Mar 24 2009
Late one night last fall, in a packed cab, I sat up in the front seat with the driver. I was the designated directions-giver. At a stoplight our driver sighed, setting his hand heavily on the CVS bags sitting between us.
“You look tired. Are you okay?” I asked, a bit concerned for him, a lot concerned for me and the other passengers.
“Yes, very,” he answered with a heavy accent. I guessed he was from somewhere in India. “My wife is pregnant.”
“Ooh.” I answered in some contrived, childless understanding.
He continued, seemingly eager to explain himself. Were other fares not as chatty as me? Didn’t he eat at diners and kvetch with the other cabbies like in Taxi Driver? “She is in Bangladesh. She’s due September 28th, and I leave to go there soon.”
This silenced the crowd. None of us knew what to say, especially when we learned his wife was just short of earning a degree there when she got pregnant and had to stop her studies. We listened only to air rushing through the windows for several blocks.
“If you turn right here you’ll bypass Davis. It’s a shortcut.”
I tried hard to remember where Bangladesh was in relation to India. East? I looked it up when I got home: east.
After a pause, my companions and I gently prodded the driver with more questions. “Left here…. So, what do you do there?”
After all, to a car-full of people with multiple degrees, his seemed an unfathomable existence. He quickly and unknowingly put us in our place. He has a Master’s degree and, from what I could understand, teaches women about pre- and post-natal health when working in Bangladesh. Driving a cab was the easiest way to make fast money: enough money to get to and from Bangladesh when necessary with a little to save in the bringing-the-family-together-in-the-US fund.
I was troubled threefold. I was troubled by how little I understood his situation. I was troubled by how little I could do to help him at all; would two extra dollars in tip get his children here? Lastly I was troubled by how condescending it could be to do anything, say anything.
When we arrived at my door I handed him the fare, a healthy tip, and thought of the Gambian driver I had who was paying his way through a Master’s at MIT and the driver from Côte D’Ivoire who was saving up to visit his family. “Good luck,” I said through the open window. “Good luck with the baby.”
Llalan specializes in all things Ohio, but has funny stories from all over the US and Canada, plus a few snort-inducing ones from Thailand. And not only does she read books from around the world, she also samples beers in as many languages as possible. Favorite style: the multi-national American Double IPA.