man walked purposefully, hands jammed into his pockets.
“That guy could freeze to death. Look at him.”
“Just drive,” said my fare.
“You’re all heart,” I observed. I was tempted to say more but I waited, remembering: …if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well; and if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two... ‘Oh Lord’, I thought, ‘this man is teaching me something about Christmas Eve I’m not sure I want to know’.
Finally several miles farther my evasive fare reached his destination; a trim house, all in darkness, at least twenty miles beyond Steeles Ave., a location that should have cost him $25 from Finch station.
“Merry Christmas!” I said out loud, ‘jerk’, I breathed. He waved casually and disappeared into the house.
Nobody else was on the road southbound. Even the snowplows had quit early and a layer of slush was building up. It was awhile before I saw the walking man beside the road. Now he was walking south, hunched over, looking colder than ever. I pulled over and leaned across to the passenger side to lower down the window. It snapped free of ice as I cranked the handle.
He waved me away.
“It’s free. It’s Christmas.” I shouted. He continued to walk.
“I mean it Buddy. You’re gonna freeze out here.”
He waved me away again. I paced him with the car. “I don’t want to read about a frozen man in the Toronto Sun tomorrow and think I had anything to do with it.”
He stopped and looked angry. “I thon’t hath any money,” he said. His mouth half frozen.
“I told you, I don’t want your money. I’m heading back to Toronto empty, now get in.”
He stopped. This had happened to me before. People are afraid of getting into your cab even though you say it’s free. They figure all cabdrivers are con-men. .
“I’m serious man. The meter is off. It’s Christmas. Hop in.”
He sat at the far end of the bench seat, one hand on the door handle.
Eventually he began to warm up.
“I saw you walking north about a half hour ago. Now you’re walking south. Why are you out here tonight? Your car break down?”
“I was going to visit my friends.”
“For Christmas,” he added rubbing warmth into his arms slowly.
“You aren’t really dressed for the cold. No hat. You could die out there.”
“I went there to visit for Christmas…” he paused “but they weren’t home.”
I drove along in silence taking this in.
“So I am walking back,” he concluded.
I wondered what that must be like. To have nobody, really, to share Christmas with.
I’d like to say that I took him for dinner, or gave him a gift, or began a friendship, but I didn’t.
I simply drove him south on Yonge St. and stopped in front of an apartment building he said he lived at. I watched him enter the door.
And I wondered about him.
I wonder about him yet.