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.
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.