A burnt-out cab

There’s a cluster of taxi garages under the el, just around the corner from me. The mechanics bang battered cabs back into shape, swap in good parts for bad, spray-paint them yellow (or now, often, apple green), and send them back out onto the street. Sometimes I stop to watch.

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Today I came across a burnt-out wreck in front of one of the garages (they’re closed on Sundays). The cab’s front end and engine block were in fine shape, as were the fenders and tires. It hadn’t been in an accident on the road. Whether someone had torched it or somehow it just caught fire, I couldn’t tell.

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The inside of the cab was a congealed stew of melted foam, plastic, pleather; broken glass, tangles of wires, scorched computer circuit boards; exposed aluminum and steel here and there—the skeleton revealed; and lingering everywhere, the unmistakable smell man-made materials give off when they’re set on fire.

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A thick book was lying on the floor by the front passenger seat. I tried to lift the cover, but it was encased in melted foam. I bent away a few of the charred pages and looked at the unfamiliar script, Bengali as far as I could tell. The paper stock and the quality of the print suggested that the book was not an inexpensive volume. It had been made to last.

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I didn’t find any sign in the vehicle itself (or in the news) that anyone had been hurt. With any luck, the worst of it was the loss of the book. Tomorrow morning, or whenever they get around to it, the guys at the garage will pick over the remains, salvage what’s worth salvaging, and have the rest hauled away.