“Where I am from people talk to each other,” My taxi driver, confessed to me. “Each residential complex has a little park around it where people can sit, relax, breathe and just talk!”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
I had been curious about my driver’s good looks from the moment I stepped inside his cab. He was about 6-feet tall, broad-shouldered, chiseled jaw.
“Azerbaijan. It’s a beautiful country.” He replied, his eyes lost in a world far away.
“You miss home? I can see you do?” I said to him, in the hope that he’ll let me into his world.
“Everyday! My family is there. My wife, my children. I miss them—a lot.”
I could feel the longing in words spoken in a language that didn’t seem natural to his soul. They were like hands stuffed into gloves that didn’t fit, exposed to the wintery clime of a ruthless city.
“You should go home as often as you can.” I said, with a smile.
“I can’t go when I want.” His voice grew sad.
“Cause of my visa! It’s not as easy.”
I was quiet. I knew what he was talking about. The half-lives we live, the noose of a visa wound tight around our necks, hearts splayed out between two time zones—waiting to bleed like an aneurism.
“What about here? Do you like it here?” I asked, in the hope of bringing a smile to my stranger’s face.
“Not—really! Here people wake up—they work. At work—they work. When they home—they work!” He replied.
“Hahaha! So, you don’t you like that— ?” I inquired.
“So much work—you know someone needs to tell them New Yorkers—they will go bonkers!”
“Haha, I hear you. I think I kinda like that though, don’t you—sometimes?”
“Here in Manhattan? No—not for me. This city is just one building, another building, another. Concrete, more concrete no soul.
Sorry, my English no good. May be, I can’t express what goes on in my head well. But, I think deeply about things. And may be, I think you understand how I feel.”
“Yes, I hear you. I used to feel the same way. Sometimes I still do.” It wasn’t a lie.
“You speak English so well? You probably don’t have so many problems as I?” He inquired, this time.
“No, even though I speak English, I speak a different kind of English.”
“What do you mean?” He looked surprised.
“The country I come from I used to speak English another way. I learnt the American way by watching a lot of—WAIT I HAVE AN IDEA FOR YOU! Do you like watching movies?” I said, excitement exaggerating my breath.
“Yes I love watching movies. I love watching American TV too.”
“I think you should watch as much TV as you can. Make sure you watch in English with subtitles on so you can follow what they are saying.”
“Then practice the English you learn on your passengers.”
“But subtitles won’t work for me. They will confuse me.”
“Why would they confuse you?”
“You see the Latin alphabet. We use the same alphabet when we write in my language but it’s pronounced a completely different way. So it all gets mixed up inside my head.”
“Then I guess, time will be your best friend. You’ll get the hang of it one day—I promise.”
“I know. But, sometimes I feel I don’t have the time.”
“Cause I am working, working, working all day.”
“Hahaha, Just like New York!” I thought to myself, but didn’t say. My stranger seemed to be a real nice guy with a beautiful story to tell.
Instead, I told him what I do—write stories of people I meet on the streets of New York City. If he didn’t mind, I’d love to write his story. He agreed. On my way, out, I asked the handsome driver for a photograph: