“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
–Psalm 23:4 (NLT)
Topaz caught herself and exclaimed, “Apologizing for being rude is one thing, but you don’t want to hear me babble on and on.”
“On the contrary,” Austin smiled. “I am honored to be in the presence of such a beautiful lady, so the choice is yours. If you share something with me, it will go no further. Consider me a friend.”
“Friend?” Topaz sounded surprised. “I don’t have any friends, and I don’t know you.”
“Well, you can only get to know someone by spending time with them, and as I said, we have about 45 minutes, so allow me to put you at ease. Such an attractive lady needs a friend. Are you new in town?”
“I’m not really comfortable talking about that. I feel pretty guarded with new people. I have trouble opening up to others, let alone a virtual stranger.”
But having said this, Topaz couldn’t help feeling intrigued by this unusual man. She noticed that her cab driver was quite handsome, and he had broad shoulders which seemed to exude strength. He also had a winning smile that brought out two dimples on his cheeks. But something else attracted her to him. There was a gentleness and caring about him that didn’t fit the cab-driver image which she usually held.
This was no time for daydreaming, though. With a concerted effort, Topaz brought herself back to the present.
Scratching his head, Austin replied, “I would have trouble opening up to someone out of the blue myself, so let’s think about what we have in common. You told me you were a Christian, and so am I. I will admit to being a confused one, but I’m a Christian nonetheless.”
“I’m still sorting through grief after 15 years, and I know it’s time to move forward. Maybe I could do a better job of that if we helped each other out–that is, if you’re willing,” Topaz ventured shyly.
“Yes, I’m going through some loss as well which I find hard to talk about,” Austin grunted. “I can’t promise you anything, but I feel that I might be able to open up more if there was a mutual agreement.”
Topaz smiled, sitting back in her seat. “Do we have a deal, then?”
“Sure,” said Austin, “I think helping each other is what both of us need. What are friends for? Sometimes we all need to vent, and it sounds like we both have a hard time doing that.”
“Okay, who goes first?”
“Ladies, always.” Austin winked in his mirror.
“Okay, then.” Topaz cleared her throat as the cars started moving. “If you’re sure, I’ll start with a nice, safe question. What made you become a cab driver?”
“That’s a loaded question,” Austin laughed, “but I guess the short and sweet answer is that I needed a job. Now I’ve got one for you: what is a doctor doing in this section of town?”
“Well, that answer will take a little more time. I worked with my father in his medical practice at Washington State, where I grew more and more discontented. When he died about 15 years ago, I really became restless, and I left shortly after that.”
“Can you explain what you mean?” Austin asked.
“Well, there were two reasons I was disturbed. Being grief-stricken, I guess I just felt like I didn’t belong there anymore. I also wanted to help people out, with the primary concern being money. You have to understand–while my father was a good man, he didn’t believe like we do. He worked in a lucrative practice that lacked empathy, and with a posh clientele. Therefore, he based a lot of what he did on appearance, so I began praying about it. God seemed to tell me to go ahead, so I did a search on Google. I wanted to see if I could find people who shared my vision. I did, so I packed my bags and left without looking back.”
“Are you still a doctor then?”
“Yes, I’m coming to that.”
“Well, go ahead and talk for a while. I can’t answer any more questions right now. It looks like there’s a bad wreck ahead.”
“I have always loved what I considered to be the true practice of medicine–in other words, one where I can really reach out to hurting people. The website I found was run by a group of doctors in a local homeless shelter, asking for help.
“That site led me back to Phoenix, where I grew up. I knew I would be meeting a need there, but like a missionary working overseas, I had to raise my own funds. I got a job on the side to pay the bills. I’m a part-time waitress in a diner at night. It makes for a busy schedule, as I practice medicine during the day. The doctors who work there take turns seeing patients in a free clinic, and I love it.”
Unable to help himself, Austin held his hand up at a stoplight. “Hold on a minute! On one hand you say you’re going to England, and on the other you say you’re working in a diner to survive.”
“I guess that does sound kind of crazy,” Topaz interupted. “Let me explain. The director of the mission was contacted and invited to a prestigious medical convention in England, but she came down with a serious illness. Some time before the trip was to take place, her doctor told her that she wouldn’t be able to travel. I had helped her with some of the research, so she asked me to go in her place.
“The mission director had raised half of the funds, and I knew it would take a miracle to raise the rest. But I also knew that if God wanted me to go, I would be on that plane. So I contacted the secretary for the missions director at my church to schedule an appointment.
“Austin, as I mentally reconstructed the sights and smells of the mission in front of him, he tried to be discrete. But soon I couldn’t hold the tears in anymore, and the dam broke. I excused myself and pulled myself together, but afterwords I told the director, ‘You should really see the children. They look like something out of a documentary about the third world.’
“But he just sat there and listened without a word, and as more tears flowed, my words tumbled out. ‘The children are cold, sick and hungry, and I know that God put me there for a reason.'”
“‘Okay, Topaz,’ the secretary said. ‘You’ve convinced me as far as the need is concerned, but why England? Why should I call a committee meeting? This is a worldwide delegation of doctors, and the dangerous diseases among the homeless are very real. We are studying them closely, as they pose a potential threat to the rest of the population.’
“To make a long story short, the missions committee agreed to match the funds that were already raised, and I am honored to go. But I know that God has more planned for me to do.”
Austin glanced over his shoulder. “What do you mean? It sounds like you’re doing a lot already.”
“I have to admit that seeing smiles on the children’s faces is great, Austin, but I don’t have the freedom to talk about Jesus. I heard through the grapevine about the city closing down Bread of Life, and I’d like to start my own shelter that’s modeled after yours. I feel that God’s leading me to do this. Before I left Phoenix for Washington State, I asked Christ into my life.”
Though he remained silent, Austin had been filled with a strange sense of peace as Topaz told her story, but he flinched upon hearing the name of the shelter where he had worked for so long.
Oblivious to this reaction, Topaz continued. “I don’t expect you to understand what I’m saying right away, but the desire seems to grow stronger each day. I’ve contacted realtors at my church, but without any funds I’ve continued to work where you picked me up this morning.
“Yesterday, I emptied the contents of my purse. It held a lot of things, and sorting through them was like going on a treasure hunt. As I rummaged around, I rediscovered the mysterious envelope I told you about, and this brought up some unresolved questions. I tried not to jump to any conclusions. Instead, I asked God if He was trying to tell me something. I felt a strong compulsion to answer those nagging questions once and for all, so I dialed the number which that envelope held.
“I called and chickened out 3 times, but I finally got my nerve up on the fourth try. After a couple rings, a crisp voice told me I had reached the security insurance department. I don’t mind telling you that I was perplexed by this. I had made up my mind to act like I knew what was going on, but I sure didn’t do a very good job of it,” Topaz laughed.
“I’ve definitely been there,” Austin said, grinning in response.
“So, with more confidence than I actually felt, I spluttered, ‘I’d like to speak to Mr. Davis, please.’ As they were transferring my call to him I panicked. What had I gotten myself into?”
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“Thankfully, my call went to voice mail. Glad for the reprieve, I listened intently. Mr. Davis said he was with other clients, and ask me to leave a message. I told him a friend had recommended that I speak to him, and I left my name and number.
“True to his word, he called me today, with an urgent tone in his voice. Since I was in a hurry, I didn’t get to mull it over until now, so I thought I’d continue with my ramblings if you don’t mind.”
Austin yawned, and quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean to be offensive. It’s not you by any means. we’re stuck in traffic. I wish I’d moved into the carpool lane. But that’s neither here nor there, so please go right ahead and ramble all you want.”
“In that case, I’ll be glad to help you pass the time. That call from Scott Davis brought back the grief of losing my dad, but I told Scott that this wasn’t a good time to talk. He was persistent, so I sighed and asked him what he wanted.”
“Mr. Davis began, ‘I worked with your father for quite some time, and after his unfortunate death I searched high and low for you. Your dad believed in being prepared, and he made me promise I would do everything in my power to locate you if anything ever happened to him. I have done just that, but other people have come out of the woodwork claiming to be you. I thought we had the best private investigators working on your case, but they were unable to uncover your location.
“‘When the search seemed fruitless, I told them I no longer needed their help. I’m paid to be dubious, but if everything checks out, I’ll have some very important news for you. For now, let’s just say that if you are who you say you are, your life could change overnight.’
“‘Oh, I’m my father’s daughter all right!” I shot back, ‘But my taxi cab is 10 minutes away, so I really don’t have the time now.’
“‘I understand that, but since your father named me as the executor of his will in case of an emergency, I need to ask you a couple security questions. The insurance company will require you to undergo a stringent background check, but this will suffice for now. Can I squeeze just 2 questions in?’
“‘Well, I guess so,’ I grumbled, ‘but please make it quick.’
“‘Okay. First, when was your father born?’
“‘1921,’ I answered.
“‘Please bear with me just a moment longer. I need to know your mother’s maiden name.’
“Just then I heard another call coming in, so I brusquely answered Scott’s question and told him we needed to wrap things up.
“‘Then the next step will be setting up a consultation by phone.’
“‘I’ll call back in about a week either way,’ I said in a clipped tone, and we said goodbye.
“Austin, I think I reached my decision before I even walked out the door. I don’t want any money from my father, if that’s what Scott’s talking about.”
“Traffic is easing up,” Austin called from the front seat, “so I have a question for you. I don’t mean to be callous, but your father obviously wanted you to have that money. Why have you come to that conclusion?”
“I just don’t feel like I deserve or want his money.”
“It’s impossible to walk in another person’s shoes, Topaz, but you could do a lot of good with that money, even if you don’t want it for yourself.”
“Yes, I know that now, but I have been blind to it. Before I got my feelings out with you this morning, I hadn’t looked at things from that angle before.
“I’ve tried to bury my grief in the sand. I can’t really explain it, Austin, but I felt lost, like a person drifting in a boat on the sea. To keep my head above water, I had to scramble and try to regroup fast. When I did have time to think, my mind went over and over the loss of my dad, as we were very close. I got my love of medicine from him, but we were going in two different directions.
“While talking with you has really made me think, I know that the accident was my fault. So taking his money seems like a betrayal, and I just can’t do that.”
“I think I’m beginning to see your reasoning, but I can’t agree with you. You just got through telling me how much your dad loved you, and he would want the best for you. In contrast to that, you also told me about your working conditions, so blaming yourself for everything that happened just isn’t right.”
“But my question could have waited,” Topaz sobbed, “and it distracted him. I will always be plagued with guilt. I know that God has forgiven me, but the memories still haunt me.”
“We all have baggage to deal with, Topaz, and Satan would like you to take that on your shoulders. But it’s not what your heavenly or earthly father would want.
“As a cab driver, I see accidents every day, and there is always more than one factor. For example, if I remember correctly, when you first told me about the collision, you said that it was raining. That would have meant that the roads were slick, and accidents were more likely to happen.”
“But don’t you see? That only accentuates my point. Because of the storm, my father needed to be extra careful and keep his eyes glued on the road. He would have done that if I hadn’t been foolish and caused the car to veer.”
“Let me rephrase this,” Austin replied. “Even if it happened that way, you can’t beat yourself up. The wet road would have made it hard to drive in a straight line, especially if he had to slam on his brakes. Here’s another thing to think about. In Phoenix, people never expect rain, so they don’t know a thing about drainage ditches.”
“Thank you,” Topaz said, smiling through her tears. “Like I said, I have never really examined this from all angles. It will take time, but you’ve helped me begin to put things in perspective.”
“I think a cab driver is part therapist, too.” Austin winked in the mirror. “I was glad to be of service. And for what it’s worth, I think you should hear Scott Davis out when you call him back.”
Austin’s passenger opened her mouth to protest, but he interrupted. “Listen to me, Topaz. I know you don’t want the money, and I understand why, but you have at least one option.”
“I’m not about to take any charity,” Topaz stated, her voice hardening.
“That’s good,” Austin replied with a smile in his voice, “because Scott Davis isn’t offering any.”
“Okay then, what is this supposed option?”
“Well” Austin answered reflectively, “I was wondering if you’ve ever thought of naming a building in honor of your dad.”
“No, I guess I haven’t,” Topaz mused in a far-away tone. “I’ll think about it. I might grow to like that idea.”
“Good,” Austin said shortly. “but I’ve got to stop talking. There’s construction ahead. We’re nearing the airport, and it’s a regular zoo this morning.”
“Okay, but I can’t tell you what talking to you has meant to me. Austin, you’re a very unique person. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
Just before she left Austin’s cab, Topaz scribbled down the address of the restaurant where she worked and handed him the piece of paper. “When I’m back in town, come on in for a free piece of pie sometime.”
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