Where I come from, we don't believe in ghosts or spirits. We have our own frightening creatures. We call them "Jinns." In my culture, they are said to have houses, families, and communities, just like humans. Some of them are good and some are evil. But the most frightening thing about them is that… they live among us, but we cannot see them. They basically mind their own business and don't bother us unless we cause them harm or disrupt their lives.
When I was a kid, I honestly believed everything people said about Jinns. But as I grew older, I began to doubt the existence of those mythical creatures. For me, it became a nonsense stories made up by ancient and ignorant people to scare children. So I just stopped believing in Jinns and never paid much attention to Jinn's stories. As a 45 years old man, I consider myself a logical and practical person. I believe only what I see. Or so I thought, until last week.
I work as a taxi driver and prefer to work the night shift because it is cooler in the evenings and at night in my country. But also because night drives cost twice as much as day drives and because the drunk people I occasionally drive tip me generously.
One night at the end of August, I was driving along a narrow, winding road heading towards the suburbs of the city. It was past 2 a.m, and although it was almost the end of my shift, I said to myself, one more customer and I'm going home.
It was one of those warm late summer nights. The streets were deserted. I had my forearm half out and was holding a barely touched joint in my hand when I saw under the light of a street lamp the silhouette of a woman. As I got closer to her she waved for me to stop. What's a lonely woman doing outside at this hour? I wondered.
I stopped alongside the woman and leaned over to the side of the passenger seat and rolled down the window.
"I want to go downtown," the woman said before I even talked.
"Which side of the city center?" I asked her while scanning her from head to toe.
It is a very important skill in my profession to be able to profile the people we drive. This is how we identify thieves and criminals. My coworkers always make fun of me and refer to me as "Eagle Eyes." If there was one thing I was most proud of in my 20 years as a taxi driver, it was that I had never been robbed. The woman was rather old, maybe in her late fifties. She was dressed in a long-sleeved dress in white or beige, it was difficult to tell due to the dim light from the street lamp.
She had no distinguishing features and was holding nothing. I'm used to driving prostitutes in the middle of the night. I immediately recognize them, with their obvious getups and feeble attempts to seduce any potential client. But this woman did not appear to be a prostitute.
"The Rialto Cinema, in front of the kiosk," the woman said.
"Come in," I said as I opened the back door. I saw her come in from the corner of my eye and then quietly close the door behind her. I stepped on the gas and drove to my destination. The woman began speaking as soon as she sat.
"How's life?" inquired the lady.
I responded without thinking:
"Life sucks. Nothing is worth living for. Everything is a problem, and everyone wants your skin. Some days, I just want to die to put an end to it all."
And, as if the floodgates had just opened, I began telling her about my marital problems, my financial difficulties, my mother, the mortgage, and the disagreement I was having with the taxi owner. The woman remained silent. She said to me when I finished complaining:
"Do you want to die quickly, like right now, or do you want time to say goodbye to your loved ones?"
This strange question took me by surprise. I never considered suicide seriously. For a few seconds, I was lost in this strange thought when I noticed two silhouettes waving at me to stop a little further ahead on the deserted road. One of the men was tall, while the other was short and skinny. I got closer to them without even realizing it, most likely due to a taxi driver's automatic reflex. I was about to stop when I remembered I had a passenger in my taxi.
In my country, we are allowed to pick up up to three passengers, but I never pick up a man when I have a female client in my taxi. I then changed my mind and waved at the two men to apologize, and I continued on my way. I was completely absorbed in this strange conversation with the woman when I noticed we had arrived in front of the Rialto Cinema Kiosk. I came to a complete stop and checked the rearview mirror to inform the woman that she had arrived at her destination.
She wasn’t there!
I spun around. The back seat was completely empty. My blood chilled, and a shiver ran through my body. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I flung open the door and dashed to the other side of the road.
That is not possible! There was a lady in my taxi! I was conversing with her!
I stood there panting, my heart pounding in my chest and my eyes bulging, inspecting the vehicle without daring to approach it.
"Hey man, what’s going on?"
The voice startled me. It was the Cinema’s security guard, a burly, inquisitive-looking man, who noticed me abruptly stopping the taxi and fleeing. I took two steps back, still stunned.
He approached me and asked, "Are you okay?"
I looked at my taxi, whose engine was still running, terrified.
"There was a woman in my taxi. And she disappeared. Just like that!"
The agent shifted his gaze to the taxi and then to me, looking at me intently.
"I didn't see any women exit your taxi," the security guard stated calmly. "Perhaps what you're smoking there is a little too strong," he added, shaking his chin at the joint between my fingers. I looked at the security guard, not sure what he was saying. It took me a few seconds to realize I was still holding the nearly extinguished joint. I threw it as far as I could, as if afraid it would contaminate me. My legs became weak all of a sudden. I knelt on the ground and sat on the sidewalk. I cradled my head in my still trembling hands. My shirt was soaked in sweat, even though I was shivering.
The security guard, who remained nearby, said to me:
"I'll go check out."
He then walked over to the cab, circled it, and peered through the windows inside before ducking down to look under it. He raised his head and shrugged his shoulders at me. He then tucked in an arm on the driver's side, turned off the engine, took the keys, lifted the handbrake, and shut the door.
He returned to me and handed me the keys. He took his pack of cigarettes from his pocket and handed it to me after some hesitation.
"Take one, it will help you relax."
I raised my head and reached for a cigarette. But my hand was trembling so badly that I couldn't grasp the cigarette. When the security guard saw me like this, he lit a cigarette and handed it to me. I nodded gratefully and took a long drag as I stared at his taxi across the street, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Then I told the agent everything.
"Could that woman be a Jinn?" wondered the security guard.
"What?" I stumbled.
"How else do you explain a person who talked to you and then just vanished?"
"I...I'm not sure..." I couldn't think of anything to say. All of my logical reasoning was rendered useless.
"It must have been a long night's work, huh?" said the security guard after a moment, then added, "You should go home for the time being."
"Sure, you're right," I responded.
After I finished my cigarette, I decided to leave my taxi where it was and walk home. I never worked the nightshift again after that night's adventure, and I never smoked weed again.
My story quickly spread throughout the taxi driver community. We laughed and made countless jokes about it. Some have even labeled their joints "Eagle Eyes quality."
A few weeks passed, and my story, like all others, was forgotten... until last week.
I was sitting with some friends in one of downtown's coffee shops, where many drivers stopped for a break. A burly, inquisitive-looking man approached me.
"Is that really you, Eagle Eyes?"
I frowned, trying to recall where I had seen the man.
"It's me," rushed the man, "the Rialto Cinema security guard."
"Yes, yes, I recall you!" I responded, surprised.
"I looked everywhere for you."
The man took a newspaper from his jacket pocket and placed it in front of me.
"Take a look at this!" He then showed me an article from the newspaper's front page. The article was about the arrest of two criminals who wreaked havoc in isolated suburbia over the summer. The killers apprehended their victims late at night, posing as in need of help, robbed them of their belongings, and murdered them with machetes. They dumped their victims in pits away from the road and covered them in dirt.
I wasn't a fan of crime or police cases, so I politely inquired of the man:
"I'm not sure why you're showing this to me."
The security guard tapped the bottom of the page with his index finger.
In the spot where the man tapped, it said: " The killers confessed that all of the victims apprehended were attacked on the same spot, with no chance of escape. With the exception of one taxi driver who was about to stop in front of them one night at the end of August. "
" That one was lucky. It was as if he had been stolen from us by some Jinn,"said one of the killers to the police.
A photograph showed them being driven back to a police vehicle. One was tall, while the other was very short and skinny.
My heart dropped into my stomach.