Conflict & Justice

The India-Pakistan Conflict in a Philly Cab

On a December morning, I checked out of my hotel in Philadelphia, and wheeled my suitcase through the automatic doors. Several taxis –yellow, white and multicolored– were lined up at the curb. I looked through the window of one cab and gestured to the driver to pop the trunk for me.

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The guy looked Indian. I put my suitcase away and hopped in next to him, hoping for some conversation along the way.

"Airport?" The guy asked me.

"No, the train station," I replied with a smile.

He started the meter and took off. The driver looked to be in his mid-thirties. He was a little overweight–his paunch pressing against the steering wheel.

I asked him, "Are you from India?"

He looked at me with a blank face and said, "Pakistan. Are you from India?"

I said yes and smiled again. He didn't respond.

So a few seconds later, I tried again. "How are things in Pakistan?"

"Not good," he said, looking ahead. I waited for him to say more, but he didn't appear to be in a mood to talk. I decided not to bother him. But a minute later, when I was looking out the window, he said, "Your country is responsible for all the problems in Pakistan."

I looked at him, surprised, but didn't say anything.

"Innocent children and women are dying daily," he continued. "Every other day there is a terrorist attack. It has become impossible to live there." I didn't know what to say.

"Can you ask your country to stop the killings?" he said, turning to me, with teary eyes. "I have lost so many of my relatives."

I was just going to the station to catch a train to Charlottesville, Virginia, and wasn't prepared for my 15-minute taxi ride to be so intense. I was sitting next to him, and he was waiting for me to answer his question.

"Can you help us?" he asked again. I swallowed, and nodded unconvincingly. For the next ten minutes, we sat next to each other, without saying a word. I watched tears rolling down his cheeks, dropping on the steering wheel. I felt helpless and uncomfortable.

Finally, we arrived at the station, and he stopped the car. The meter displayed $12.67. We both got out. He pulled my suitcase out of the trunk, and I pulled out a $20 bill to pay him, thinking I'd tell him to keep the change. I approached him and handed him the money. He took the bill, folded it, and shoved it back into my shirt pocket.

"Do something," he said to me. "We need your country's help."

I just stood there and watched him get into his car and drive away.

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