Luke the cab driver was the messiah. He was our savior. He drove the cab the night my mom had to call someone to rescue us from my stepfather’s latest rampage. Dear old stepdad would soon run out of steam and sleep the rest of it off, but in the meantime, Luke was there to drive us away.
We’d never met Luke before. He just happened to be driving the cab, that was all.
Luke was an old black man, thin, with gray hair and a deeply lined face. Or, at least he seemed old to me. I was all of seven. Maybe eight. Maybe ten. I don’t really remember… that was a time in my life where I’ve blocked lots of things out. There are whole chunks chucked away somewhere, some 40-odd years later. But I do remember Luke the cab driver that one night.
His cab smelled like a pipe. Well, he did, and the cab smelled like him. Not a musty smell, but rich and earthy, real pipe smoke, not like cigarette smoke at all, not the way my stepfather reeked of cigarettes.
I know there was conversation. I remember Luke being very concerned that my mom was so upset. She was never one for control. I don’t think she was able to tell him where to take us. So we drove around town for awhile.
There wasn’t a lot of town to drive around in. We probably made the same circles a few times while my mom cried and tried to answer questions without breaking down. There were offers to take us to the police station or even the hospital, but my mom would break down again and frantically beg not to be taken there.
I remember Luke offered to let me sit up front, and I very vividly remember him making a grand show out of how against the rules it was, but he offered, and I climbed over from the back seat.
Evening was coming in. There was still some light, and I remember the clouds… they seemed thick, and so random that the randomness of them was almost a threat. Not like rain clouds. But not not like them either. They were hard to read, like trying to figure out my stepfather’s mood when he got home from work. Maybe it would rain. Maybe it would storm. Maybe they would just sit there and make you anxious, and then finally blow away.
It’s funny the parts of memories I can pick out from the rubble of the stuff that’s been smashed and buried. I remember Luke telling me his name then, and I remember him talking about the sky. “It’s too bad there’s so many clouds,” he said. “Always like to see stars when I’m out.”
And he explained about constellations, in his own limited understanding of them. I later knew a lot more about them, but I remember him talking about how some stars were all bunched together and looked like things, including one, he explained, that was a “big ol’ spoon.” He thought that was funny, that God would put a picture of a spoon in the sky. “Woo, what was he thinkin bout?”
I was fascinated, and tried to make sure I’d remember to look up the next time the clouds weren’t in the way, threatening me to keep my eyes down and my mouth shut.
He told me how each twinkling star was a good soul who’d died and gone to heaven. He told me to try to remember where all the stars were, and if I saw a new one, that meant someone good had just made the grade, like a gold star on a school paper.
I asked him how old he was. He laughed and told me, but for the life of me I don’t remember what he said. But I remember him telling me that one day I’d have cracks in my face just like him, only he hoped I’d be doing something else than driving a cab.
But at the time, driving a cab with good ol’ Luke seemed like it would be the best job in the world. “Do they let cab drivers have partners?” I asked.
“No, fraid not. Cab drivin is a solo gig. But it gets me out of my room and sometimes I meet nice folk, like you.”
After awhile my mom seemed to be able to make more sense, and she told Luke to take us back home. When we pulled in the driveway I asked if I could stay with Luke and drive around with him some more. I was an awfully weird kid. And honestly, driving around with Luke sounded a lot better than going back inside, not knowing what to expect from the rain clouds.
Luke gave a big, hearty laugh, and I remember him telling my mom not to worry about the fare, that getting to meet a great little kid like me was all the payment he needed. And he got very serious when he talked to my mom, and I overheard him insisting she call him again if she needed to get out of the house, that he wouldn’t charge her.
I don’t know what it was that made me think of Luke this evening. But I did. And I went outside and looked up. I know there are no new stars, not really, not ones we’d ever see. But if there were, surely Luke the cab driver is up there somewhere by now.
Who knows who Luke really was. Who knows if he had a family, a wife, kids, grandkids maybe. And I never saw him again. But it sure is a nice thought that for kids and moms in trouble, hopefully there’s a Luke to come to the rescue, not by being a hero, not by doing anything else but his menial job, but by just being kind. By just pointing at the angry clouds and explaining there are stars behind him, stars that represent good people, kind people, people who deserve to have stars pinned to the sky as a reward when they’re gone.
Hell, if I had my way, Luke the cab driver, wherever he came from, wherever he went to, would have a whole damn constellation to himself. Maybe even the big ol’ spoon.
(Originally published on my writing blog here.)