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Mitch Albom: The cab driver was looking for his missing son

One week ago, I got into a taxi. It was a hot and humid Sunday morning in Bristol, Conn. I was heading to the airport.

"How you doing?" I said, sliding in.

The man behind the wheel only nodded. He was foreign looking with balding black hair and heavy jowls.

We drove in silence for half a minute. Then, without turning around, he spoke.

"My son is missing. He fall into river. Nobody find him."

At first, I thought I misheard him.

"Your son fell into a river?"

"Yes. They no find him. I look for him today, after I take you."

"I'm ... so sorry," I said. "What happened?"

"He go tubing. Six people with him. All them get out, but they no find my son. Police, nothing. The water very fast. Big wind. Everybody roll like five, six time in the tube, one there, one there. They get out. Only my son no."

He shook his head.

"Today, maybe I get a boat."

There are moments when a conversation leaves you utterly without reply. Here was a tragic story. Totally unexpected. And I could not comprehend how a man whose son was missing in a river had managed to come to work at all.

But I could tell that Shah Alam, an immigrant from Bangladesh, who said he was a father of six kids -- one of whom was either dead or alive -- wanted to talk.

So I listened.

He spoke about his son, Nasir, "a good kid," 25 years old, who "have a good job" and who spent several years in college studying to be a medical technician. He still lived at home with his father, stepmother and siblings.

"He just buy a new car," Shah said.

The previous Tuesday, Nasir had gone with friends to ride tubes down the rain-swollen Farmington River. They had barely gotten into the water before realizing it was too high and too rough. The others bailed out, grabbing onto tree branches or rocks.

Nasir was, according to his father, out of his tube and being drawn down by the fast current. One of the group grabbed onto him, "but the water too strong," Shah said, "he let go."

Since then, no one had seen him.

The taxi rolled on, heading north on I-84. Shah Alam sighed. He talked about his frustration with the police. It had been five days. Rather than sit and do nothing, he had spent Saturday walking miles along the river banks, hoping to find Nasir, perhaps lost or hurt, but alive.

"I gonna go look today in the woods area," he said. "Who knows? Maybe he hiding in the woods and he passed out."

Shah said in his gut he knew his son was alive. That a father just knows when that's true.

"If I find somebody who have a boat, maybe I can see better," he said.

How many times, in the course of a day, do we encounter people with whom we exchange a few words? Behind a counter? On a bus? Maybe they look sour. Maybe they seem cross. How often do we consider the burdens they might be hiding?

Shah Alam said his son couldn't swim. He said he didn't know why he got in such dangerous water at 4 p.m. in the afternoon. He said he was only driving the cab today because "somebody has to work (in the family). If I go down, what happens to them?"

He looked out the windshield. "I have house, have good life, I don't know what happen, why it happen like this?"

We reached the airport. I got out. I took his information. He thanked me and shook my hand.

Once inside, I immediately checked the Internet to verify his story. I read multiple news reports from Connecticut newspapers and TV stations. It was all true. Nasir Alam. Missing. Searches yield nothing. I looked out the airport windows, but the taxi was long gone.

In a perfect world, I end this column with the son's recovery. But this is not a perfect world. Less than 48 hours after our ride together, Nasir's body was found floating in the river, by a park, four miles from where he was last seen.

One week ago, I got in a taxi. Today, I will encounter someone else. We rarely know what sadness people drag with them to work. If we did, we'd probably be nicer to one another.

Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. E-mail ,malbom@freepress.com.



By MITCH ALBOM