By Jhon Sanchez
Thanks to Martha Hughes, Sam Ferri, Nan Fryland, and Emma Komlos-Hrobsky for their editorial comments
Without paying attention, Gonzalo heard what the woman in the passenger seat said, “At least you must have music in this cab, or don’t you have that either?”
The backseat complaints were something he heard all the time. On a summer night like this one, “A cab without air conditioner?” During winter nights, “No heat here at all?” And the most patient passengers would ask, “Is this a church bench?” as they had keenly observed the backseat’s cushioned red kneeler, wooden cross rails and gothic-carved arms.
“Did you hear me?” The woman cried out and Gonzalo imagined how her wide buttocks would shift sideways to ease the pressure from the wood. Her ballooned stomach made her sit in the middle of the car in between the two front seats, having her two legs separated. She had placed her leopard-print, pony fur portfolio in between her knees, and she pressed them, deforming the briefcase’s shape.
“Music must be mandatory; I think it is,” she mumbled.
As he took the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, he started to hum “Bésame Mucho.”
“Besaaaame ta-tataaaa. Ta-tataaaa…”
In the mirror Gonzalo saw how the woman lay back against the bench as the locks that held each of its sides creaked. She turned around and saw a pit behind the bench connecting with the trunk. There were two wheels and a jack.
“I don’t think this is legal, not even in Brooklyn,” she said as she poked her finger at Gonzalo.
“If my phone wasn’t dead, I would call the police to let them know—”
“Ma’am, you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to.”
She stumbled against the bench, her huge dewlap inflated, and she blew out from her nose. An already known reaction for Gonzalo; he did not want to make things even worse.
“You can give me a bit of money if you feel like it.”
“Drop me off at any subway stop—”
But the wind of the highway came so strongly that it quieted her voice like splashing water on a flame.
Gonzalo came to a stop at the tollbooth, but suddenly he realized that he was in the wrong lane, the line for E-ZPass.
He extended his hairy right arm with drops of sweat like morning dew over the grass and said, “Stick out your hand; wave it. Do you know how to whistle?”
The woman nodded, confused.
“We need to change lanes. Go quickly.”
The woman put two fingers in each corner of her lips, and the sound came out strongly.
“That was good. Who can believe that you are able to whistle like that. None of my passengers had had lungs as good as you. Most of them do not know how to do it.”
“None of your passengers?”
“Well, I do not use the honk. We do not have a honk, but with your lungs who needs it?”
“I am baffled. You don’t have a HOOORN. I will be grateful if I arrive alive.”
Showing three missing teeth, Gonzalo giggled. “In more than thirty years, I have not had a single accident. Not even a speeding ticket.”
The traffic came to a stop. She moved her head to look at a multicolor jam of cars’ lights in the same side of the highway without a single car coming in the opposite direction.
“I am glad I am not in a hurry,” she said.
After ten minutes, her eyes took some air of desperation, and she put her head in between the two front seats. “It is an accident or a terrorist attack. Who knows?” The air from her mouth blew Gonzalo’s white thin hair that died out in some kind of light yellow.
“Nothing better than wait.” Gonzalo looked at her with a smile without a hint of irony.
The reaction, instead of calming her, enraged her.
“What kind of psycho are you? I can’t survive in these conditions. Not even someone to talk to. If you have something in mind, I will start to cry. I can cry for help like a crazy. I will cry,” she said as she punched the front passenger seat with her right hand and squeezed wrinkling the leather of her leopard print briefcase.
As Gonzalo was looking for something in the front passenger seat, the woman lay back and grabbed the edges of the church bench. Her neck took the same position as a cobra in attack but decorated with three layers of pearls.
Gonzalo took a parrot and put it on the top of the front passenger seat, and he mumbled, “Don’t eat it.”
“God, what is that? A parrot? A parrot? I can be allergic. You don’t know. What company is this?”
“Principito was sleeping,” Gonzalo said apologetically but ignored the woman.
“I should never have gotten off LIRR in Crown Heights. Never. This is hell. That’s why nobody wants to buy apartments there.” She took out her cell phone and shook it.
The parrot started to lick his finger and moved from side to side swinging his head. “RRRRR! Where are you from?”
The traffic started to move slowly.
“I should never have gotten this limousine taxi. I can be raped or—you know, this is animal torture,” she cried.
“RRR! Where are you from, BITCH? BITCH, where are you from?”
“BITCH! Did he actually me call me bitch?”
“He can also say Puta marranana.”
“RRRR! Puta marrana, gorda hijueputa.”
“Can you quiet that animal?”
“Bitch, puta marrana, gorda hijueputa. RRRR!”
Waving his palm down with his long yellowish nails, he said, “Calm down, ma’am. He is not going to be quiet until you answer the question.”
“Question?” She brought her well-manicured hands to her mouth and bit her index finger nail, breaking it.
“Where are you from?” Gonzalo asked.
“Where are you from? the parrot echoed.
She hugged her briefcase. “What kind of information you want to extract from me? I protect my buyers. They trust me to get their homes,” she mumbled.
“PUTA MARRANA; GORDA HIJUEPUTA. PUTA MARRANA. BITCH,” The bird said even louder.
Gonzalo glimpsed at her freckled, cushioned arms and said calmly, “Just look at him and tell him.”
She sighed, “Ohio…Columbus.”
“Columbus,” said the woman.
“No, he is saying that he is Colombian.”
“Talk quieter. He may become nervous and loud again.”
She kept quiet for a while. Suddenly, covering her mouth with her hand full of rings, she laughed when the parrot moved his head twice.
“I guess there in your country, Colombia, there are a lot of animals like this one. What is his name?”
Gonzalo went on without correcting the woman’s pronunciation. “All kinds of animals and fruits.”
“So, why did you come here? So you can drive this cab with animals with all those illegal things,” she said as she fanned her neck with a New Yorker magazine.
“I never come here,” he said as he dried the sweat of his nape with a towel with black stains of car oil.
“You are mentally ill, a really crazy person, and crude, to boot.”
“Crazy, crazy,” said the parrot.
“If you have not realized, you are already here.”
“Ma’am, I meant, I did not come here under my own will…a long story. After many years, I can say that I was swallowed or I slipped in…”
“That’s why I don’t like to travel. You never know if you are able to return. I have gone only once to Paris, the most terrible place in the whole world. They did not even speak English, and everybody is drunk. Can you imagine if for some reason and couldn’t come back? If there is some kind of war…slipped in. Ah…quicksand, you meant?”
“Not exactly. I meant swallowed.”
There was a long silence. Even the parrot seemed to sense that something had hit the conversation.
“Can you guide me to Central Park West, the John Lennon building, you said?”
“Oh, God,” she said as she shrugged and rolled her blue eyes. “What kind of cab driver are you? Everybody knows the building where John Lennon was killed. Go along 59th Street and make a right at the circle. I’ll show you.” She took a pill with some water. “You should take one of these. They prevent you from sweating,” she said, moving her eyes from his wet neck to the dirty towel that now was on the center console.
Gonzalo ventured, “They say that Yoko Ono made him a sculpture, Imagine.”
“Imagine.” And the parrot repeated three times. “Imagine, imagine, imagine.”
“I have never seen it,” said Gonzalo, gently pulling the corner of his chevron-style mustache.
“This is only for tourists and the park has a curfew after eleven. I have never—” She bit her lip. “I guess you are like me too. There are things you never do.” She dropped the intonation, thinking it over. “I have never walked without shoes, not even when I had to sell Japanese houses.” Her fingertips sensed the side of her briefcase and pulled out among the files a pair of sandals, plastic gloves, and a silver fork. “I always have my sandals with me.”Gonzalo thought how it would be to live with never feeling in the skin of his feet the roughness of the rocks, the wetness of the grass, or the crunchiness of the dry leaves.
Gonzalo wanted to say that when he was a child, he ran barefoot over the mud, sand, and the ponds left by the rain in his neighborhood, but he bit his lip. “I have never seen the Statue of Liberty either,” he said it with a goofy smile.
“Either? Wait a minute, you told me you have been driving for more than twenty years.” She took out from the briefcase a small container with piece of tiramisu, opened it, and threw its plastic fork to the floor. Then she grabbed the silver fork and started eating.
“Night time only. As I told you earlier, I feel as if I have been swallowed by a huge animal, and I am living in his belly. Living here in New York, I bounce from corner to corner, from wall to wall, being digested. The news, the passengers are acids that bleach me to bring me…to what is acceptable, I guess. I have been eaten with everything that was me, from Colombia. I am inside of a huge animal.”
A pitchfork demolished the standing tiramisu cake as she said, “A whale, you mean.”
“Perhaps,” he sighed. And the parrot repeated, “Whale, whale.”
“My mission is to let people know what my survival is. This cab is a glance of survival from my country or what is survival…at least for me.”
Then, she opened her mouth and shoveled a spoonful of tiramisu. Gonzalo imagined how she crushed it with her front teeth, she ground it passing the dough from side to side. He almost felt how the saliva warmed up her mouth and felt the sweetness moving toward the middle of her palate to swallow the bite with a slight pressure coming from an up-and-down movement in her throat.
Surely the saliva with sweet coffee flavor on the tip of her tongue made her smile. She gazed at the ruins of the tiramisu triangle on the plastic container. Gonzalo felt sad for its destroyed beauty.
“You can leave me here,” she said and handed him a $20 bill. “Is that OK for you?”
Gonzalo turned his head and grabbed the tip of the bill, saying, “It is a donation, ma’am, as I told you earlier. Survival is mostly donation. Even a captured lamb resigns to live under the lions claws. It donates its life to the lion.”
“I do not donate anything. I throw you a twenty and don’t ask for more.” She crumpled the plastic container with some crumbs of tiramisu and tossed it. The container tumbled on the kneeler near the plastic fork. She stopped for one second and bent over to pick up the plastic container and the fork and threw them in a plastic bag, sighing.
As she was moving heavily toward the door, she turned around, pointing to the dark park and said, “‘Imagine’ is someplace behind those bushes. Right next to Strawberry Fields.” Then she mumbled, “I always come too late so I am not able to enjoy Central Park. Who wants to be arrested?”
The parrot bit the cushion of the front passenger seat and repeated, “Arr, rrrr,arrrested.”
She got out and left the door opened. Gonzalo sighed and stretched himself to reach the handle and closed the door.
Gonzalo looked at his watch. 11:50.
He drove along Central Park West and saw a car leaving an empty spot. He smiled. He parked there, looked at Principito, and said, “Let’s see that monument.”
He put the parrot on his shoulder, and the parrot made his ‘R’ noise, biting Gonzalo’s hairy earlobe.
Gonzalo went inside the bushes and walked on the path. The place was dark and suddenly he felt, or perhaps he wished, that the fat passenger’s naked feet were running to hide inside the grass. He followed the movement with his eyes. Then he saw the letters written in black and white tiles. “Imagine.” He smiled again and squinted without finding another smile behind the trees.
‘A Cab Fare to John Lennon’s’ was originally published in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine in the Spring of 2017. The piece is reprinted in Pressenza with permission of the author.