I don’t know his name, not that I’d be able to pronounce it even if I did. Since I don’t believe in coincidences, I’m still trying to figure out the exact purpose of our chance meeting. I’m certain there’s going to be more wisdom with time until I get the picture in my mind like God’s big screen with the big “E” of the mind’s eye chart smack in the middle of it.
It became obvious that all of our “go to” modes of transportation home from the airport had suddenly evaporated. We even tried some of the friends we didn’t consider to be in the “go to” group – you can’t fault me for trying… but alas we were left finding a ride home from the airport to our own devices.
I could never figure out why the line of cabs at the airport is so long, I’ve never even seen anyone using one… except for me back in the eighties, but that’s an ugly story… no wonder I avoid cabs like the plague…
We followed the “Ground Transportation” signs down the escalators and out the automatic doors, across the massive structure covered sidewalk to the outside traffic lanes and spotted the double lines of cabs close to an eighth of a mile long. I scanned the group of taxi drivers loitering along the side of the curbs.
It didn’t look much like America, plenty of turbans being sported with pride. We were directed to the front of the line and the car closest to the curb. The foreign guy loaded our suitcases awkwardly, but quickly with a friendly smile as my wife, youngest daughter, and myself shoehorned ourselves into the “Not Actual Size” backseat.
The slight driver got in, cranked up the pathetic A/C in the tiny car that didn’t have a prayer of putting a dent in the Arizona heat, and jerked slowly but surely away from the curb… I usually pray for the plane rides… can’t believe I didn’t pray over the cab ride…
“Whe-tooow?” The taxi driver asked as I tried to get my bearings to communicate.
“Uhhh – Scottsdale.”
“Uhhh – I take sevunteeeen?” I recognized the first part of the question…
“No – Take forty fourth street, it’s faster.”
“Fawtee – faw street?”
“Yeah, the exit is right up there on your left – get in the left lane.”
“O-keh – you show mee,” he smiled at me in the rearview.
I’m interested in the lives of others and while I try to avoid life and it’s often sad realities, I wanted to know our taxi driver’s story. “Where you from?” I asked.
“SO – mo – lia,” the slight built man nodded with a smile, glancing between the road and me via the mirror as the unsteady accelerating and braking continued.
“Oh man! Somalia? That’s a pretty violent place, huh?”
“Oh yes,” he nodded in polite agreement.
Turns out he was one of the Somalian refugees that went through Kenya on their way to the U.S. I asked about his family that was still there. He chatted with my wife and I about our girls, he wanted to know the ages of them and what they did with genuine interest. He wanted to know my age to compare with his own… and when he spoke of his kids that he rarely saw due to working long hours it was with love and passion. His family was his life.
As we talked and he drove like one of the worst drivers I’d ever witnessed while I gave directions, I noticed what had escaped me while he was loading our suitcases in record time. He had the faded right leg of his baggy jeans neatly folded and tucked under his left leg so as not to interfere with his leg he was working the accelerator and brake with.
He never asked for sympathy, he tried to hide the fact that his right leg was missing… What that cab driver has seen I can only imagine.
I asked our gentle taxi driver a loaded question, “You like Somalia or America?” He smiled kindly, “Hea – of couwse…” I let him pull the bags out of the trunk while I dug deep in my pockets for his fare and tip.
Some handshakes while studying another man’s eyes have a lasting impact… The unlikely taxi driver and I… we’re not so different really. He and I have more in common than other folks that I can speak perfect English with… The thin one-legged man from Somalia and I speak the same language…