In your most recent letter to the old country, you told your parents that you had enrolled at The University and were majoring in Astrophysics. You did not tell them that the closest you ever came to enrolling was flipping through an outdated course catalog on the toilet. But you had to lie, because even though you left the Old Country more than two years ago, you still felt guilty for all the hours you had wasted bumming around your father’s Christian memorabilia store, the reservoirs of motherly pity you had drained with your almost daily drunkenness, and the money she had given you for your plane ticket. After the incident with The Girl, you had become allergic to work, unable to hold a job, a cliché of a heartbroken man. Your parents pitied you, so they let you be.

You … felt it was noble to be a sanitation worker for the living, scooping them from one sidewalk and dumping them onto another, then scooping more from that sidewalk and on and on.

The day before your father would have finally succeeded in convincing your mother to kick you out, a day you had spent nursing a twisted knee after you leapt from a moving minibus to stop someone who turned out not to be The Girl, the wayward God of Immigration smiled into your mailbox with a visa, which at first you assumed was a mistake. You barely remembered applying.

But you’re not the same person you were back then, when you waited at the wrong baggage claim carousel for two hours while your oversize luggage looped and looped on a conveyor a few feet behind you.

You made the decision to become a taxi driver not because you lacked, as your father had said, the desire to grow your mind, but because something about the soft chirping of the meter as it printed out your first receipt on the day you arrived reminded you of The Girl’s voice. You also felt it was noble to be a sanitation worker for the living, scooping them from one sidewalk and dumping them onto another, then scooping more from that sidewalk and on and on.

And then you were robbed. Before it happened, you were still the same sluggish, despondent apparition you had been in the Old Country, leasing your cab from Adem every other week, making just enough. But after seeing the knobby, bone-white handle of the switchblade in the robber’s shaky grip as it danced gently against your jugular, you were changed.

You went home that night and snatched your only photograph of The Girl off the table beside your futon and watched it burn on the fire escape. She had never written you, because she did not care if you lived or died. And until this point, you hadn’t cared either. But this one terrific reminder that death was a moment-to-moment possibility was all you needed to realize that, in the end, you did in fact want to live. Embers caught in the wind and drifted away. You found an empty soup can and wrote Mind Fund on it and stashed it under the sink in your bathroom with the thirty-two cents the robber had left you that night. One cent for every year of the life he had spared.

You started sleeping less, working more. You picked up the latest issue of the course catalog, kept it where her picture used to be, and started to study it in earnest. You became a daily sight at the taxi garage. You took out a longer lease on a taxi that had a pair of furry pink dice hanging from the rearview. People would come to know it as your taxi.

At the garage a few mornings after the robbery, you found Adem leaning on your car, a newspaper spread over the trunk. He was turning the pages daintily, pinching at the corners to avoid getting ink on his hands. Adem would never act as though he had been waiting for you to show up, would always greet you with the same serious nod. But you knew he had been waiting. You knew that you were the only one at the garage who didn’t make jokes behind his back about the oblong shape of his head or the big cartoon sack of a stomach that hung over his belt.
Because you listened, Adem always felt encouraged, even duty-bound, to be your friend, to offer advice such as what brand of deodorant to use because of the frequent compliments you would surely receive from female passengers. And you didn’t mind.

Adem was not much older and had only been in The Big City a year longer than you, but he was wise and tough with experience. He was already a broker at one of the biggest taxi garages—a fact he never tired of mentioning. Usually, you tried to arrive a little later in the morning to cut short, or avoid, a run-in with him, but today you were early and drowsy and happy to be alive and even smiled at the sight of his billowing corduroy haunches.

When you told Adem about the robbery, he clucked sadly, shook his head, and rested his fat hand on your shoulder, though only for a brief, awkward second. Then he folded his arms quickly and returned to being Adem.

Hadn’t he warned you about that neighborhood? Hadn’t he ridden with you on your first week, muttering and fidgeting in the passenger seat like a spy giving away his country’s top secrets? Hadn’t he told you all the best neighborhoods and times for fares, all the so-so ones, all the bad ones, and all the ones so bad that, if you had the misfortune to find yourself driving through them at a certain time of night, you should consider running the reds?

You shrugged and told him he was right. Adem cleared his paper off your trunk, reached into his pocket, and produced a roll of bills. He peeled off several and handed them to you. When you hesitated, he shoved them into your hand. You took them without a word and slunk into the driver’s seat.

Adem leaned into the window and tapped his finger against the top of his bloated hand. At first, you thought he was pointing to his watch, or an imaginary watch, because Adem did not believe in watches, due to his own elaborate theory that they were the source of his high blood pressure.

For your own good, he said, still tapping his hand. Pass us.

Then you realized that he was actually pointing to the skin on his hand—to the brown of the skin on his hand.

It was in that simple gesture that you became a different person all over again. You saw that it was a foolish thing to have compassion in a place that had never shown you any. And soon, during the night shifts, everyone with skin as dark as yours became invisible. Even during the day you started hesitating, rolling up to them with the doors locked and the passenger window narrowly cracked. You asked where they wanted to go, knowing that you had no intention of taking them there.

You did this not knowing who had robbed you. As you told the two skeptical officers who took the report, the suspect had been wearing a Mickey Mouse mask and had whispered only one word: Money.

Our son, the new letter from your parents began, we were glad to hear your decision on Astrophysics. Father believes it is a good field for someone with your strong Mind. We are always proud of you no matter which field you choose. We can tell even by the shortness of your previous letter that you have become very busy these days. We are so happy. We praise Him that He helped you overcome your sadness. We praise Him when we think of the life you would have lived here.

Your Friend, whose name we cannot mention here, has disappeared. We think you know who we speak of.

And you did know whom your mother—it was her handwriting—meant.

You saw Your Friend’s dark, long face: his small pointed ears, which always made you think of radio antennae; the vacant cast of his big sleepy eyes, which concealed a quick and restless mind. He had been Your Friend since you were young, since the days when you would flip a coin to see who would get to stand on whose shoulders to peek into the open-air showers at the town pool. He had been there to see you off at the airport, had pulled a blue knitted scarf out of his duffel bag, the bag he had started carrying everywhere after his father died, and had handed the scarf to you. You had known what it meant, that it was a symbol of The Movement, in which he had risen to a high rank. After you had dropped out of school to work at your father’s store, Your Friend would come by every week while you were on break to light a cigarette, puff it once, and let it turn into a pillar of ash while he carried on about The Movement’s most recent undertakings, about how you needed to help them topple the Old Country’s regime and build it anew.

Your mother’s eyes, wet from crying, had come alive with fear, darting around the dim terminal, checking to see if any of the armed guards had seen. You had quickly stuffed the scarf into your coat pocket.

Honorary revolutionary, he had said. Don’t forget your brothers.

Now you stuffed your parents’ letter into your pillowcase, which was already filling up with earlier ones, and put your hands together to pray for Your Friend. His words echoed hollowly in your apartment, and you were fast asleep before you had gotten to the end of your prayers.

You found yourself inching through a midday jam. Above you, reflected in the windows of the office buildings, a million summer suns glared out of an otherwise empty white sky. Suddenly, without so much as a cloud of warning, a furious storm of wind and slanting rain unleashed itself on the street.

In the taverns of the Old Country, which had become your home after The Girl had left you, superstitious old men would have said that during a storm in which the sun still shone, a man should lick his palm and rub his crotch three times to avoid having twins. As a taxi driver in The Big City, though, you simply had to switch on your wipers and wait for customers to come pouring out of the buildings, to materialize on the sidewalk, a gauntlet of flailing arms.

You heard voices travel faintly across the lanes of traffic, and when you turned to look, you saw two black men, the sleeves of their collared shirts rolled, winding through the stalled cars toward you. One was trying to cover both of them with an umbrella being ravaged by the storm, buckling against the wind and undulating like a jellyfish. Their faces shimmered with sunlight and water.

Are you working, you heard one of them say.

You locked the doors and hit the Off-Duty switch beside your steering wheel. As the traffic began to move, you started to pull away, and a loud bang shook your car under the blow of one of their fists.

A few blocks down, a white man hailed you. You jumped across the lane and sidled up to him. Are you working? the man asked, looking out from under a large blue and white umbrella. His pale knuckles gripped the curved wooden handle. Light says you’re Off-Duty.

You unlocked the doors. My mistake, you said, and switched on the meter.

When you started off toward the address he had given you, you looked back and caught him draining the last amber sip from a tiny bottle, lips puckering tightly over the opening. He let out a soft, whiskey-flavored sigh.

What a shit storm, he said after a while. Never ends, does it?

You sat up very straight. You can say that twice, you said.

The man snorted and eased back into the deep pocket of the seat. You were tense now, because you knew what was coming. Outside, people were cowering under newspapers, coats, and briefcases, hopping large murky puddles into the crosswalk. They were all hailing you wildly. You were heaven’s chariot at Armageddon, passing by hordes of the damned. Inside the taxi lay salvation. In your rearview, you saw him trace a raindrop down the window with his finger.

You know, I always carry an umbrella, the man said. My wife. Well, ex-wife. She used to make fun of me for it. Called me Rain Man. It could be the middle of spring, not a cloud in the sky, ten-day forecast saying sun. He tipped the umbrella handle to his forehead. But I know better. I even knew she was going to leave me. The fucking irony is that we met in a goddamn bar. We conceived our first daughter in the bathroom of a goddamn bar! And all of a sudden I’m a shitty father because I go to the bar? Because every now and then I enjoy a drop?

A drop never hurt, you said.

He threw his hands up in mock frustration and went on to tell you about the school plays his daughters were in, how he was trying to stay sober for them, and how you were actually driving him to his first meeting in a decade.

I’m doing it for them, you heard him say, and he snapped a wallet-sized photograph against the glass partition. There were two young girls standing with their arms around each other in a wide field. They were in sundresses and hats with big, floppy brims. One had the same jutting chin as he did.

Beautiful, you whispered, just as you realized that the storm had disappeared.
something about the exterior of your building always made you wonder if it wasn’t patched together out of salvaged remains. It was a grim, crumbling jigsaw of things: a narrow gray stoop leading up to a steel door, thickly painted brown, which had brass numbers hanging from it in unfastened disarray, like the superscript and subscript of an invisible equation.

You poured yourself half a glass of whiskey and sat silently on your futon for several minutes. Why did passengers feel so comfortable telling you their stories, as though you were an old friend, a shaman, a psychiatrist? You let your meter run; that was the extent of your expertise. Was there something about you, the backward three-quarter profile they all saw, next to the dour face on your license, that gave them unspoken permission to share their deep secrets, confess their sordid vices, prattle on and on about their good ideas, good deeds, vacations? How many earnestly offered business cards cluttered your glove box! Or was it not in fact a mysterious affection they had for you? Was this misplaced trust actually something else, an implicit fear of having their lives in your hands, that manifested as chattiness? Was their desperate need to talk another way of saying, please, sir, don’t kill me today?

You went into the cramped bathroom, smiling in the mirror while you urinated. You flushed with one hand and cranked on the faucet with the other. As the water ran, you reached into the cabinet under the sink. Inside the mildewed cube of particleboard was an unopened box of cotton balls, an empty picture frame, a rotted copy of the old course catalog, and your Mind Fund, which was nearly full. You took several bills from your wallet, half the day’s earnings, and crammed them into the can. Soon you would have enough, you thought, checking yourself in the mirror once again, nodding proudly.

You sat on the futon imagining yourself among a hall full of students, except they were not regular students. They were people you recognized: The Girl, Your Friend, the two men you had passed earlier, and a few younger versions of yourself.

The metallic clatter of someone repeatedly pressing the doorbell woke you. You went to open it. Standing there was a person who you assumed was one of your downstairs neighbors, a withered old man with a red kimono parted over the ceramic smoothness of his mole-flecked chest. He shoved an envelope at you.

This you, he said loudly in an accent you could not place. Mail oops!

Then he shrugged and disappeared down the staircase.

It was another letter from the Old Country, but when you opened it, expecting to see several pages of your mother’s erratic blue squiggles, you were met instead with a single page, covered in faint, angular pencil marks that you did not recognize immediately.

I hope you don’t mind my writing you, the letter began. I got your address from your mother. She did not seem happy to hear from me when I called the other day. It reminded me of how we used to joke that she never really liked me. Now I guess she doesn’t have to hide it. I understand that you are very busy these days, and I am happy to hear that. You must be living a very different life now.

I am doing okay.

That is a lie. I am not doing okay. But that is my concern, not yours.

You must know that I always think of you…

The following night was your slowest ever. You crawled from light to light, seeking out the emptiest streets, as the past came speeding back: memories of your last days in the Old Country, your helplessness, your hysteria. The Girl had ruined your life, had brazenly left you for a rich man her father’s age, had made you feel less than a man, less than human. Through time and space, you could still hear the honk of this man’s Mercedes outside your parents’ house as she sat beside you in the living room, crying and asking you to understand.

Why had she written after all this time? Why now? Was it true that she still thought of you?

All these things were swerving through your mind, rendering your other faculties useless, out of order, Off-Duty. You had ignored Adem earlier that morning when he had tried to read you your horoscope.

Gemini, you thought you heard him yell as you screeched out of the garage.
You were at the tail end of your shift when a black man, standing alone, came into view. His right hand was raised while his dark lips mouthed the word taxi. He had seen you. You pretended not to see him and hit the Off-Duty light. But as you sped past, you snuck a second look. There was something about him. Wide eyes. High forehead. Until the horn of a city bus went off, loud and long, you didn’t see how far you had drifted into the wrong lane.

You were staring because he looked exactly like you.

You hung a sudden right at the next light and more horns went off. A woman in a towering fur hat flagged you down, but you did not stop. You rubbed your eyes. You were hallucinating. The Girl was doing it again, even from a world away. You should have returned the car to Adem hours ago, taken the train home, been dozing on your futon. You should have been feeling the burn of whiskey in your throat as you watched her letter go up in flames on your fire escape.

But you had to make sure, didn’t you? So you steered back onto the street where you had last seen him, and he was still waving away and mouthing taxi over and over. No one else was stopping. You pulled up beside him.

The rearview gave you a better look at him, and now it was undeniable. This man was you. Not someone who resembled you, not a man who might have also been from the Old Country, not a long-lost relative or even a twin, but you exactly. Your face, your black wiry moustache, your movements—you. The only difference was his clothing. He was wearing The Movement’s scarf. It was the same blue scarf Your Friend had given you. You recognized the loops and swirls in the knitting as he closed the door.

His scarf was much shabbier, fraying at the ends and full of stains and small holes, so worn it seemed silken. Seconds ticked away as you idled at the light, neither of you saying a word. You asked him where he was going, and in a thin, quivering voice he said, The University. You forgot to start the meter.

$2.50: You are still in the world. Your hands are on the steering wheel. You are driving a taxi. You are a taxi driver. This is The Big City.

$2.50: Why is he rubbing his temples like that?

$2.50: What in God’s name? Doesn’t he see his face on the license?

Do you know the university very well? he asked after a while. I am trying to reach The Psychiatry House.

That’s what he said, The Psychiatry House.

Something about him made you think that you weren’t dropping him off at class.

You shook your head slowly, and in the rearview he stared back at you with an even wearier, blanker version of your own eyes. As you stared, his right eye seemed to wander toward the window and turn green.

When you reached The University, you printed out a receipt for $2.50. Neither of you seemed to notice that the meter hadn’t been running. He gave you a few dollars, and when he left, you parked the car to follow him on foot.

You trailed him through the wrought iron gates of The University, through the brick-lined walkways, watching him blush as he stopped to ask one person after another for directions to The Psychiatry House. Finally, he found it, and after a few of the most anxious minutes of your life, waiting outside the building and cursing The Girl for finally having made you lose your mind, you pulled open the heavy oak door and stepped in.

There was a receptionist at the front desk. She had a short bob and wore a telephone headset, which for a moment appeared alien to you, as though it were an invention from the future.

You’re back, said the receptionist, with a surprised smile. Didn’t you find the room?

Careful, you thought.

I’m sorry, you said. I’m very forgetful. What did I say I was here for?

The receptionist slowly blinked and nodded, a calculated gesture of pity. A bead of sweat fell from the tip of your nose. You’re here to see Doctor Greene, she said with the air of a person who often answered strange questions.

For the study, she nodded, even slower.

Your country, she paused, unsure. Where you came from.

Yes, you said. Where I came from.

You were tortured.

Yes, you said. Tortured.

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!

When the last few hours of your last shift as a taxi driver finally rolled around, the sky was paused between day and evening in a dark, low-wattage light that seemed to be its most natural shade of blue. You spotted a stoop-shouldered man wearing a gray trench coat that caught the strange color of the air and turned it an iridescent purple. He held his long arm out to you, the dark, wizened hand drooping like a dead leaf over the street. A stream of taxis flowed past him with their Off-Duty lights aglow.

When you stopped, you realized that his body had been concealing the tiny figure of a woman beside him. The top of your car hid their faces, so all you could see were the matching silver crucifixes dangling from their necks. They slid into the backseat carrying two modest suitcases, which they placed in the seat between them. Before the man could tell you where they were going, the woman collapsed awkwardly across the luggage, diving face-first into his shoulder. She let out several high, piercing wails. You had never heard anyone cry like that in your car. You reached backward with a packet of tissues in your hand. When the old man grabbed them, muttering a thank you, the ghost of an electric current passed through his touch and his voice.

Staring down, with his gaze lost somewhere in the dim footwell, his jowly face trapped in a desolate grimace, was your father. He rubbed his arm around the heaving shoulders of a woman who you suddenly realized was your mother. Below the sound of her voice, a high shrieking alarm seemed to go off in your ears. You whipped back around.

Your mother’s wails began to cohere into words. He’s gone, she was saying. My son is gone. You started to feel an eerie warmth at your neck, where the white-knuckled handle of the robber’s knife had been.

Above the snake eyes of your pink dice, your father’s hard, hooded eyes stared back at you with a squint of recognition. But the look crumbled away as quickly as it had appeared. To the airport please, he barely said.

$3.90: He is in a better place now, you heard your father say. The rough skin of his hands produced a sharp noise against the cheap, synthetic material of your mother’s coat. He is with the Lord.

$12.20: My son, she kept saying. My son. In the sweet, singsong language of the Old Country she tried to summon you from the dead, from the cemetery where—you seemed to know without needing to ask—they had buried some version of you earlier that day.

$19.10: After she had settled down a bit, and you had tried your best to understand the meaning, the overt significance of this moment, you heard her wonder aloud how you could have done it. How you could have jumped from the roof of your building and left this life. Left them to suffer. There are things we will never know, your father said. His words seemed to press with heat into the back of your neck, like feverish fingers. Things we should never know.

When you got home, after you had shared a good-bye doughnut with Adem and he had taken the keys to your taxi with an indifferent shrug, another letter from your parents was waiting. You sat for an hour staring at it with terror and wonder. Your mother complained about the heat in the Old Country and of missing you, and she signed your father’s name at the bottom of the letter, though you knew that he hadn’t been around when she’d written it. He probably had no idea she had been writing you all these months.

The letter mentioned nothing about your death or the ride you had given them that very day. How could it? Instead, it had news about The Girl. Her rich husband had died and she was quickly wasting away from what your mother was too embarrassed to call The Virus. You read it once, twice, and saw again the deep furrows around your mother’s mouth, vivid in your mind from earlier when she’d drifted away from your cab toward the airport counters. The loneliness you always felt after reading her letters suffocated you now. The room echoed thickly with your breathing, and you sat for a while clutching the letter, upset with yourself for having burned The Girl’s picture, then her letter. Soon, all evidence of your frenzied love would be gone and so would she.

You went to the cupboard and poured yourself a mug of whiskey. You took the drink into the bathroom with a copy of the Free Weekly. You sat on the edge of the tub and flipped to the back of the paper. Full color ads for phone sex and escorts cluttered the pages. You reached into your underwear.

Then one photograph in particular, of a slender woman with black-black hair glancing backward over her bare ass, stopped you. Those thick eyelashes. That long, muscular neck. It was The Girl. You stared at the photograph. First, you thought, I pick up a man on the street who is me; then I pick up two people who are my parents, who believe I have killed myself; now I see a photograph of a prostitute who looks so much like The Girl.

The ad quoted a price for a home visit. You had more than enough from the day’s earnings to afford it. You wouldn’t even have to dip into the Mind Fund. Your father had tipped you well, you realized, looking at the sheaf of bills in your wallet, finding it somewhat funny that money from your father’s holy store was helping you hire a whore. You took this as a sign and dialed the number.

A woman with a husky voice answered and you arranged for her to come over in an hour. You flew about the room, fluffing throw pillows and cleaning the bathroom sink. You refilled your mug and put on a cassette of slow, scratchy ballads from the Old Country that The Girl used to love.

When the buzzer sounded, you stumbled downstairs to open the door, and right away, you saw that she looked nothing like the photograph, or The Girl. In fact, shortly after she took a seat beside you on the futon, straightening her hot pink miniskirt with two huge hands, you realized that she was not even a she.

You offered him a drink, and then you offered food, and then, not knowing what else to offer, you turned on the TV. He was getting annoyed. By way of conversation, you said, I didn’t know you would be a man.

Where’s your bathroom, he asked, getting to his feet and towering over you. You pointed across the room, and he excused himself. While he was gone, you took the opportunity to look again at the ad. In fine print near the bottom were the words Transvestite Escort Service. Without thinking, you drained the rest of your whiskey mug in one gulp and went to the cupboard to refill.

When he returned, you sat together in front of the TV for a few more unbearable minutes. Then, feeling quite drunk, you lifted the remote, switched off the TV, and looked at him meaningfully. You knew he must have been wondering what this was all about, so you tried to explain yourself. You said you had been having a difficult month. You thought his picture had reminded you of someone from back home. Someone you used to love very much. You even told him that she had broken your heart, left you for a rich man who had died of The Virus and had most likely passed it on to her.

The transvestite was not unsympathetic and asked you nicely if you would care for a blow job. No, I am sorry, you said. Thank you. You called him a car.

You walked him to the door and thanked him again. For everything. And when you reached for your wallet, asking him how much you owed for his troubles, he caught you by the hand and shook his head slowly. Then he kissed you on the cheek so gently it made the hairs on the back of your arms stand up. You had forgotten what that felt like.

Tonight could have been worse, you thought with relief on your way back up the staircase. It was not healthy, this gastric turbulence you felt at every moment, this sense that you were teetering always on the brink of catastrophe. You still had a wallet full of money, thanks to the gracious transvestite.

As you walked back into the pleasing warmth of your apartment, you realized that the urge to urinate had become an uncomfortable grapefruit in your side. You dove into the bathroom and your body went limp with relief as you peed. You shivered and grinned, tingling all over as though you had had an orgasm. You were not a taxi driver anymore. You were just you. You were simply and beautifully you. You belonged to no one, not even The Girl. You flushed.

You pinched all the bills from your wallet and folded them tightly, crouching to open the cabinet and nearly losing your balance on the way down, catching yourself against the wall and laughing. When you looked in and saw the gleaming ridges of the can, it did not register immediately why there were no longer any bills scattered around it or flopping out over the lip.

Then it did register.

The Mind Fund was empty. Empty of bills and of coins. Empty as the wet, lamp-lit street outside your building, where seconds later you raced to catch the transvestite. It was as empty as the echo, up and down the block, of your meandering footsteps and your pathetic voice as it screamed out for anyone to hear: There is a thief! There is a thief!

You paced the apartment, dialing and dialing the number on the ad. No one answered. You thought about calling the police, but when you remembered the gimme-a-break way they had glared at you after you told them the Mickey Mouse bandit had disappeared into the night, you saw that it was useless. Even if they could have believed how much money you kept in a soup can under your sink, they would never have bought the story of the transvestite. That you had invited him into your house because you had thought he reminded you of The Girl you once loved. There was no one who would have believed any of it, except Your Friend; Your Friend would have believed you. But where was he? And how different was that place from where you were now?

You saw the suffocating smallness of your apartment for what it truly was: a jail cell measuring out the exact breadth of your helplessness. The room seemed suddenly to contract around you, until you felt you had no other choice but to flee, to grab the whiskey bottle, toss the door open, and bolt up the staircase toward the roof.

In the bracing evening air, you stood near the low, uneven brick wall that skirted the roof’s edge, cradling the empty tin can—your lobotomized Mind Fund—against your chest. You unscrewed the whiskey bottle and filled the can to the brim, swallowing a foul, metallic throatful as punishment. Punishment for what you had done and what you would do.

There is no other place like this place, you murmured. A chilly wind swept across the rooftop, catching your phrase and spreading it over The Big City, whose lights glared cruelly in the distance. You gritted your teeth and took a step onto the low parapet and wobbled unsteadily over the edge. Then, with boundless relief, you felt yourself falling.

Backward. You had fallen backward onto the rough black tiles of the roof and passed out. This was where your neighbor, the man in the red kimono who had delivered The Girl’s letter, found you the next morning. He nudged his leather sandal into your side. Daylight hammered against your eyelids. Eyelids which covered two real, intact eyes, the eyes you had come into this world with, the eyes that hadn’t been gouged out by torture, or splattered across the pavement by suicide. The eyes that could see so clearly the white tangle of hair in your neighbor’s nostrils.

You dead, your neighbor asked.

You rose to your elbows and saw that he was again in his kimono, but this time he also wore a visor with a translucent green bill. In one hand was a yellow tin watering pail.

As you looked around, it seemed as though, overnight, the roof had miraculously become a garden. It was covered in plants, bushes, flowers, all assortment of leafy green life: vines spilling out of clay pots, blistering with tight red clusters of berries. How had you missed this?

It seemed unreal that such a garden could have always been there, growing above you.

Not dead, you said, and the words stung your throat.

That night you headed back to the garage to beg Adem for your taxi back. He had a good laugh when he saw your dour expression as you walked through the office door. You always come back, he said, slapping the keys into your hand. You were grateful to him for not asking questions.

You returned to the life of the long, grueling shift. The painful pinch in your lower back reappeared with fury. Every corner, you half expected to see the transvestite waving you down. You prepared for this, but it never happened. You checked the newest edition of the Free Weekly for his ad, but it had disappeared. You tried the number every hour of every day until a few nights later, stuck in traffic and borrowing the phone of an anxious woman on her way to meet her daughter-in-law, you heard an operator say that she was sorry, but this number was no longer in service.

You dropped off the sighing mother-in-law in front of her hotel. With one hand you counted out on your armrest the money she had handed you, and with the other hand you steered toward the stop light at the end of the block.

I have two stops to make, a man’s voice said from the backseat, making you jump.
My God, you said, the bills scattering onto the floor as you braked suddenly. Because you had been busy counting the money—she shorted you on the tip—you had not seen him slide into the backseat when she had gotten out.

You just hop into my taxi without asking? you barked.

Catching his reflection in the rearview, you stopped short, because sitting there—somewhat older, graying at the temples, slightly more wrinkled—was another man who was also you.

Well, do you want me to get out? he said in a huff.

No, you said.

He was wearing a black tuxedo, a black bow tie, and stylish rectangular glasses. He held up two fingers. Two stops, he said. Is that a problem?

No.

Good, he said, settling back into the seat. I thought for a microsecond that you were going to be one of those self-hating cab drivers who didn’t take us anywhere.

No, you said, feeling inexplicably tired. All you had the energy to say was no. No, no, no.

Soon, this other you took out his phone and called someone. Hello, he said. Yes, we’re on the way now. You thought his voice sounded softer as he spoke to the person on the other end. The traffic is letting up. We should be there in a few microseconds.

What was with the microsecond business? you wondered.

After he hung up the phone and sat gazing out of the window, you sat up very straight, more straight and rigid than you had ever sat, ignoring the shooting pains in your back, and you said to him, You look…familiar.

His eyes, quick and direct, caught yours in the mirror. Do I? he said.

Careful, you thought, adjusting the rearview so that he could more clearly see your face, and you his.

Would I know you from anywhere? you said.

Perhaps.

You nodded as though he had revealed something momentous. All this Perhaps and Microsecond business. You wondered where he had learned to use words like that, where he had gotten the money to dress like that.

Have you ever studied at The University? he said.

A strange question, you could not help thinking, which somehow carried the aftertaste of an accusation.

No, you said. Are you a student?

He laughed in that way you recognized as the way you laughed when you knew someone was doing a bad job of concealing their disdain for you. I am a professor, he said. There was a bit of a silence. Perhaps you know my book, he said.

Your book, you said. No, I’m sorry.

Here, he said, as he reached into his jacket and produced a warped paperback and handed it to you through the partition window. The cover read Realms of the Possible: Life and Death in the Multiverse. You did not want to get into an accident, so you glanced quickly from book to road, road to book, trying to read the smaller quotes peppering the front cover. You saw that he had a different name than yours. There was a small black-and-white image of him on the back and more quotes. Blah blah blah one of the brilliant minds of his blah blah blah Associate Professor of Astrophysics at The University blah blah blah.

I only have it on me because I’m reading from it tonight, he said, in the voice you recognized as your own embarrassed-at-your-own-lack-of-humility-in-the-presence-of-a-stranger voice.

What is it about? you asked, handing it back.

He told you something about bubbles and strings and probability, and you nodded as though you understood.

For example, he said, pointing to the furry cubes hanging from the rearview, when someone rolls a pair of dice, one could ask why they land the way they do. All possible outcomes happen. Each occurs in a separate universe that is parallel to ours, but also different in crucial ways.

Cautiously, you asked, What if a possible universe intruded on our universe? Maybe even on our city? Maybe even, and your heart was pounding as you said this, in one’s taxi?

You looked at his reflection in the rearview. It was your reflection. You wondered if he had noticed that you were the same person happening in two different places.

Now we’re getting into the terrain of fiction, he said, and both of you laughed.
Everything that happens today, he continued, hints at an infinite number of unknowable events that might happen tomorrow. We might not notice these hints as they’re happening. We might wonder why we are so blind to them in the present. But what eventually does end up happening, the thing we call history or the circumstance of life, is understandable as the accrual of those hints, which is still—oops!

The man had become so agitated as he was speaking that one of his cuff links came loose from its sleeve and shot through the narrow window in the partition, ricocheting with a snap off the glove box. My apologies, he said. He seemed embarrassed as he leaned his head as close to the opening in the partition as he could to see where the cuff link had landed.

It’s okay, you said. You glanced over, and there it was, resting like a tiny gold passenger in the seat beside you. You saw the design: three overlapping circles, arranged like a Venn diagram, with circles within those circles. It registered as something scientific to you, perhaps the symbol of a rare molecule that he had discovered. How did you know so many things? Even if you were still hallucinating, which now seemed improbable, how did you understand so easily all of this esoteric knowledge?

When you reached over to grab the cuff link and examine it more closely, you saw that it wasn’t anything esoteric or scientific, but instead showed the smug, gold-plated face of Mickey Mouse.

He snatched it a bit roughly from your fingers and thanked you. Silly gift, he said. From my daughter.

Oh, you thought. Your daughter.

You pulled up to his first stop. He told you to leave the meter running in the patronizing professorial voice he had been using throughout the ride. He darted into a hair salon, and before he emerged, holding open the front door for her, you already knew whom he would walk out with, his arm wrapped around her waist.

Of course, you thought. The Multiverse.

Out they came, the older you and The Girl. Except, watching her walk toward you wearing a perfect crown of black-black hair, her fluted green dress rippling over the delicate flare of her slender hips, you could not rightly call her The Girl. She was The Woman. Mature, regal, and beautiful, where The Girl, in your memory, was still only pretty.

You could not keep your eyes on the road for the rest of the trip, so engrossed were you with staring at The Woman. You wanted to talk to her but could think of nothing to ask. Instead, feeling quite jealous now, you clumsily told him that you had considered studying Astrophysics once. He was nuzzling his nose into her hair, and unlike The Girl you had known, who would have pushed you away and scolded you for ruining her new hairdo, The Woman only laughed.

They ignored you. Whatever outcome this could have been, whatever kind of man you would have had to be to make The Girl love you again, love you even though you were not rich, even though you drove a taxi and not a Mercedes, you did not know anymore if it was worth it. You could spend your whole lives trying, but she would never be this woman, and you would never be this man. You are a beautiful couple, you almost said, tears quietly filling your eyes. You could not see through them. The road fell away in broad, silver arcs, and you were forced to pull over.

Why did he stop? you heard The Woman whisper. It was unfair what that voice could do to you.

We’re here, you said, even though you knew that the banquet hall was still a block away.

So we are, he said.

He tipped you generously and, with a little wink, wished you good luck. When he got out, offering The Woman his bent arm, she slapped it twice before weaving her own through it. You were grateful to him. Perhaps he knew why you had stopped prematurely. Perhaps he knew that you had wanted to watch yourself walking with her for only a few microseconds more, to savor the brief, blissful time that they were having together in this possibility of a world, before he would have to be swept up into the fanfare of the occasion, into the unknown, into the life that was his far superior dice roll.

Above the din of car horns blaring behind you from a seemingly endless line of taxicabs, stretching out behind you into infinity, all you were able to hear was the lonely, beautiful clopping of their footsteps down the street, echoing like the footsteps of several or dozens or maybe an infinite number of the two of them, disappearing forever into this and all nights.

And what mattered was that you were a taxicab driver with your lights on, open for business, and that each night, like this night, you would drop off a fare and join the stream of other drivers along the highway, passing one exit ramp after the next. Driving home with a hand pressed between the seats and that vexing pinch in your back, you would roll down your window, breathe deeply, and feel The Big City spreading out around you in a shimmering, invisible web of possibility.

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