It would be neglectful to tell the story I just did without telling the story that preceded it. Several months ago, before the sleepless night, before the swollen eyes, before caramel handshakes and grins over the partition, there was another.
I don’t know his name because he never told me, but I climbed in the back of his cab one chilly morning in November, lugging a big navy suitcase with a broken wheel, and settled in the back, shaking out my sore hand as he asked where I was going. After I gave him directions to my office he chirped, “You hungry?”
I was hungry. But I wasn’t accustomed to partaking in food from strangers, much less cab drivers on cold November mornings on my way out of town. But before I had a chance to respond he was handing me half of his bagel, clean cut and carefully wrapped in foil. “Oh no, I’m okay, really!”
“No no. You hungry. Eat! Is good.”
I eyed the breakfast and the driver, the latter tallish and Middle Eastern with dark and silvery hair that was almost elegant. Both seemed clean and fairly trustworthy, so I tentatively asked, “What kind is it?”
“Cinnamon raisin. Toasted. With butter. Eat! Is good.”
I was hungry…
“Where you going?”
I took a bite of the bagel. “I’m going home to California. I’m so excited– all my family is there.”
“Oooh your family live out there?”
“Yes. I miss them a lot.”
“Your husband live here?”
“No, I don’t live with a husband.”
Immediately I could tell something was wrong. Even through bleary morning eyes and the crinkling of foil I could see the back of his neck tense up and hear the pitch of his voice raise.
“That is no good. You must live with husband! Man and woman no live apart! You must be in same house–“
“Oh no no no! I don’t have a husband! NO husband! I live alone– no husband! If I did we would not live apart. You’re right! It’s NOT good. No husband, but I definitely would…”
He was visibly relieved.
“Oh. Is good. You have boyfriend?”
“You know, I tell you something. Marriage hard work. But good work. You find good man to marry, love him. All people these days, they marry, and like moving into house– you have house and light bulb break, you move house? No! You fix bulb! So many people just move house! Stay– fix it! Good house!”
I loved this conversation already. Crumpling the now empty sheet of foil, I was about to ask him a question when he reached into the bag beside him and pulled out a steaming styrofoam cup.
I refused again, this time for good, but not without so many protestations on his part. “I won’t drink! Is good! You sure? Here. Napkins.”
I cleaned my fingers and he continued. “Woman like egg– what happens when you hold egg too tight? …That’s right, break! You hold tender. Gentle. Egg not fragile, but you hold too tight, too rough– squish! Gentle with egg, gentle with woman.”
He continued in this way, expounding passionately on simple yet profound analogies for marriage and relationship that would have silenced Dr. Phil and befuddled half my generation. I loved every word.
We were nearing my destination by this point so I kept asking questions and offering my agreeing opinions, trying to get any more from him. When we stopped he looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, “You have safe trip! Tell your family taxi driver from New York says hello and greetings!”
I couldn’t contain my laughter as I swung open the door. “I will!”
And I did.