March 7, 2014
The Taxi Driver
I had taken the bus from the East Vancouver basement suite that I shared with my sister Clare and her husband to Simon Fraser University where I was to meet up with my girlhood friend Tanja. The bus ride had involved a couple of transfers and a bit of waiting at bus stops. In the waning daylight the trip had been alright, but I was not anxious to repeat it in reverse, in the dark, alone. I had supper with Tanja and her boyfriend at one of the campus places and we lingered, talking for several hours. When it was time for me to return home I decided to spend some of my precious student fund on a taxi, believing it to be the safer option for me at that hour of the night.
The taxi arrived and I said goodbye to my friend. I climbed into the back and gave my direction. The taxi driver was the chatty sort and he immediately began to talk. I soon realized that what he said did not make a lot of sense. He was asking me about how school was going in St. Catherine's. I told him, no, I was in my first term at UBC, and sat back to enjoy my door to door ride home. He kept on about St. Catherine's, which was a town in Ontario, over half way across the country. After trying to correct him once more, I realized my efforts were futile. He kept asking me about people and places I did not know in the least. I began to feel uneasy, wondering if my chauffeur was quite right in the head.
My taxi driver drove a bit erratically, turning down alleyways and cutting across blocks. He told me he was going to stop at a convenience store for a Coke. Did I want one? I told him in no uncertain terms, and perhaps with just a tinge of hysteria, that he was not going to stop and get a Coke, that he was to take me straight home. I was genuinely frightened by then. I wondered if I was going to get home. I wondered if he really meant to stop at a convenience store or was it an attempt to stop the car in some out of the way place where I would be raped and chopped up into pieces, stuffed in a duffle bag and dropped in a dumpster in some sketchy back alley where I would be found by some poor person searching for discarded food, my murder reported the next day on the front page of The Province. (My gift of imagination did not serve me well just then.)
My heart in my throat, I sat forward, gripping the vinyl trim on the edge of the back seat while my driver chatted cheerfully and nonsensically. He took me on a labyrinthian journey, none of which I recognized. Just when I was thinking about opening the car door and flinging myself out onto the pavement like they do in the movies, he turned onto our block and pulled up in front of our house. The trip that had seemed endless had taken, in actual fact, a fairly short time. His route, while unrecognizable to me - I had only lived in Vancouver a couple of months and was geographically challenged at the best of times - had been a short cut accomplished by someone who knew the city like the back of his hand. With shaking legs I got out of the car. "How much do I owe you?" I said as calmly as possible. He quoted me a fair price, less than I had anticipated in fact, and I paid him.
My sister was home when I entered the house whitefaced and completely unstrung. I felt half relief and half guilt for misjudging my driver. I am sure now that he was a decent person, although I wondered if he had been high on some substance. Or maybe his state of mind was a mixture of working a double shift on very little sleep and good memories of a youth spent in St. Catherine's. I could only speculate. In any case, I felt lucky to be alive and extremely glad to be home with my sister. Clare gave me something to drink to help bring the colour back into my face and calm my frazzled nerves. My boyfriend (now husband) drove over from Kitsilano on the west side of the city to comfort me. I am not sure I ever quite fully recovered from my fright. I refused to go anywhere at night alone for the rest of the year.
While I was having a good experience at UBC and enjoying living with Clare and her husband my adventure with the taxi driver did little to ingratiate me with the city of Vancouver as a potential home in the future. I lived there on and off for the next three years, developing a love/hate relationship with the city. The love was for its beauty and variety, although I now know that I sought out places that reminded me of home: water, lakes and mountains. The hate (perhaps a slight exaggeration) was for the fact that I never seemed to fit in there. Too sensitive and inexperienced to let the sad scenes of my neighbourhood fall off me like rainwater off a duck's back, I was haunted in particular by the mute woman who accosted me every time I walked down the street, begging me for money while she shoved the scars on her wrists and throat in my face. Her plight, so dramatically contrasted by the ease and comfort I perceived in the wealthier neighbourhoods of the city, filled me with a sense of helplessness. I knew that my coins could do little to make her life better.
My boyfriend and I got married a year and a half after the taxi driver incident. At the end of my third year in Vancouver, my husband finished his practicum and was offered a job in the East Kootenays. I was ecstatic. The only thing I seemed to miss after we moved was the Greek fish market on Commercial drive. I could buy two plump, fresh fillets of sole for a song and bake them up beautifully with a sauce of dill and yogurt.