Taxi Ride, 17 Feb 2009

The biggest thing that kept me in journalism for a long time was the Telling of the Tale.

Not the stories that we write and get published in the papers. But the stories that people told us from their hearts, that spoke of regret, of things not done, of things done, and things they wish to do. The journalist is a storyteller at heart and in profession, but there’s no replacing the hearing of the original story.

Sometimes, words cannot describe how the journalist feels upon hearing a new tale. By the time we put down our words to print (or the screen these days), a huge part of the original impact is lost in translation. Today I heard a new tale that left me feeling a bit more miserable than I already was.

The taxi driver was Indian, and very cheery, though he spoke a bit too softly at times. Like most taxi drivers who liked to chat, he ended up telling me about his job, taxi drivers’ predicament in general, and how things were going downhill for the economy.

(If there’s one thing that forever marks me as a TNP journo, it’s the willingness of strangers to tell me what I didn’t really ask to hear.)

I asked him: “Were you always driving a taxi?”

“No, I used to be a wholesaler, and was sole distributor of some types of spices. Then I went to play the stock market and lost all my money there.

“But it’s all my fault. The thing is I didn’t know anything about shares and I was greedy. I deserved to lose money because of my greed. So God is fair, he made me become a taxi driver because of my greed.

“But what I don’t understand is that during that bad time when I lost all my money, my wife left me. Why is it when you have money, women want to be with you? No money, no love.”

I asked: “Do you have children?”

“Yes, I have a daughter, and she’s handicapped. My wife left me and left me with a handicapped child. During that time, all the bad things happened and I really wanted to commit suicide.

“I took five bank loans to pay back all my debts. For the past five years, I held down two jobs, working day and night. I also needed to pay for my child’s medical bills. Then I finally paid up all my loans and then I took up taxi driving.

“Today, I still have 100 pounds of gold at the pawnshop. But I don’t think I can get back most of them. I just can’t bear to (redeem all the gold). You know, I never used to smoke and drink, but then I took up smoking."

I asked: “So you’ve quit?”

“No, I’m still working on it.”

We reached my HDB block and we said “Take care and all the best” to each other. And the tale ended.

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