I closed my eyes, as I passed through the prison gates. Fear kept them shut, not daring to discover I was only dreaming. Three years behind prison walls had diminished my world to an eight by six jail cell and an open area surrounded by towering walls. To dream something bigger was almost sacrilegious.
Not until I felt the cool, fresh breeze brush across my face did I dare to open them. When I did, I found myself facing a landscape stretching for miles ahead. Green carpet laid before me, to be touched at the seams by a brilliant blue sky. The view was almost unimaginable. I drew in a deep breath and savored the taste of freedom. The sound of the prison doors clanging shut, reminded me it was time to go.
Continuing down the driveway, I found a taxi waiting for me. So, I hopped in, and without saying a word, the driver took off. I tapped on the plexiglass separating us. “You know where you’re going?”
The driver didn’t look back. “Where else? The halfway house.”
Why bother asking, I thought. “How far is it?”
“It’s about forty-five minutes from here.”
That was all he said. Normally, I’d get in a cab and the driver would talk nonstop, but this one was quiet as a mouse. I couldn’t blame him though. Why would he want to get in a conversation with an ex-con, especially one who couldn’t tip, and I, being in lockup for so long, had nothing to start a conversation with. So be it. I sat back and enjoyed the view.
I was watching trees rise over the horizon, when I heard the driver gasp. I turn towards the front seat and saw the driver slump to his side. His foot must have slipped off the gas pedal, for the taxi crawled to the side of the road and came to a stop.
“Hey, mister,” I shouted out. “You alright?”
There was no response. I threw my door open and ran for the front of the cab. Fortunately, his window was rolled down, so I was able to pop the door open. I pressed my ear against his chest and heard an erratic heartbeat. Without thinking, I pushed him to the passenger side, jumped in the car, and took off down the road.
As the speedometer needle began to rise, dark thoughts flooded my mind. What if he dies on me? They’ll pull my probation and probably send me away for life. The thought of dumping the driver into a ditch and driving into the sunset was tempting, but not feasible. Instead, I put my foot on the gas and continued toward civilization. I couldn’t let him die.
A sign on the highway said I had twenty-five miles to go. Glancing at the driver, I was glad to see he was still breathing. I might just make it.
Then, a voice crackled on the two-way radio. “Hey, Bob. How far are you out of town? I have another fair lined up for you to pick up in thirty minutes.”
I couldn’t decide whether to pick up the radio or not. If I didn’t, the cops would ask why I didn’t call for help, but if I did answer, they would surely chase me in this predicament. Either way, I lose. I picked up the mike and replied, “This is Chris. Bob picked me up and on the way to town, he collapsed, so I’m driving him to the hospital.”
After a momentary pause, the radio squawked. “Chris, from the penitentiary?”
Another pause. “You have no business driving the cab. Stop the car. I’m calling the police and ambulance. They should be there shortly.”
I couldn’t what I just heard. “Hey, we’re thirty minutes out of town. By the time the ambulance gets here and drives back, it’ll be at least an hour. I can continue down the road and meet them.”
“Hey, look,” replied the voice on the radio. “If something should happen to you or the cab, all hell will break loose. So, stay where you are and wait for assistance.”
There’s no way I was going to wait. I pressed the transmit button and replied, “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up. I couldn’t what you just said. I’ll continue down the road and when I spot the ambulance, I’ll signal them to stop.” As I released the button, I threw the mic on the floor and continued down the road.
“Hey, Bob,” I called out. “You still with me?” Placing my hand in front of his face, I felt his breath, as he exhaled. “Hang in there, buddy. Help is on the way.”
As I sped down the road, I eyed, a vehicle with blue flashing lights coming on my tail. He pulled close to my bumper, and I heard a voice coming from it. “This is the police. Pull over immediately.”
How could the police come up on me faster than from town? The answer was irrelevant. Bob’s life was hanging in the balance of whether I stopped or not, and since there wasn’t an ambulance in sight, I was left with no choice but to continue driving.
Oh, they’re going to love this, I thought. Once I stop, I’ll probably end up in the hospital myself.
At that moment, Bob coughed and gagged. “Don’t quit on me now, buddy. If you go down, I’m going down with you.”
Pushing the pedal to the metal, I pulled away from the police car, but my effort was futile. They fell back on my tail and bumped the rear of the cab.
The voice from the police car returned. “This is your last warning. Pull over now or we’ll be forced to take aggressive actions.”
Aggressive? They almost knocked me off the road. What else can they do that’s more aggressive? Shoot up the car with Bob inside? I doubt that.
A moment later, the police car pulled by my side and swerved towards me. Instinctively, I wanted to hit my brakes, but wisely, I hit the gas instead. I assumed my position in front of the police and then it happened. A vehicle came rushing towards me with flashing red lights. The ambulance had arrived.
I slammed on the brakes and in doing so, the police car nearly rammed me. Before they could step out of their car, I threw my door open and fell on the ground in the prone position. “Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed!”
Though they scuffed me up, they didn’t have to haul me away in the ambulance. Instead, they threw me in the back of the squad car, where I was able to witness the medics tending to Bob. They pull the gurney out of the ambulance and by the time they placed it back in, Bob was on it. His face was uncovered. He made it. Good for you, Bob.
After the ambulance pulled away, the police officer turned his attention on me. “Looks like the cabbie is going to make it, thanks to you, but you’ll have to explain everything at the station. With a little luck, the chief might show you some leniency and let you get out of there. We’ll see.”
As we cruised down the road, I continued to relish the landscape. It was great to be free, but what good is my freedom, if I shy away from doing what’s right? What I did today may have been wrong, but it couldn’t be more right.