One year in college, I was stuck at school until Dec. 23 because of finals that must have been scheduled by Scrooge or the Grinch. Christmas was around the corner but I wasn’t feeling it. I was trying to cram a whole semester’s worth of astrophysics into my aching brain.
The dorms had cleared out and my roommate Lennie and I were the only ones left in our building. On Dec. 22, after many hours of studying, Lennie and I decided to take a break and finally do some Christmas shopping. We splurged on a cab to take us into town. We couldn’t really afford it but it was too cold to stand outside and wait for the bus.
When the taxi arrived, we were surprised to see the driver was a boy about our age. His name was Bobby. On the way to the mall, we learned it was his birthday but he was working a double shift to earn extra money for a Christmas present for his mom. He’d been on the clock since six o’clock that morning and it was about seven p.m. when he picked us up. Lennie and I said he should do something to celebrate his birthday but he insisted he’d prefer to do something for Mom.
We told Bobby to wait when we got to the mall then ran inside to See’s Candies and bought two boxes for him and his mother. We ran outside and gave him the candy with our cab fare. “Happy birthday,” we said. “And merry Christmas to your mom.”
Bobby stared at the boxes for a long moment, then turned off his meter. “I’m not charging you for the ride.”
“What?! You’re working late to earn money, not give out free rides!” Lennie said.
“The candy didn’t cost that much!” I said.
He refused our payment a second time, then said he’d wait to take us home.
“Stop being ridiculous. If you won’t take our money, then go pick up someone else you will accept it from. And we might take awhile.” Lennie and I thanked him, made sure he drove off, then went inside.
Two hours later, shopped out and ready to leave, we called for a cab and—surprise—Bobby pulled up.
“We’re not getting in if you won’t take our money!” I said.
“And I’ll just tell my dispatcher not to send anyone else if you call for another cab because I’m already here!” Bobby retorted. It was dark, snow was starting to fall, we got in.
Once we were settled, he turned around and offered his box of See’s.
“We can’t eat that. It’s your present!” Lennie said.
“Which means I can do whatever I want with it and I want to give you some,” Bobby said. Man, he’d be good in my Debate and Argumentation class, I thought. Bobby kept insisting; Lennie gave in and took a piece of chocolate. I might’ve taken two—only to make him happy, of course.
Bobby started driving us home, his meter dark and silent.
“Turn it on!” Lennie said.
“Think of your mama!” I added.
“It’s all right. I finally made what I needed tonight. I’m off after this.”
So he drove, taking the long way home, making detours through neighborhoods so we could look at Christmas lights. We ate candy, talked, he said his mother was the most amazing woman in the world, raising him as a single parent since he was a toddler. He hoped to someday go to college and start his own business, maybe buy Mom a nicer car.
When he finally dropped us off, Bobby said, “This birthday was happier than I could’ve imagined. Thank you.” I didn’t know how to respond, overwhelmed by a feeling I hadn’t had a few hours earlier.
Luckily, eloquent Lennie stepped in. “Thanks for giving us a gift, too, Bobby. And your mom already has the best one.”
He gave us a business card and said to call him if we ever needed a cab again. We never did, but I still have his card, yellowed and frayed at the edges, the printing faded but the memory still clear after twenty-three years.