He was wearing a long-sleeved checkered polo shirt and I tried hard not to grant him a second glance. His face reminded me of the word “chiseled” romance parodies indulge in, except he wasn’t Greek; he was more like those skinny sun-burnt activists some of my friends would deny being attracted to. Then again, I might have only imagined them to be sharp. It was two hours before midnight and I was kissing my cousin goodbye, opening and closing the taxi’s door before my lies, on whom I was meeting with and where I was going, caught up with me.
I saw him eyeing me from the rear-view mirror, and though based on experience, older taxi drivers were the exhausting bastards, I succumbed to prejudice and started texting away until I didn’t have enough load that I just pretended on pressing the buttons.
But I couldn’t keep up with it. It never takes too much to make me dizzy in a vehicle and as if on cue, he started asking me the usual questions. He wondered if I was working in Libis, if I was just a student, and if I was then going home.
My answers were curt, or they tried to be. The words awkwardly tumbled out my mouth as my mind battled with what was socially acceptable information to share. Do I tell him the truth or not? Is it okay to lie? Are his questions too personal? Will he use this information to stalk or rob me? As my eyes made sure that we were on familiar streets, my mouth stuttered and there was a point that my crooked teeth even tried to stop my tongue from moving.
But he pressed on. I could hear him smiling and I watched the mirror reflect the corner of his eyes crinkling. Since I was having a hard time passing his test, he switched to declarative sentences. He started making commentaries about traffic jams and call center wages. And he gave way to my own questions.
He told me that I should try working for a call center and I asked him what school he graduated from. He burst out laughing. Trying to do damage control, I put another foot in my mouth as I told him that in my school, students don’t usually go out to be call center agents and that it’s not about the money, more of a focus on career. He laughed, and for the first time, I would use this word about someone’s laugh, he laughed heartily. After he leaned his head on the wheel, he raised an eyebrow on the mirror and he said, “Isn’t that what you call pride?”
I smiled. We started talking about how he got his job, where he lived, why he didn’t follow through with IT. Later on, he would tell me about bocha being fed to prisoners and other prisoners being killed because there’s not enough room in jails anymore. I would pretend knowing what bocha is by asking where he got all these information. From a passenger cop, he said confidently. I started wondering if he was pulling my leg but the conversation went towards hold-ups that I was too busy believing every word he said, so much so that the nervous feeling started creeping in again for I wondered why we were dwelling on the subject longer than I was comfortable with. Sensing my unease, he started telling me about his wife and five-year-old kid. How the kid was not very curious but just plain malikot. How his kid would run around and then demand his father to smell his armpits. Hence, he continued, someone had to stay home to look after the kid. He told me his wife just recently resigned because they were taking turns in being at home for the kid.
I held his eye in the mirror, and though I didn’t have a good view of his whole face, told him he looked too young to be married. He blinked twice or thrice.
He was going to say something when I realized we passed the street where he was supposed to turn left. He immediately looked for the nearest U-turn slot and told me he thought I live there and I know the place.
“No, I’m just meeting someone.”
“With your boyfriend?”
Yes. “No, just someone. A person. A friend.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
He laughed. I rummaged my bag to pay for the fare so high, that I wasn’t sure if I didn’t notice because we were talking or he just plainly cheated me. But I had to get out of there before the meter dropped another Peso. Then again, I was on autopilot. Looking at his stretched out hand, I handed him the money, opened the door, and heard him bid me take care. He was still smiling but I only remember myself nodding. I remember catching a view of the collar of his shirt and walking away before he could even ask my name.
I didn’t want to ask his anyway.