Bird Song

Author: Morrow Brady

Meetings downtown were always a bore and as the driverless cab pulled up, I began mentally preparing for what lay ahead. I blackened the windows to stop the view of the street beggars and urban decay. They always brought me down.

“Good morning Sir. I’m Cabbie. 269 Market Street is that right?” A cheerful English accent rang out.

I acknowledged and reached for my phone to fill time.

“Sir, my recent upgrade means I can now offer additional services while we travel. Would you like to hear what they are?”

I pondered what services beyond transportation a driverless cab could offer until curiosity got the better of me.

“Sure, go ahead”

“I can offer casual chatter, cheeky banter or even an argument. We could have a deep and meaningful conversation or I could briefly psychoanalyze you. If you were here with your spouse, I could provide marriage counseling. And if your belief system bears sin, I can offer confession”

The last one took me by surprise.

“Confession?” I snapped. “How can a computer that drives be holy enough to listen, counsel and punish?”

Cabbie informs me its AI-based at headquarters had passed the Turing test and been awarded a digital soul. Confessions were a regular activity for many of the city inhabitants, and the privacy that a cab ride offers, suited them remarkably well. This was a marketing masterstroke aimed at broadening its income stream.

Confessions were never part of my upbringing. My awareness of them through media though had always piqued my interest and as I thought about what I could confess, I very quickly built up a rather large list.

“How much for a confession?” I queried.

“Fifty credits for 20 minutes Sir. Penance will be delivered upon completion of the confession”

I considered the burdensome weight I had carried for all these years and how some mental spring cleaning might lighten the load.

I began confessing the trivial bad things I had done, like breaking a lover’s heart, wilful damage, greed and laziness. I worked through my younger years, easily slipping into buried memories of passion and hate. It made me feel better and Cabbie compassionately carried the discourse along with a stern but sympathetic tone.

Slowly I moved through my darker patches. The time just beyond youth when one is faced with adult issues and must respond in an adult manner. I had never been prepared for many of these situations, I often acted out irrationally. That time that I beat him so bad and had to leave for good in the dark of night. That drunken, drug-addled moment – lost in a strange city, with strangers as best friends egging me on to finish him off. I vanished there too with his wallet and car.

I was starting to run out of confessions and felt reborn. My mind had cleared. I felt fresh and new.

The cab had stopped and silence lingered.

“But what about my penance?” I pleaded. “I’ve given my confession. How should I make amends?”

The door of the cab unlocked. I refused to leave. My temper rising. I needed to be acknowledged. I needed my punishment to reset the system. As I lurched forward in anger, the door swiftly opened and a dark figure dragged me from the car. I scrambled to my feet, lashing out and ran free only to find four walls and no escape.

The sally port at the downtown police station was a secure space and the policeman who approached me took their time.


  1. Jae

    Oops. A fun extension of ‘talking to strangers’ into ‘talking to interconnected strangers’.

  2. djl

    Life’s fitful fever! Nicely told!

  3. SimonJM

    What’s that famous saying about minutes and suckers? 😉

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