Translated from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston

 

Thirty years I’m a cabbie,’ the small guy sitting behind the wheel tells me, ‘thirty years and not one accident.’ It’s been almost an hour since I got into his taxi in Beersheba and he hasn’t stopped talking for second. Under different circumstances I would tell him to shut up, but I don’t have the energy for that today. Under different circumstances I wouldn’t shell out 350 shekels to take a taxi to Tel Aviv. I would take the train. But today I feel that I have to get home as early as I can. Like a melting Popsicle that has to get back to the freezer, like a telephone that urgently needs to be charged.

I spent last night at Ichilov Hospital with my wife. She had a miscarriage and was bleeding heavily. We thought it would be okay – until she passed out. It wasn’t until we got to the emergency room that they told us that her life was in danger and gave her a blood transfusion. Three days before that, my dad’s doctors told me and my parents that the cancer at the base of his tongue, which had been in remission for four years, was back and the tumour was at such an advanced stage that the only way to fight it was to remove his tongue and larynx. The oncologist said she didn’t recommend having the surgery, but my dad said he was for it. The oncologist told him the operation would leave him seriously handicapped, unable to speak or eat. ‘At my age,’ my dad said, ‘all I need are my heart and my eyes so I can enjoy watching my grandchildren grow.’ When we left the room, the doctor whispered to me, ‘Try to talk to him.’ She clearly doesn’t know my dad.

The taxi driver repeats for the hundredth time that in thirty years he hasn’t had a single accident and that, all of a sudden, five days ago, his car ‘kissed’ the bumper of the car in front him travelling at twenty kilometres per hour. When they stopped and checked he saw that, except for a scratch on the left side of the bumper, the other car hadn’t really been damaged at all. He offered the other driver 200 shekels on the spot, but the driver insisted they exchange insurance information. The next day, the driver, a Russian, asked him to come to a garage, and he and the owner – probably a friend of his – showed him a huge dent all the way on the other side of the car and said the damage was 2,000 shekels. My cab driver refused to pay and now the other guy’s insurance company was suing him.

‘Don’t worry, it’ll be okay,’ I tell him, in the hope that my words will make him stop talking for a minute. ‘How will it be okay?’ he complains. ‘They’re going to screw me. Those bastards are going to squeeze the money out of me. You see how unfair it is? Five days I haven’t slept. Do you get what I’m saying?’

‘Stop thinking about it,’ I suggest, ‘try thinking about other things in your life. Happy things.’

‘I can’t,’ the cab driver groans and grimaces, ‘I just can’t.’

‘Then stop talking to me about it,’ I say. ‘Keep on thinking and suffering but just don’t tell me about it any more, OK?’

‘It’s not the money,’ the taxi driver continues, ‘believe me. It’s the injustice that gets me.’

‘Shut up,’ I say, finally losing it, ‘just shut up for a minute.’

‘What are you yelling for?’ the cab driver asks, insulted. ‘I’m an old man. It’s not nice.’

‘I’m yelling because my father is going to die if they don’t cut his tongue out of his mouth.’ I continue to yell, ‘I’m yelling because my wife is in the hospital after a miscarriage.’ The driver is silent for the first time since I got into his taxi, and now I’m suddenly the one who can’t stop the stream of words.

‘Let’s make a deal,’ I say, ‘get me to an ATM and I’ll take out 2,000 shekels and give it to you. In exchange, it’ll be your father who has to have his tongue removed and your wife who’s lying in a hospital bed getting a blood transfusion after a miscarriage.’ The driver is still silent. And now, so am I. I feel a little uncomfortable for having shouted at him but not uncomfortable enough to apologize. To avoid his eyes, I look out the window. The road sign we pass says ‘Rosh Ha’ayin’ and I realize that we missed the exit to Tel Aviv. I tell him that politely, or I shout it angrily, I don’t recall any more. He tells me not to worry. He doesn’t really know the way, but in a minute, he’ll find out.

A few seconds later he parks in the right lane of the highway after managing to convince another driver to stop. He starts to get out of the taxi to ask for directions to Tel Aviv. ‘You’ll kill us both,’ I tell him. ‘You can’t stop here.’

‘Thirty years I’m a cabbie,’ he tosses back at me as he gets out of the taxi, ‘thirty years and not one accident.’ Alone in the cab, I can feel the tears rising. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I want to be positive, like my dad. My wife is fine now and we already have a wonderful son. My dad survived the Holocaust and has reached the age of 83. That’s not just a half-full glass; it’s a glass overflowing. I don’t want to cry. Not in this taxi. The tears are welling up and will soon begin to flow. Suddenly I hear a crashing boom and the sound of windows breaking. The world around me shatters. A silver car veers across the next lane, completely smashed. The taxi moves too. But not on the ground. It floats above it towards the concrete wall on the side of the road. After it hits, there’s another bang. Another car must have hit the taxi.

In the ambulance, the paramedic wearing a yarmulke tells me I was very lucky. An accident like that with no deaths is a miracle. ‘The minute you’re discharged from the hospital,’ he says, ‘you should run to the nearest synagogue and give thanks for still being alive.’ My cellphone rings. It’s my dad. He’s only calling to ask how my day at the university was and whether the little boy is asleep yet. I tell him that the little one is sleeping and my day at the university was great. And Shira, my wife, is fine too. She just stepped into the shower. ‘What’s that noise?’ he asks.

‘An ambulance siren,’ I tell him. ‘One just passed by in the street.’

Once, five years ago, when I was in Sicily with my wife and son, I called my dad to ask how he was. He said everything was fine. In the background, a voice on a loudspeaker was calling a Dr Shulman to the operating room. ‘Where are you?’ I asked. ‘In the supermarket,’ my dad said without a moment’s hesitation. ‘They’re announcing on the loudspeaker that someone lost her purse.’

He sounded so convincing when he said that. So confident and happy.

‘Why are you crying?’ my dad asks now, from the other side of the line. ‘It’s nothing,’ I say as the ambulance stops next to the emergency ward and the paramedic slams the ambulance doors open. ‘Really, its nothing.’

 

Photo by jonny2love

Anthony Shadid
The Doctor Will See You Now