Everything is upside down because you are not here. It hits me in the most unexpected places, on the most unexpected days and today is one of those. I can’t call you and tell you about the books I’m reading, about the speakers I’m hearing, or about the big thoughts I’m thinking.
I thought about you as I slid into the cab and the driver spoke in a thick Eastern European accent. His voice was so deep, so low that I had to lean forward in my seat to hear.
“MGM Grand Conference Center, please.” I hold my bag on my lap and look out the window at the drizzle raining down on the Strip. It’s not enough to fill puddles, just enough to give the street the illusion of being clean. It’s the quiet of morning, no flashing signs, no men snapping fistfuls of paper women at passerby.
“Where are you from?” I ask, watching the corners of the windows etch with steam.
“I live here. Where are you from?”
“No, Northern California, the pretty part of the state-with lakes and mountains.”
“I lived in California many years ago.” He waits for the light to turn from red to green.
“But where are you from?”
“Romania.” He clips the word and I hesitate for a moment, wondering why he left Romania, wondering what he isn’t saying, always wondering, always wanting to know the rest of the story.
“I’ve been to Romania. My grandmother took me on a bus tour of Eastern Europe for my thirtieth birthday. Romania is beautiful. I always had my nose pressed to the bus window when we drove through Romania.” My rush of words fog up the cab window.
“What towns did you visit?”
“Oh, I’m terrible with names. Say some of the names and I’ll tell you if we visited the towns.”
“Romania isn’t very big. Only the size of Oregon.” His eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror. His are brown almost black and mine are turquoise today. “Of course there’s Bucharest. And there’s Brashov.”
“We visited Bucharest, but Brashov was my favorite. I prefer smaller towns.”
“I am from Brashov.”
“Do you visit Romania often?”
“I haven’t been back there in twenty-six years.” He says, the decades stacking in his throat, the lapse of time thick in his tone. He pauses and I don’t say anything. “But I’m going back in March.”
“This March?” I resist the urge to ask this stranger about the long stretch of years between homecomings.
He leaves me wondering and asks another question instead, “Why did your grandmother take you there?”
“For my birthday.” I repeat.
“But why Romania?”
“She loves,um, loved-” I correct your life to past tense and it stops my heart for a moment. “She loved to travel to places she hadn’t been before. She had a heart for meeting people all over the world.”
“She gave this to you.”
“Yes, it was a present for my birthday.” I fiddle with my wallet, slipping out cash, guessing at the number of bills I’ll need to pay when we arrive at my destination.
“No,” his eyes smile in the mirror. “You’re here. She gave you a love of travel.”
“Yes, I suppose she did.” I smile back.
“Her heart is your heart. Her blood is your blood.”
The taxi comes to a stop at the curb. I hand a wad of folded up bills over the seat, more bills than I’d first counted out, still a paltry offering for this taxi driver who has walked the same streets you and I walked, an entire ocean and calendars of years away.
I think about how the cash I give him isn’t nearly enough for the man who reminded me that you’re still here, that my blood is your blood, that your heart is my heart.
“Thank you. Have a safe trip home.” I say to him.
“You, too.” He tucks the bills in his back pocket and flashes a last smile.
I step out onto the curb and I no longer feel so upside down. The rain holds its breath and I begin to feel righted again.