The Cab Driver


It is 12:45 pm in March, the morning in-flow traffic is just handing over to city runs. The blazing sun deters even the most defiant trekker from avoiding cabs. Abuja is such a city where one tenth of its population reside in the suburbs; in the morning everyone is in a mad rush to get in, and at noon everyone searches for the fastest exit from its sun.
Just like the lions of the Serengeti, cab drivers like Ola don’t have to stay long in the business to know this is the kill period.
But rather than the usual first-day-of-week excitement, Ola feels something inside that leaves him between a rage and a need to cry, really cry out. No, it’s not his resentment at the job, which is like a cancer you already is there, and some day it will either kill you, live with you or magically go away. It’s about a call he just received, a soul crucifying call.
For the past year his job has been to pick people up and drop them off wherever they wished and get paid for it: just pick, drop, and get paid. Much as he hates the job, the last part still interests him for obvious reasons. He barely looks at the faces of his passengers, and there is a part of him that wishes they did just the same. Some people would say you should be proud of what you do, but what if ‘what’ you are stuck with isn’t what you should be doing? You will just be like a dog that rolled in palm oil and has become a nuisance to everyone just because he doesn’t like his new coat. What pride is in driving a cab when you have a master’s degree? He has lived with that for a year and six months now, in the same city where he once was something else, something better.
Maybe driving a cab is what you get to do when someone sacks you and, not only publishes your name in a disclaimer, but also tells the world it’s dangerous doing business with you. Though he had nothing to do with the scam incident, and everyone tells him it would be fine but he knows in their minds they actually mean he should sing that to a herd of sheep. No one will hire him in the industry anymore so he has to covert his last car to a cab to make sure his family stays, at least, a distance from the talons of poverty. It sickens him most when he remembers his fine grey Peugeot 307 now painted that measly cab color.
The snarl of hones brings him back to the present, he impulsively changes his gear. It takes him ten more seconds to realize his engine is only roaring at a standstill. God, how could he have forgotten his foot on the crush? Readjusts in near panic, but it’s of no use, the traffic light has glided back to red. His raised apologetic wave does nothing but brings more scowls at him. What else can a man do, go on his knees and plead? He swallows hard and looks sternly ahead.
He feels like crying but a choke helps him stifle it. The traffic is flowing again and he feels a little better as the street moves steadily by. He glances at the rear mirror to be sure his passenger doesn’t notice, the old fellow is looking out of the window in a graceful nonchalance. If only he got that call later he would not have picked the old one, that should help him deal with his problem better.
His phone rings a second time.
“Excuse me, sir…” he appeals to the old fellow and pulls over to answer the call. The old fellow doesn’t say a word.
“Now? ...Ok… thank you, Greg, thank you… yes… yes,” he says into the phone as he ends the call. Then he lets out a deep sigh of resignation and involuntarily allows his head come down on the steering, he doesn’t notice how hard that is.
He must be passing out, his mind tells him. He fights his way back to consciousness.
“ Sorry, sir,” he scans for the old fellow’s figure again, and just like the other time, the man is on the right side of the back seat staring out in his apparent indifference.
He re-engages his gear to move on.
“Son, you mind sharing? Whatever, it is.”
The voice is like axing a glass, he feels the glass in his mind shatter and for a while he is confused. Share? What is he going to share with him, a total stranger? My family is his business, thinks. Besides he has always kept his passengers of his track, for everyone’s good. That driver-passenger chitchat makes him feel like real cab driver, it’s not funny because he isn’t one. Why do people always want ‘victim of circumstance’ defined for them? He looks again at the mirror and the man hasn’t changed his posture, or even bothers to look at him, but there is a palpable expectation in the air that overwhelms him.
“It’s my wife,” he replies.
“Is someone hurt?” the old fellow’s voice is calm, and there is a genteelness about him that not only overwhelms you but also compels you.
Why should I tell him this? No, I don’t have to, he thinks. But instead he breaks down, “It’s my wife, she is cheating on me”
The old fellow doesn’t reply. He is one of those graying ones with thick beard that rounds up with neat mass of hair at the cheeks; his shirt is bright blue, the trousers black-grey and well ironed. He strikes like one of those kinds that loves doing, no, do their washing and ironing themselves as a matter of principle.
Ola fights to keep his sob from going hysterical. “My friend says it has been going on for a while now, a week to be precise. The same man, finally he thought I should know”
“Has your wife ever cheated on you?”
“I don’t know. She married and insurance manager, not a cab driver.”
“You think this man might be better than you are, and that is why?”
“I don’t know. She is with him now. In my own house, our bed; this is wicked.”
The old fellow allows that to pass.
“Do you trust your wife?”
“She is a woman, I don’t know.” Now he is shivering all over and a little incoherent.
“A woman will cheat if she will, not in any way more than a man will, if he will. You either trust someone or you don’t them, their gender isn’t an issue. And, young man, you don’t take someone’s words for it.”
“My friend wouldn’t lie about my wife.”
“You want to go check this out for yourself, young man”
“I don’t know, sir. I don’t want to see her do this to me”
There is silence. All Ola wants is take this old man to his destination and just drive on, drive away and never come back. Someday he will come for his kids, but now he has to clear his head.
“Drive to your house.”
The words hit him like a thunder bolt. They don’t come out like a command but there is a tinge of authority in them that chills him to the bones. He turns and finds himself looking straight into the old fellow’s face for the first time, and the old one nods him on.
A block away from his home is safe enough to avoid detection. The old fellow follows a couple of steps behind; he is lean and graceful with age.
At the door, all he could do is look at the knob as if he’d never seen a thing like that. Still beaten and confused he turns to the old fellow and as if to be reassured.
“I love her” he mutters.
The old fellow gazes at him, an inch or two taller, and expressionless, “you do. Go ahead.”
He noiselessly turns the knob, and right before him is a man on his settee, backing the door and him. Should he pick up something and shatter his skull at once? Should he wait and let him plead? Should he…
“Honey”
His wife emerges from the kitchen, shocked to see him. The man turns around in surprise.
“Ola”
Alarmed, all he could come up with is, “It’s you, Dan.”
Dan is his wife’s elder brother.
He turns to the door. The old man shows a smile, “can you drive me now?”

Comments

  1. INTERESTINGING...

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  2. Bloody rumour mongers...they are everywhere...great post!

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  3. I actually smiled at the end...wooosh thank God...I could feel the cab guys pain and could relate to his circumstances. It is really hard when a person falls in status and also financially. Beautiful writing.

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  4. Jude! Jude!! I could almost strangle you, the suspense is killing!!!

    ReplyDelete

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