I stopped my cab in front of a small trailer on a gravel road. A big old man came slowly out into the sun, his body jerking and flailing with advanced Parkinson's. He had a cane when he really needed a wheelchair. You could tell pride had something to do with it. His legs and feet went around in circles three times before each step. It took five minutes for him to climb into the passenger seat. I had the air conditioning cranked. It was 108 degrees outside.
"That feels good," he said when he finally got in the front seat.
"Hot out there," I said.
"I'm Phillip," he said.
"Matt," I said.
We shook hands and he gripped me to stop the shaking.
"Be honest with me," he said, a few miles down the road. "How old do I look to you?"
His face was not too beaten up and he had good skin, shaved head.
"About 60," I said.
"I'll be 70 tomorrow," he said.
"Happy Birthday," I said.
"I've got a date with Maria," he said, "a little gal I met the other night."
"Sounds good," I said.
"You don't believe me?" he said.
"I believe you," I said.
"If you don't believe me, I'll call her right now," he said.
He twitched and fidgeted with his cell phone, then dropped it on the floor. I bent down and got it for him.
With much effort he managed to dial a number. He put it to his ear and kept looking at me and giving me that "you'll see" look. It rang and rang. She never answered.
"Well, she must not be home," he said.
I dropped him at the doctor and helped him inside. Then I drove over to the park to wait. I sat in the park watching the pigeons. The pigeons just pecked the ground and ate what was there. They always were eating. They slept in the trees and they ate what was on the ground. And there was no shame in that. It seemed so easy.
In an hour I went back and picked Phillip up from the doctor. Everything looked bad. But there was a bright spot: the receptionist had given him some free samples of a new drug that was supposed to help one achieve and maintain an erection.
"This kicks Viagra's ass," he said. "I'm gonna have one happy birthday!"
He wanted to stop at a hamburger place on the way home. Two steps inside the door he fell jerking and spasming to the floor. He knocked a man's coffee out of his hand and lay there looking up at me with a terrified look. It took three men to get him to his feet.
Then at the counter he didn't have enough money for what he ordered. The cashier called the manager over and the manager looked like he was terrified of some kind of legal liability. Phillip's head was bleeding a little bit but he shook it off. "I'm fine," he said. The manager gave Phillip his food for free just to get him out of there.
We made it out to the cab. Phillip could't believe his luck. He ate his hamburger as I drove him back to his little trailer in the dust. He shook my hand again and then staggered toward his trailer door, like triumph mixed with madness.
"Happy Birthday," I hollered out the window.
He grinned and lifted his cane to the sky.