Regularly driving drunks and other assorted addicts about tends to generate callouses on my empathy receptors. But a recent fare blew a fresh breeze into an otherwise blue cheese kind of day.
I arrived at a local public school, with instructions to gather up my fare inside, where I was required to sign her out. The sign-out book was down a hall, outside the door of a room filled with kids awaiting their respective rides to various after-school daycares in town. A tiny, freckle-faced girl appeared at the door when her name was called, and we walked out to the cab together. She lugged her school bag, a spare pair of shoes, and hopped into the backseat. I closed the door, walked around the back of the cab, and caught her peeking into a grocery bag I'd left on the rear seat. I had just picked up some cookies at the local Price Chopper, and hadn't yet been home to drop them off.
I settled into my seat, and asked her if she'd seen anything she liked.
"I'm sorry, I was just looking...” she said apologetically, but not meekly.
"Do you like cookies?" I had a suspicion.
"Yes." One word, but her tone suggested I was, somewhat lamely, stating the obvious.
"Well, you can have one if you like."
"Would you like one?" She was a generous soul, and wanted me to share her cookie-joy.
She worked the bag open, and pulled out a couple of Fudgeeos.
"Here you go..." She handed one to me over the seat. I accepted her offer with thanks, and watched as she settled back and began devouring the cookie. We continued in silence for a bit, enjoying the mild sugar rush. She then offered an observation.
"You're not my regular driver."
"No, I'm not. Who normally drives you?"
"Rick..." She paused, considering. "Sometimes Geoff." Another pause. "Do you want another one?" She was angling I gathered.
"No thanks." I let her sit a moment, as her gaze settled upon the open bag. "Would you like another one?"
She smiled, pleased that her stratagem had worked. "Yes...thanks!"
Cookies apparently work like sodium pentathol on some youngsters. Or maybe it was just the sugar. But the mildly shy reserve that had so far characterized our first meeting dissolved like glucose in her bloodstream.
"Do you know my friend Rachel?" It seemed likely to her that everyone knew Rachel.
I confessed my ignorance. "No, I don't. Who's Rachel?"
"She's my friend." She sat a moment, considering. "She's an actress." This was delivered with such assurance, I pursued the obvious line of questioning.
"An actress? Is she someone I should know?"
"She's trying out for Spiderman 3." There was a casual certainty to her tone that made me sit up straight.
"Wow!" Since Spiderman 3 was already in the theatres, I had my doubts, but the exchange was becoming more amusing as she wound up. "Who is she in the movie?"
"Well, I don't know if she made the movie yet...but she might!"
"So she tried out, and she might be in it?" I'm not crown prosecutor material. I'm just a curious hack.
"Can I have another cookie?" Her hand was already in the bag. She had figured me out in less than 5 minutes. That was faster than most, but she had fewer ingrained doubts to clog up her assessment.
"Sure you can. Help yourself." The cookie was on her lips before I responded.
"Rachel's going to be famous. You should go see the movie. Then you'll know who I'm talking about."
We pulled up to the daycare, another school in town, and she sat a moment, trying to finish her cookie in order to free up her hands to gather her belongings.
"Would you like another one to take with you?" I probably shouldn't have offered, but I was feeling nostalgic about my own childhood cookie gluttony, and couldn't resist. Hell, I could've given her the entire bag at this point.
Jenny gathered up her stuff, opened the door, climbed out, and reached back to pick up her spare shoes. She looked over the seat to see me watching, and smiled a beamer that just about killed me.
I watched as she half-skipped towards the doors, and I smiled like an idiot as I pulled away, suddenly missing my own freckle-faced little girl with a pain that is not a subject for these posts.