by Taylor Lovullo


I remember it starting out like a normal Saturday afternoon. I had nearly finished my studying for the day, so I closed the cover of my history textbook and placed the cap on my pen. There were just a few more pages of the chapter left to read for when I got home later that night. I switched off the lamp at my desk— I always studied with the light on, being careful not to strain my eyes. Even though it was late April and the sun was shining outside, it still always felt dark in my dorm room since a larger academic building loomed nearby, never allowing for many rays to filter through. 

I grabbed my purse and keys— I wouldn’t need much, since I was just babysitting for some family friends that happened to live in DC, albeit on the other side of the District from Foggy Bottom, where I was attending a University. I was wrapping up my second year and was content with my experience in college so far— I studied hard during the day, spent time with my friends at night, and picked up a little extra cash babysitting for a few families on weekends.

I looked at the time: it was 4:30. On Saturdays I usually left at 4:00 and took the metro to the other side of town to arrive at the house by 5:00, but today, I needed every spare minute I could find to study. Finals were two weeks away and I was feeling particularly stressed about my history exam. So today, I figured I would just take an Uber.

I stepped outside and hailed an Uber from my phone. I selected the “Pool” option, which meant I might have had to share the car with another passenger who had a similar destination along the way, — but it was worth it since the Pool option was always a few dollars cheaper.  I waited for the man named Abdou in the grey Honda Civic with the license plate number starting with 7KJ. It was a beautiful afternoon — I noted that, for the first time in a while, I didn’t need any type of jacket. I picked at some fuzz on my shirt and stood idly until I saw the grey car with 7KJ on the front plate. He asked my name when he pulled up to the curb. 

“Yes, that’s me,” I replied. I opened the door and took a seat on the felt cushions in the back. 

“How are you today, Miss?” Abdou inquired. He had a thick accent, and his words came out noticeably slow and spaced apart. I smiled and looked at myself in the rear-view mirror from the back seat. 

“I’m doing well, thank you. A little stressed because all my final exams are coming up, but you could say everything is pretty good,” I responded as I reached for my seatbelt.

Whenever I was in an Uber or a cab, I tried to not only answer the questions coming from the front seat, but also to add in a little detail out of politeness. I didn’t want to drop one-word answers and then sit in silence for the rest of the drive, like I’d seen some of my friends do when we shared an Uber together— I knew it had to be dull for the driver, chauffeuring strangers around for scant pay. I never minded having a bit of dialogue with them, and I knew it would help break up the monotony of their job, being behind the wheel all day long. And I had at least a twenty-minute drive with this man ahead of us, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to make some conversation.

“Ahhh, yes. So, you are college student? Do you enjoy it?” Abdou asked. 

“Yes, I really do. It’s always really hard work, but luckily summer is just around the corner and I’m in for a nice long break.”

This made Abdou laugh, for some reason. A bellowing, cheerful laugh, which filled me with joy even though I didn’t really know why he thought my answer was so funny.

“You a lucky girl.” He said, grinning in the mirror.

Abdou was probably in his early to mid-sixties, with dark, smiling eyes and graying hair pulled into shoulder-length dreadlocks. We drove a few blocks through Foggy Bottom, and he remarked how nice the neighborhood was. He continued to ask me questions, and even though the conversation lagged a bit because sometimes it took him several seconds to register what I said, I genuinely didn’t mind talking to him. We kept on chatting, and the way that he computed his answers thoughtfully before saying them aloud made it obvious to me that he likely had only recently learned English.

“Where are you from, sir?” I asked as we made a right turn.

“Senegal,” he said wistfully, but he managed to still smile.

“Really?! How cool,” I replied. “I speak a little French… Do you speak French or Wolof back home?” As someone who was interested in languages, I was curious to hear the answer to this question.

He smiled again, with a twinkle in his eye. “I can speak both… smart young lady. You are like my daughter, back in Senegal.”

I returned his grin. I liked Abdou— he reminded me of some dear little grandfather and his kind spirit showed through despite the obvious language barrier. And as someone who spent years studying French but still only able to speak a smattering, I appreciated the fact that this man was becoming trilingual and I didn’t mind the heavy accent that blanketed his words. A good man, I thought. I was just about to ask how much time he’d been in the United States for and why he’d left Senegal when we eased to a stop. 

“Another passenger,” Abdou explained.
v I looked out the window and saw an older man approaching our car. He was rail thin, wearing a grey suit, with his white hair combed back and a leather briefcase in hand. Clearly a lawyer or lobbyist or businessman, which were as abundant passing through the streets of my university as students were, due its proximity to some of the most important buildings in the nation’s capital. So, it didn’t surprise me that a man like this one was getting into the car—I’d seen them walking around all the time.

However, I was immediately unsettled by him. He seemed cold and hardened in his posture and facial expression as he strode toward the car. He opened the door, sat in the passenger’s seat and peered back at me. I met his steely blue gaze and noticed a frown that appeared permanently fixed, given the depth of the wrinkles around his mouth and the sagging features of his face. He turned back towards the front and muttered something under his breath.

I didn’t hear what he said. Clearly Abdou didn’t either, because he didn’t respond and our car remained quiet for several moments. I wasn’t even sure if his mutterings were directed to anyone in particular.

More grumbling came from the man with the icy presence. This time, it sounded angrier. Abdou glanced at me in the mirror with a questioning look in his dark eyes, and I just shook my head slightly as if to indicate “I have no idea what he is saying, either.” 

Finally, the white-haired passenger erupted as we came to a red light.

“I’m talking to you, you dumb *%^{+@!” He shouted, turning to face Abdou. 

The abruptness of it nearly jolted me from my seat, and my jaw dropped in disbelief.

The word was like lightning once it left his mouth— it shocked with its potency and then lingered in the air for a few moments. It left nothing in its wake except a dead silence.

It genuinely shocked me. I had grown up learning to never use that word or refer to anyone by it. It conjured negative images of the past by labeling someone in a derogatory way because of how they looked. Abdou was visibly shaken, too: his eyes lost their sparkle and his body stiffened up.

“I am sorry, sir, I just did not hear what you said.”

“How could you not hear that? I was speaking right at you. I was asking you a question. You’re just a dumb *%^{+@ ,” he repeated, shaking his head vigorously. “And it wouldn’t hurt to learn some goddamned English while you’re living in this country.”

I cringed and looked in the mirror at my Uber driver. Abdou’s jaw clenched but he said nothing. No reaction whatsoever. I mentally applauded him for not stopping the car and reaching behind him to strangle the white-haired man sitting to my right. We just rode on in silence until we reached 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, near the Washington Monument. Abdou rolled to a stop. 

“We are here. Have a nice day, sir,” Abdou said calmly as the man in the grey suit grabbed his briefcase and slammed the car door behind him without saying another word.

Abdou glanced at the map on his phone propped up on the dashboard. He was calculating which route would get me to Anacostia the quickest while I was still struggling to register what had just transpired in front of me. We weaved through the heart of the nation’s capital until we reached the 695 Highway. We got on and drove without a word spoken between us for several minutes.

Still feeling uneasy, I looked at the time on my phone. 4:49. I would be right on time to my babysitting job. Then, I tried to block out what had happened and concentrate my attention on my phone to return a text message. But a noise from Abdou in the front seat made me look up once again.

He was crying. Large tears slid down his ebony face and I felt that my mouth was agape. Suddenly, it occurred to me this was probably not the first time an incident like the one I’d just witnessed had happened to him. Should I say something? I thought. But what on earth could I possibly say?

“Abdou, are you alright?” I asked softly. 

Silence. I only found my answer when he switched on his turn signal moments later and glanced back at the car’s blind spot with teary eyes. We pulled onto the right shoulder of the highway and stopped. 

To my astonishment, he put his head on the wheel and began to sob as if he’d just lost a child. Loud, unapologetic sobbing. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen a man cry. 

I just sat in the back quietly with my own head bowed down, staring at my hands in my lap. A few more minutes passed, and I contemplated calling someone for help when I finally decided to ask one more time: 

“Abdou, are you alright?”

He lifted his face and turned around slowly. He had finished crying, but his cheeks were still streaked with tears and I could see a profound pain dwelling in his eyes. 

“Do you really think I wanted to be an Uber driver? Do you think this is the life I wanted?”

I weighed the two questions, and a deep sadness gnawed away at my heart.

“No,” was all I could say.

Abdou sighed deeply and blinked a few times. He pulled back onto the freeway and I just watched out the window as the trees rolled by— they were growing back their thick green leaves in full force. It was undoubtedly a warm, gorgeous spring day, but all I could feel was the cold of winter in the depth of my soul.

I returned to my dorm later that evening. My roommate was out with her boyfriend, so I was alone, left to finish my reading from earlier that day. I flicked on the lamp, opened my history textbook again, and tried my hardest to study, but I just couldn’t. All I could do was weep for what I had seen that afternoon.

About the Author:

Taylor Lovullo

Taylor Lovullo is a Junior at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. with a major in Spanish and Latin American Languages, Literature, & Cultures. She grew up in Southern California and enjoys reading, learning languages, and traveling. This is her second short story published in the Adelaide Literary Magazine.