(I wrote this a long while back. I'd probably make some different choices with the subject today. But, here goes.)
You’ve probably heard stories about what we do, like about coming to people in visions or lifting boulders off of people in the middle of nowhere. I even know somebody who likes to appear in tortea chips. On our own hours, we can do what we want.
The job is about keeping people on the right path. Some people really want to be on the right path, but they need a little help. You can keep them where they need to be with as little as a bit of help finding parking near the store. That can save the life of a woman who’s forgotten that she’s on the right path and strayed within one inch from crawling back into the bottle.
Other people don’t want anywhere near that path. I don’t even try with them. You know the old saying about leading a horse to water.
Then, you’ve got the confused ones. They don’t know if they’re on the right path, if that path is even possible anymore, or what they want. If you’re confused, you’re usually at a fork in the road. The paths are never labeled clearly. No signs to say “The Right Path” or “The Wrong Path.” Sometimes, you can’t even see the right path when you’re right up next to it. All you can see is the right destination and you think “I can’t get there from here”.
That’s where the kid is, the one that’s getting into my cab. He’s legally an adult. You know how it is. He’s a boy and he’s a man. The name on his birth certificate is Alexander. The people he hangs out with now call him Al. His true name, the one he knows in his soul, is Alex.
“Where to?” I ask him. I prefer the gentle approach. Some swear by the blinding light and the inescapable truth, but I’ve seen bad things come from that. You remember David Koresh?
“Downtown,” he says, “east and twenty third.” He rattles it off by rote. He’s still dazed by what he’s come to do.
I pull out into traffic before I start in. I don’t want him leaving before I have the chance to point out the right path for him. “Are you okay? You seem a little off.”
Alex wants to yell and scream for help. He wouldn’t do that even if I did appear before him in a blinding light. “I’m just fine.” He doesn’t lie very well. He just needs some prodding. He doesn’t know it, but he’s praying for help.
Even so, I’ve got to be subtle about it. “Here on business or pleasure?”
“Business.” It’s a bit of truth, which is a good sign.
“Jobs, huh? You work and you work and you work and what do you get to show for it after it’s all said and done? If you’re lucky, you get enough to take your girl out to a fancy dinner and the movies.”
Alex knows just what I’m talking about. He remembers working his first job for weeks just so he could take his girlfriend out on a nice date. He remembers how hard he worked for so little money at a time. Deep down in there, where he’s not paying attention right now, he also remembers how good it felt to earn up enough to take his girlfriend out and see that smile on her face. He’s not paying attention to the part of him that knows this, but it meant more because he worked so hard for it.
“Yeah, well I’m moving up in the world.”
“So, you get to see that smile a lot more often, huh?”
He gets a thoughtful look in his eye. It doesn’t occur to him that I might not mean the smile your girlfriend gets when she knows you saw something, thought of her, and put the fruit of your own labor into getting her something to make her smile. What runs through his mind right now is that the smile doesn’t seem as sweet anymore.
The silence stretches out just a moment too long, so I have to push. “You do have a girl, right?” He nods. “And, she doesn’t have problems with what you’re doing to move up, right?”
“Nope, she doesn’t.” Of course she doesn’t. She doesn’t know.
I nod and take a turn. “Good. I know that women can be picky.” He grunts as much of a yes as he’s going to give. “Of course, if you’re not moving up the right way, you’re not moving up. Women know that kind of thing.” Some of them do. Some of them don’t. But, it doesn’t hurt to encourage some healthy respect.
“What would you know about moving up? You’re still driving a cab.” He would really love to hear that you can take the right path and still get rich the easy way. Some can, but if that’s a deciding factor, you’re not really on the right path.
“Hey, I work for my money, I have a good family, and I know that I’m living a life that my mom, rest her soul, can be proud of.” Actually, the real owner of this cab does all that. He’s a good man to lend me his cab. I always make sure he gets the fair I earn when I use it. “Would your Aunt Marie say the same?”
That hits him hard. His mother died in childbirth and his father ran away because he didn’t think he could handle it. All you can do is show them the path, it’s their choice to follow it or not. His Aunt Marie was next of kin, so it was on her to raise him right.
“I said would your Mother say the same?”
He shakes his head to clear his mind, but the question’s already there. He fingers his gun and knows the answer.
“You have to do what you have to do,” he says.
“Yeah, but if you’re not proud of it, you have to ask if you really have to do it.” Please, Alex, ask that question.
He nods. “Believe me, I do.” Damn it. The more I talk to Alex, the more I can feel it inside him. He doesn’t want to go down this path. He feels trapped on all sides. I hate being blatant about things. But, I know that he wants to be on the right path and I can’t give up on that.
“You really don’t.”
“What do you know about it?” I don’t like what I’m about to do, but Alex walks into it like Costello walks into the joke when Abbot starts talking about Who’s playing First.
“His name is Joseph Chapman. He’s a husband, father, and shoe salesman that witnessed a murder. If he hadn’t agreed to this, he’d have been dead within the week. Your employer is too small time to put a lifelong hit on him, but too scared to bet on him keeping his mouth shut. If he gets through this trial, he’ll be alright and back with his family. And, your employer will be behind bars and won’t sell crack to schoolchildren for a long while.”
There you have it. One man on the right path, one man on the wrong path, and only Alex can decide which path pays off.
Alex fumbles with his gun as he pulls it out. Good thing they come with a safety now. He clicks off the safety before asking the question. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Martin.” We used to not deal with names. If humans wanted to talk about us, they’d name us themselves and we’d more or less ignore it when they talked about Michael or Gabriel. Nowadays, it just makes the job easier if you have a steady name. So I took mine from a man who walked the righteous path and wound up paying a price for it.
“How do you know this?”
“I know things. For instance, I know that even if he was the absolute worst scum in the world you’ll be snuffing out a light if you do this, and not his.”
He’s pointing that gun at the back of my head. “Tell me how you know.”
This won’t kill me or even injure me, really. But, it’s going to hurt. “I know things.”
I heard the PEWT of a silenced bullet as it went right into my head. Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing. He’s panicked and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so he’s not on the wrong path yet. The fact that there’s no blood and no wound shocks him into silence as I pull the cab over and park exactly where he wanted to go. I’ll have to spit that bullet out somewhere, but I can still show Alex that he can get onto the right path.
I step out of the cab and so does he. Some swear by the blinding light and the echoing voice. I don’t go in for cheap theatrics. The effect never lasts. So when he gets out, still holding his gun, I show him something that puts everything else to shame.
People don’t have eyes that look directly at goodness. If they did, they’d never get anything done. Each new person they see would have them breaking down in tears of joy. You can try to describe how that feels. People talk about all encompassing warmth or blinding flashes. That gives too much credit to heat and light.
Alex drops his gun, stunned. “Alex, you don’t have to do this,” I say. “You can go back; you can get your job back.” I know, it doesn’t sound appealing in pure words. It’s the offer of the right path over the path that gives you money for doing the wrong thing.
As brightly as my goodness shines to Alex, his struggling goodness shines even brighter to me. If you were to describe human goodness in terms of my own, you’d be giving us too much credit. Every drop of it is the most perfect of things, but you can’t have it unless you have the choice to taint it, muddy it, and even black it out completely.
If Alex chooses to go up there, it won’t be the end of all goodness inside him, but it will put him on that path. If he steps onto that path, that’s his choice. That’s his choice to start himself on that slow path of death of the human soul. You don’t know pain until you’ve seen someone make that choice.
I pull back the goodness from his eyes. If he’s going to turn back to the right path, it’s going to be his choice. I can’t influence him. I can’t threaten him. I can’t even refuse to drive him back to the airport. I can only hope.
Please, Alex, make the right choice.