|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
7 - 13 March 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Singing in the rain
As I watched the rain from my bedroom window last week, I made a quick decision. We would not be driving to work and risking an accident on the slippery corniche. To ease the last vestiges of guilt I vaguely felt in indulging myself, I reasoned that taxi fares are actually quite cheap when weighed against the cost of repairs to one's own vehicle if one so much as scratches it in the traffic -- which, I had good reason to believe, would be horrendous.
The rain did not let up for the best part of the week and I had a couple of good, uneventful rides, with rather sedate drivers who did not use their scratchy stereo system as a weapon of passenger destruction, nor engage me in political discourse leading to the conclusion that "it is always the poor who pay for the greediness of the rich."
Then it happened late one night as I was returning home, exhausted from a long day's work. My luck ran out. As my daughter and I emerged into the cold through the sliding doors of the Al-Ahram building, I observed a taxi stationed in front of us. The driver beckoned. By Cairo standards, it was pouring, and I was rather happy to be taken to Maadi at once without having to plan an emergency visit to the hairdresser's early the following morning.
As the car was launched into the rather heavy traffic, I noticed a staccato sound coming from the motor that did not bode well. I told myself, however, that the driver knew what he was doing if he was accepting such a long trip. I dreaded the idea of getting drenched if we got out and waited for a more suitable alternative. Soon I realised that the worrying sound was not so bad, compared to the driver's strange behaviour. At times, when we passed groups of motorists whose cars had stalled, the man would roll down his window and shout abuse. At others, he would mutter to himself and roll his eyes at us in the mirror, then sigh noisily, saying that he was late and his wife would be worried. As we progressed in leaps and bounds, he informed us that he might have to take us to the Pyramids, where he lived. He would invite us to dinner, of course; he knew how to treat ladies, he reassured us. He would drive to Maadi later, when the traffic had eased a bit. That way, his wife would not have to wait and worry about his safety. "Is he on something?" I whispered to my daughter. "Maybe, but it is much stronger than what you have in mind," she whispered back. As I mulled over her answer, the motor gave a rasp and, with a couple of violent hiccups, the car came to rest at the curb. As we stood in the rain waiting for another taxi, we observed our driver crouching next to his car: he seemed to be crying. "It is none of our business," I told my daughter defensively. "I paid him the full fare."
Once more on our way, we looked back. The scoundrel had managed to get his jalopy going and was heading back in the opposite direction, probably overjoyed to have dumped us so easily and with no loss to him.
The following day it was still raining and I prevailed once more on my daughter, who was rather embittered by our latest adventure. We took our favourite Maadi taxi to work and the traffic was so bad that we were really glad not to be the ones fighting for space in the utter chaos.
It was still raining hard in the evening and this time we waited for at least 20 minutes. Finally one driver did not frown and shake his head when we told him where we wished to go. His car was in terrible condition: the windows could not be rolled up and the door handles were missing. But we could not afford to be choosy in such bad weather. By the time we had settled down, however, we noticed that the vehicle was also deprived of the benefit of windshield wipers, an implement I considered necessary under the circumstances. "How do you plan to drive if you cannot see where you are going?" I asked the man, as he skilfully wove his way around huge tourist buses. "Don't worry," he said confidently. "I am used to it." He was. He took advantage of every traffic light to jump out and wipe his windshield furiously with a dirty rag. I said a little prayer, and resigned myself to an unpleasant half hour.
"I know you," the driver said to me suddenly as we zipped past the Meridien, much faster than I would have liked. "You are French, and I have taken you to the Meridien at least once. "Not you," he told my daughter, turning around to observe her better, "only her." "I don't go to the Meridien," I asserted curtly, then advised him to look at the road and stop staring at us. He could slow down as well, I added. This seemed to incite him to up the ante and we careened into Maadi at top speed in his rattletrap from hell. My knees were shaking as we touched ground in front of our house. "See, I took you home safely, didn't I, and in record time too," guffawed the man. "And I would have done even better," he added, waving a pair of shattered spectacles, "if I hadn't broken my glasses this morning. I couldn't see a thing."
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