His tired eyes bobbed up and down in the rearview mirror of the taxi as he made conversation, his cab lurching through the heavy Chicago traffic. I felt no trace of concern. His gentle manipulation of the brake and accelerator spoke volumes about his experience behind the wheel.
This man’s cab was an extension of himself. The interior was pristine. I lay draped across the back seat, fighting off sleep and trying to keep my muddy boots off the throw pillow that rested on the floor. He cracked and ate pistachios as we talked about marriage, efficient routes, and the history of the city.
I can’t recall his face, because I mostly stared at the back of his head while I was conscious. But his eyes stuck with me. Creases encircled them, and the pupils seemed almost nonexistent as they swam amid a watery, brown sea. Fine ribbons of red ran through the white parts. He was a man who didn’t sleep much.
He told me about how his career in marketing came to an abrupt end with the economic collapse that began in 2008. The cab was how he kept a roof over his head, and the heads of his wife and his 30-something daughter. He had no desire to go back to Pakistan, though. The heartland of America was now his home.
I drifted off as he feathered the brake and accelerator, sending us both toward O’Hare. In a semi-lucid sleep, I could feel the miles between me and home start to dissipate as the asphalt passed under his tires.
I woke when the cab began to inch through the airport traffic.
“Did you have a nice nap, Mr. Joe?”
As we neared departure, we talked more about marriage again.
“It’s amazing how few years can completely change you perspective and values,” I said. “Marriage is the best thing that ever happened to me. I can’t even remember what it was like to be 25 anymore.”
“I had two sons,” he said. “I lost them both in a car accident not far from here five years ago. They would have been about your age now. Nothing in life prepares you for that kind of experience, that kind of sorrow.”
The creases around his eyes make sense to me now.
I had never been to Chicago, and the trip through the city was a whirlwind affair. I barely remember it. But I will never forget the cab driver. HIs heartland story was as American as it gets. He told me all there is to know about sorrow.