I remember that strange and hazy night, like a dream or a bizarre trip to another dimension. The electric pulse of a nearby dive bar reached out to me, a message in the static ether, a request for a ride from a woman with a 4.4 rider rating. Against my better judgment, for I typically don’t pick up riders below 4.6, I accepted. She was right around the corner, and even though my instincts screamed at me to avoid the situation, I went for it.
The passenger was an intriguing sight, a young woman with a tomboyish charm that spoke of courage and the defiance of societal expectations. She was garbed in a baggy sweatshirt and a baseball cap, which gave her a certain ruggedness that I found refreshing. The notion that she would be a delicate flower, easily wilted by the harsh words of others, seemed far-fetched.
We exchanged words during the ride, the content of which now eludes me, but I remember her demeanor being cordial, pleasant even. I was mystified at how such a creature could have amassed such a low rating. As we neared her destination, I decided to take the plunge and ask the question that had been gnawing at my mind: “Why the hell is your rating so low? You’re delightful!”
She blinked at me, confusion plain on her face. So, I elucidated how drivers like myself rate riders in the same manner that riders scrutinize us. And that’s when the deluge began – she wept like a hurricane, her shoulders shaking, her face buried in her hands. The car was flooded with anguish, a torrential downpour of emotion that I was ill-prepared for. She sobbed, “I don’t understand it. I try so hard to be good to everyone. Why don’t they like me?”
Guilt twisted in my stomach, a nauseating concoction of regret and shame. I had stripped her armor away and exposed a raw, vulnerable soul to the cold winds of judgment. I hadn’t anticipated such a reaction; I had merely made an offhand comment without considering the consequences. I was the culprit of this outpouring of grief, and I desperately sought to make amends.
I stammered my apologies, trying to offer consolation. “It’s just a damn rating,” I told her, “Don’t let it define you. Could’ve been one bloody-minded driver who gave you a low score because you didn’t tip, or maybe because of some other insignificant slight.”
“What do you want? More money?” She rummaged through her purse, producing a wad of crumpled dollar bills. She thrust them at me, her eyes red and wet, her voice breaking.
“Take it back!” I protested, refusing the offering. “I don’t want your money! It’s not about the money. Your rating is nothing to be ashamed of.” I confessed to her about my own struggles with low ratings and reminded her that these numbers don’t define our worth.
Finally, as we pulled up to her residence, I punched in the ‘arrived to location’ on my app and showed her the screen. “Look! Five stars for you! See? See? Five stars!” I pleaded, hoping to ease her suffering. But she was still inconsolable, tears streaming down her face as she disembarked from the car and staggered into her home.
The entire episode continues to haunt me still, like the relentless specter of a terrible sin. I only hope that the haze of alcohol shields her from the memory of that night. And yet, I cannot shake the guilt, the feeling of responsibility that continues to cling to me. I swear, I shall never divulge another rider’s rating to them, not for all the treasures of this blasted world.