by Rosko Tzolov
A cab driver is swerving through the deserted streets of a sleeping town
| I had not had sleep for a couple of days. Damn. A lie. Couple of weeks. Maybe two hours here and there. It’s the pressure of life that keep me up; all the worries, I guess. I’ve never had a good sleep, since I “grew up”. Worry too much. About things. Somehow along the way I forgot how to have a good night sleep. So I have these spells of not sleeping sometimes. I then go to my doc and ask for sleeping pills, but that time she was adamant on not prescribing me anything serious. “Try Benadryl”, she says. “Or Nyquil or Melanin”. None of them is working. So I toss and turn thinking that I should change my doctor.
Instead of tossing and turning in bed, craving sleep, I prefer going out to drive the cab. The late evening and night until 3:30 a.m. are pretty busy on Thursday nights in Binghamton, when all the students go to the bars and come back home, often drunk. Jerry, a cheerful guy with a big belly and a face with glossy skin that for some reason, looks wooden and waxed to me – makes me think of Pinocchio, is the owner of the cab company I work for. He likes me, and when I asked him for a car for the night, he gave me the red Volvo. It’s the worst car he has, probably twenty years old, which somehow managed to pass the state inspection. I like it though. The car is a little heavy, but the driver’s seat is comfortable and heated, the interior is roomy, and it has a good radio, which makes it perfect for me.
I am driving down Pennsylvania Avenue towards an address. A petite, blonde woman in her early twenties is sitting in the back seat. I think that once I liked a petite blonde girl like her. I guess you can say she was my “type,”, or at least I thought so, but as often happens with age, my “type” changed to include more diverse kinds of women. My girlfriend Carrie is a tall African-American woman with a slender body and a beautiful face. She has long, curly hair that I love to touch, to pass through my fingers, to smell. I love Carrie’s hair and I love Carrie even more. Last night I couldn’t sleep. She didn’t let me spend the night tossing and turning, lonely while she was sleeping next to me. We were lying on our backs in bed, very close, almost touching each other, looking at the ceiling lit up and the frost that made the windows glitter in the headlights of the cars passing on the street below. The talk between us had always been easy, but we had the best conversation so far that night. We talked for a few of hours and probably would have talked until morning if Rita, Carrie’s six-year-old daughter, hadn’t come into the room. Crying, she climbed into bed on Carrie’s side and cuddled with her, sobbing. Between the sobs, Rita said that she was afraid to sleep alone, because there was a monster in her closet. Rita has beautiful eyes and her mom’s curly hair. I wanted so much to go to the other side of the bed, and hug her, and tell her that there are no monsters in the world—only some of us people. But I thought I shouldn’t tell her that, because she is too little to know about it. I didn’t go and hug her either. I felt it would have been inappropriate. I had known her for only two weeks and her mother for a month and a half, and I didn’t yet feel I was a part of their family. Instead, I got out of bed, dressed, and went out in the cold.
I look in the rear view mirror from time to time. The blonde woman suddenly intrigues me deeply. I want to know more about her. Maybe because she reminds me so much of that other girl form my past. What is she doing, is she happy, has she overcome the obstacles and troubles life has put in the way of her happiness - the other girl? I wonder about her, I wonder how she can withstand the hardships of life, how she can carry all the burdens fate drops on her frail shoulders without having her back broken. I know that if I ask my fair any of these questions I will scare her, so I shake my head to get rid of the uninvited thoughts. Anyway, I am sure she is doing fine—petite, frail women must be able to cope with their problems as well as the rest of us are - that and the other girl.
She hasn’t said much. Fares usually don’t at this hour, with the exception of the drunk students—they tend to say too much. The alcohol makes them rowdy and talkative. Now I prefer the silence. Usually I like to talk, to express myself, to share my inner world with people. But sometimes, I prefer the silence, driving and letting my thoughts swirl around in my head, without having to concentrate and talk to the people who climb in my cab. When I am like that, I usually keep the radio on, so it is not so quiet in the car that the passenger feels awkward and pressured to start a conversation.
I stop at the address -it’s the hospital. Maybe she is a nurse - it’s too late for visitors. The woman pays me, and gets out of the cab. I turn around on the street and start driving back. In the cooler in front of the passenger seat, there are chilled cans of lemon-flavored seltzer water.
Now, I drove a couple of blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, and then turned right on Vestal Avenue. I kept on driving another couple of blocks and then turned right on Washington street and after another block, turned right on Vestal Parkway, making a large zigzag. Then, I drove slowly around the big turn on Vestal Parkway before the bridge, because of the icy road.
I think that I should probably stop somewhere and wait for the dispatcher to call me for the next fare, but I enjoy driving. I feel like I am one with the old Volvo. It’s so responsive tonight, almost like a sports car. It is easier to drive when you haven’t slept for awhile. Your inhibitions decrease and you connect with the car on a more primitive, instinctive level; you anticipate the turns, the g-forces as you go through the corners; sometimes it feels as you have just driven past the same place you are driving now. Something about sleep deprivation gives the perception that only a really short time has passed, of existence in the now, in the moment.
The sleep deprivation also gives me a strange feeling of purpose. It is as if I am a part of God’s Grand Plan, like a cog in a huge machine, and my part is necessary in order for the whole mechanism to operate correctly. Even now, I feel I am doing something to advance the plan, but I don’t know what. I know I have a place in that plan, everyone does, of course, I just have to discover mine. Random events and pure coincidences begin to look related, as part of some greater connectedness in the world. A feeling of wellbeing and confidence arises, the feeling that everything is going to be okay, that all of these coincidences will work out well, that although everything is very convoluted and doesn’t make sense at the moment, it will somehow untangle itself and end well.
I continue to drive with a strange sense of purpose, as if there is somewhere that I have to go, something that I have to do. It is just the the sleep deprivation, and yet I am searching...I have had the same feeling the whole night. Strange thoughts are passing through my head. The final point of my search is probably some special place in town where I can find something meaningful, something that will give me some insight about myself, about my role in the plan, even if this role is how to live my life, for sometimes I wonder about that. So, I keep on driving, hoping to see a sign, because I know that when I am at the right place, I will recognize it, for sure.
At Court Street, I turn right, go straight down the street, and then around the circle, and I end up driving in the opposite direction from where I came...Sometimes I imagine that the streets of the city are like its arteries and veins, and the cars are the blood cells. To make the fantasy even more complete, the two rivers merging into one represent its airways, and downtown is the heart. The city resembles an actual creature even more when you’re driving at night. The darkness adds volume to it, you have the feeling of above and below, you can really imagine that you are inside the body of this giant, prehistoric beast, stretched since ancient times down between the hills in the valley of the two rivers, asleep for centuries, ready to awake, shake itself, and rise.
I like how deserted everything is downtown at this time of the night. The sidewalks are completely empty, and there isn’t a single car on the broad street. The streetlights are like white stripes passing along the front window—coming and going, as if counting the mileage, and every streetlight must mark a mile; this is how long it feels between the time that one passes by and the next one appears. Three traffic lights follow one after another before the bridge that crosses the Chenango river on Court street, and all of them are blinking yellow and red in synchrony, repetitively, to help regulate nonexistent traffic, reminding me somehow of a n ECG. Except that this time, instead of the complex rhythm of a healthy, living heart, the beating is very simple—the quivering of one that is dead, so that just electrical discharges of dying cells cause the simple peaks and troughs. I drive slowly through each of these intersections, although the right of way is mine, as I enjoy passing through the downtown, once the beating heart of Binghamton, now dead.
That night I somehow identify with the dark city—I am the beast and I am driving within myself, looking for that place where my soul is located, because what else could be so important for me to search for, after all, if not my own soul? I have always tried to prove to myself that my soul exists, to find it somehow, and tonight I think that I will succeed finally, I will realize something that will give me the insight I need.
The streets are empty and dark; the streetlights throw drab, yellow light, and even the headlights of the Volvo light up the road for only a few yards in front of me. The streets are so deserted and dark that if they are the arteries of the beast, of me, then I am dead, and the blood inside me is coagulated and black. I—the monster is dead, but I, the taxi driver—is alive, which is of course nonsense, you can’t be dead and alive, nor can you be two entities at the same time, but that is how I imagine it. The city is a metaphor for me. I am the city, the beast that was ready to wake up, stand up strong, roar and reach for the sky, but something horrible happened to it, and now it is dead and I am driving inside its dead body, still looking for its soul, my soul, hiding somewhere, this elusive thing.
After I cross the bridge over the Chenango on Court Street, I get into the dense web of crisscrossing streets on the West Side. This is the best place to drive. I go straight, then left, zigzagging, and then in a circle.
After I drive for another half an hour or so, I give up at last. I have reached my neighborhood and feel tired, and at that point I am pretty sure that I won’t find anything, I decide that I have let my whim affect my actions long enough. I call the dispatcher and tell him that I am done for the night. Then I park not far from my house in a spot clear of snow and head towards home.
After the cold and dark night outside, my apartment feels really warm, bright, and cozy…and very cluttered…not really dirty though. It’s messy though. There are clothes lying around the living room and many letters—some opened, but mostly not—lying on the coffee table; some are piled on the lamp stands. I always seem to get more letters when I am sleep deprived. I don’t know why, that is just the way it is, and most of them lay unopened, even though some might be important.
My bedroom floor is littered with clothes. After washing the clothes, I emptied the laundry bag onto the bed, but I didn’t fold them, so I pushed them on the floor when I went to “sleep,” with the idea of folding them later, but I never got to it. So now, I just pick clothes up off the floor when I need them and then toss them in the laundry bag when they get dirty. The laundry bag is getting full and soon clothes will need to be washed again, and I will never have had the chance to fold them and put them away in the first place. I guess you can say that I save some time that way, but it makes my bedroom look pretty chaotic.
The kitchen is the worst—cans of seltzer water lie on the table, on the floor, the recycling has not been taken out for two weeks, there are more cans in the sink, and a couple of unwashed dishes too.
For a second, a thought enters my head that I have found what I was looking for all night: my soul. It is in that bright, warm, cozy place, my refuge from the dead, dark town outside.
I go into the bathroom, which is connected to the kitchen. After I urinate, I sit on the chair in front of the kitchen table where my laptop is, and I decide to write it all down. What time is it? The clock on the wall is ticking, but it is never accurate. I should have thrown it out a long time ago, but again, I never got to it. Now it is showing 12:50, but the clock in the bottom right corner of the laptop screen says 4:45 a.m.
Before I start typing, I lean back on the chair and stretch, and then for a second, I try to “feel” this moment, the room, myself. It is bright in the kitchen, the fridge next to me is humming quietly, the toilet tank in the bathroom behind me is refilling with water, and the useless clock on the wall is ticking. I feel comfortable, warm, a little tired and sleepy. Maybe I will get some sleep tonight after- after I type it all down.