I don’t take cabs as much any more — economical and environmental reasons — but so often when I do take cabs, I learn life lessons from the drivers.
Thursday night was no different. The driver had a French African accent I found hard to understand and identify. After we both understood our destination, I asked, “Where are you from?”
“Where in Africa?“
“Burkina Faso.” This was the first time I had ever met anyone from there. And now that I am used to the cadence of his English, he is very well-spoken.
“I have heard of it. It used to be called Upper Volta.” I said more for my benefit as if telepathically showing to my parents — one dead, one alive — that there was something to my liberal arts education after all, even amid the four years of debauchery.
“Is your family there?” I continue.
“That must be hard. Do you see them?” (Of course, I make that inappropriate assumption that others have families like mine, whom I would dearly miss.)
“How long have you been here?“
“Do you have a family here?“
“I come with my friend.”
My friend. Ahhhhhhhh.
“I am a lesbian; is your friend a man?“
“Yes.” He says with openness but no relief. We weren’t navigating the great divides between our lives. We were just able to be less vague and more truthful. I was still a white, well-heeled American sitting in the back of his cab and he was the refugee driving me around and trying to make a life in a strange and, at times, harsh city.
“And you can’t go home?“
“I would be killed. Even by my family.”
We reached our destination.
“I am glad you are here and I am sorry that you had to leave your home.” Not a brilliant sentence but heartfelt, even if for a stranger.
“It is the punishment.”
“It is the punishment.” As much as this man traveled to be free, he carries the homophobia inside. Two people in the same car, worlds apart.