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  • He's the face in the rear view mirror
    His rough voice, thick with old smoke
    His hands callused across the palms
    His ball cap tipped back jauntily
    Little pine tree swaying to his humming.

    The streets belong to him, every avenue
    Boulevard and alley are his to find
    When he flicks up the flag, his demeanor
    Changes, becomes serious, he's a professional.

    A raw deal by his taxi company
    Having to chauffeur little kids to school
    What ever happened to the bus in busing?
    Why does he have to babysit the brats?

    First day of school, he waits patiently
    Not his kind of neighborhood at all
    Cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth
    Head tilted, smoke drifting upwards, slowly
    Like sinuous vines growing up his head

    The boy comes out of the row house
    Hair perfect, face washed and fear
    Pouring out of his pores
    The scent of terror.

    The driver sees this and breaks a rule
    Cracks a smile for the kid, what's it cost?
    Watches him get in from the rear view mirror
    Watches the kid touch the seats, the shield
    The little signs on the windows

    No small talk from him today, oh no
    He's too nervous, his little paper bag lunch
    Clutched in his hand, already stained
    From his nervous sweat.

    At the ritzy suburban school, the kid
    Sits looking out the window, his eyes wide
    So many people, no one he knows
    The driver breaks a rule, and gets out
    Opens the door and smiles again
    A plastic teacher, her hair coiffed into
    A bouffant cone, her smile fake as
    A plastic plant, takes the boy by the hand.

    The driver grunts at the plastic teacher
    Fills out the form and throws down the board
    As his first fare of the day calls in, he forgets.

    Until the afternoon, when he remembers
    He must pick the kid up at school, breaks a rule
    Drives too fast to get there, and sees the boy
    Tear streaked face, hand held by the same
    Plastic teacher, frozen fake smile as she
    Puts the boy into the back of his cab.

    Silence on the way home, the boy stares
    At the street sights going by, his eyes pooled
    And empty of life, his face pulled down by
    A heavy gravity, too much woe for his age.

    The driver breaks a rule and stops the cab
    In front of the ice cream shop and he takes
    The boy's hand and leads him inside, watching
    The strange looks he gets from the patrons
    And the clerk but he smiles for the boy
    And they eat ice cream, while the boy's
    Face overcomes gravity and he smiles.

    The weeks go by and the driver
    Happy to break his own rules
    Speaks to the boy, gruff tones
    But a smile on his face
    The boy's name is Rasheed
    After his dad, who is dead
    But lives on in the boy's dreams

    Rainy morning but the driver feels happy, he knows why.
    A rainy morning, and he has to take a city-paid kid
    To school again, but he plays the radio (another rule broken)
    While he drives to the kid's house.

    The flashing red and blue lights, and yellow tape
    Tell part of the story, while the cop fills in the rest.
    The boy was waiting on the porch for his ride
    And the gangbangers were shooting
    And the boy caught one.

    His mother screams in a knot of sisters
    Rain flattening their clothes and hair
    The driver sits in the cab, a cigarette burning
    Unsmoked, straight to ash, stares at his
    Face in the rear view mirror, the back seat
    Empty, the little lunch box he bought
    Forlorn, like trash collection
    Two days after Christmas
    And the driver breaks
    One last rule and cries.
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