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Back at the garage, you caught Adem in the middle of a nap. He was sitting in a folding metal chair outside the main office, arms folded over his chest. He really did have a weird head, pointy on top where it should have been round, rolls of fat running down the back of his neck. A strand of glassy drool seemed to tether his chapped, bulging lower lip to a button on his denim shirt. You felt a real affection for him and also relief that he was still Adem, a separate person. When you shook him awake, a goggle-eyed look of confusion flashed across his face, like a child’s, and right then you were willing to tell him what had happened earlier, about the fare who had been you.
But then Adem slurped the drool disgustingly back into his mouth and rubbed his palms into his eyes violently, and somehow this helped you decide not to.
Don’t you sleep? said Adem.
Until then, you had not thought about it, but you had in fact gone a whole day without sleeping. The Girl’s letter had arrived the previous night. You could only imagine how awful you must have looked.
But was it as awful as how he looked, what he had been through, a glass eye rolling out of its socket? The thought of who might have done that to him upset you deeply. Dangerously close to tears, you said, I think you are wrong, Adem. We cannot neglect our brothers on the street. They are our brothers.
Adem rose slowly. They are indeed, he said, yawning and stretching. It is your taxi. Pick up who you want.
You said nothing and stood there amid the dizzying fumes of the garage—exhaust and rubber. Adem took your silence as an invitation to launch into one of his random, discursive sermons. He told you about his cousin, the one who was also named Adem. Adem’s cousin Adem had dropped out of college, quit his job at a printing press to become an official in The Movement. Do you know where he is now? said Adem. Somewhere in a bar getting drunk on cheap whiskey and raising his voice over politics. Out with the old regime this. New revolution for the people that. No wife. No job. Nothing. And where are his brothers with their blue scarves? Adem held up three fingers and counted off. Rotting at a bar. Rotting in a cell. Rotting under the ground.
Do you think I have a cold heart? said Adem after a heavy silence, touching with one hand the upper cavity where his huge belly began. I understand how painful it must be for you to pass your brothers on the street. I understand as well how angry it must make them. But you cannot blame yourself. Blame this place. Blame the man who put the knife to your neck.
Adem sat back down. You and I, we love our people, but—he lifted his arms—do you think I would be the man I am today, a broker already of the biggest garage in The Big City, if I let my idealism run away with my common sense? If I could not go home every night and sleep peacefully?
As Adem continued, it struck you again that you had not slept peacefully in a long time, and you knew tonight would be just as bad. You would listen to the police sirens echo through the night. Wow wow wow, they would say.
What did it mean? How could there be two of you? In the same world? In the same city? And why hadn’t the other one noticed that he was you and you were him? And torture?
The next day, during your shift, you drove past the same street where you had picked him up. He was nowhere. Then you went to The University and walked into the same building you had followed him into, ignoring the reverse déjà vu of feeling as though you’d never been there before. You asked a new receptionist if you could be included in Dr. Greene’s study on victims of torture, pointing to an old bicycling scar on your forearm. The woman cocked her head and told you, Sorry, no, but there was no such study being done. And there wasn’t anyone on staff by the name of Dr. Greene.
Later, as you lay awake on your futon trying to make sense of this, you could not help but feel it was punishment for something, cosmic retribution for having given up on your country, Your Friend, the ideals of The Movement that you had only half-believed in. Hadn’t you, the year before leaving the Old Country, seen Your Friend picketing with his comrades, blue scarves tied defiantly around their necks? Your Friend had been too busy aiming a bullhorn at the armed guards outside of a government building to notice you, and even though you were only across the street, on your way to pick up The Girl from the office where she worked, you had still ignored him. Not even a hello. You had convinced yourself that you had not seen him, that you had mistaken him for someone else.
And now where was he? Again, you saw Adem’s three fleshy fingers ticking off the options: drunk, detained, dead. Had your guilt created the other you, forged him out of your troubled conscience; was he a ghost? Or had he been hacked from you, created by a mysterious fission that had divided you into two people? And had you been an incomplete person without him all these years?
You woke up in the middle of the night and shut yourself in the bathroom. With your knuckle, you pressed the underside of your left eye through the skin, until it forced a tear of pain to run down your cheek.
You opened the cabinet under the sink. The Mind Fund was over-full and several bills scattered the area around it. You would enroll, but you would study something else. Psychiatry. Politics. The Psychiatry of Politics.
It was not my fault, you whispered as you covered your shivering body under the sheets of the futon. You heard the brittle bars of your ribs echo as you breathed, and you felt yourself sink into a black, dreamless sleep that would last for two straight days.
You woke up a different person, a person who realized that his days as a taxi driver had come to an end. One more week and then you would be permanently Off-Duty. Idling in the lot behind the garage, you told Adem as much, leaving out the part about the other you. He sat beside you in the passenger seat and flicked the furry pink dice hanging from your rearview. When the dice settled, a single white dot stared back at you from each cube.
Adem sighed. Mister College, he said, peeved. Mister Politics and Psychiatry.
You chuckled, not sure what he meant. Adem, in a sudden, grumbling flurry of movement, popped open his door, got out of your cab, slammed the door behind him, and stormed off in the direction of the garage.
The week sped past quickly. Adem began avoiding you in the mornings, giving you only a flippant two finger wave over his newspaper as he stared out from the office.
All week you picked up everyone. You wanted to fill your car with people. You wanted to hear their stories. You wanted to help them arrive where they needed to arrive. This feeling became a trembling in your limbs. You were making the world a better place, and, as proof, the world itself seemed grateful all week, seemed to open itself to you. You hit one green light after another. Once, you even startled a group of teenagers standing outside of a movie theater as you drove past and shouted, My taxi is the greatest movement!