The damn summertime in Detroit is the worst time to be outside. The black folks in raggedy cars fry under the sun and watch pretty white asses cross the street or maybe something else. You sit in one particular cab. Your name is Hector Valdez and you are an immigrant from Mexico listening to the sounds of Mrs. Celia Cruz. The sun that will silently destroy your brown face is captured by the softness that keeps you calm and will slowly melt away. Your car is a faded piss-color that reflects off the sunlight near the crack house on Watson Street.
You look in the mirror; a black girl is crossing the street, her nappy curls break from the yank of her pimp’s hand. You turn away, a green light urging you forward and you are gone. Still stuck under that streetlight, the black girl reminds you of a stolen book bag, a faded memory of a bygone era of beat boxes, Adidas shoes and typewriter bracelets.
You cannot stop for her; the next time is your last but that will not come for a few minutes. You glance up; you cannot see a thing. Your eyes twinkle as ghetto children will make wishes upon false stars. Perhaps you’ll play the lottery. You glance at your watch: It is almost evening. It is 6:33, a strange time indeed. You turn on the radio but it is about death. You shoot past another flicking light and pass wilted bouquets and moldy teddy bears.
A woman is standing on the corner, her thumb stuck out, her dark sunglasses rotting beneath cakes of makeup beneath a battle-scarred face but what is pleasure? A romantic twelve-gauge shotgun that lands with delicate care onto dangerous, fake faces whose eyes will widen when they realize how strange it is to see the smiling sun in close range. The shape of hands, the ammunition of a thousand armies and your visor drops in deluded fright as your car slams on the brakes to avoid twelve angry pigeons, one of whom is lying lame and dreamy under the blood-red evening sun.
The woman opens the door and climbs in. Her lips caress words with ease and You pinch the meter in sight. You close the door and speed off into the evening night. You side-step the birds and flick a dozen gray hairs of his in different directions.
“I’m thinking of playing the lottery. Got any numbers you can suggest, honey?” You ask but it is more of a statement than a question.
“Yeah, none. Now, I’m going to 1212 Penrod St. and please hurry,” she says, looking down at her watch, “I haven’t got much time.”
“All right.” You arrive at another red light. Homeless men are putting on a late-night play. The streetlights hide their faces but you can see them carrying one off down the street. Maybe someone is on a cross and has earned the right to be carried by the other men. You look in the mirror. Your own cross is hanging from the shadows, which give you one as well. You realize that you need to shave but then you hear a noise and your eyes focus on the woman sitting behind you.
You begin to notice some strange things about her. For one, she has black leather gloves on her hands. They move up the unusually hairy arms. Two, she has a moustache, struggling not to fall limp, hiding behind a contempt for kindness that the lovely transvestite prostitutes on the corner willingly embrace.
“What’s the gun for, man? Are you going to rob me?” You ask.
He is taken aback for a moment but then calmly replies, “No. But I’ll pay you. To forget that we ever met.” The man throws a ten dollar bill into the air. It lands on the plush vinyl of the passenger seat.
You realize where you have seen the man before. It is today when you are at your mother’s house. It is during lunch but before her soap operas come on. The newscaster speaks for exactly two minutes or one hundred and twenty seconds. A child is crossing the street and is hit by a drunk driver. The drunk driver is arrested. The blood alcohol level is .012, above the legal limit but the jury has mercy on him, compassion and gives him a year of probation. It is June and this happens last June.
You cannot remember the headline because it reads in the newspaper like this: EGAPMAR NO SEOG NAM. But you feel the man’s pain enough to understand the intimacy this man finds with destruction. You ponder then if you should call someone? But at your own home, you have a wife, four children, your parents, your three brothers and their two wives that depend on you, your shared contribution. Your stomach churns as the two of them sit in silence. You try to make conversation, to try to understand the man, to change his mind.
“You’re my last customer, you know? Yep, that’s right. Last one for the evening. Was thinkin’ about maybe going over to Baker’s on Eight Mile. I know it’s kind of far away but they’ve got great jazz music.”
“I don’t listen to that shit or anything else. I hate music.” You smell cigarette smoke coming from the backseat. The man rolls down his window.
“Bummer. Hey, you know, man. I like to watch a lot of television. It’s nothing like what I see out here in the streets but its close. Hey, which do you think is more exciting? The life of a cab driver or the life of a newscaster?”
"I don’t know,” was the reply.
A cabdriver, you know why?” you say.
“Watch the road, you stupid fuck.”
You wince at first but then realize that the man is talking to an old, blind, deaf and dumb black man who almost steps from the curb and almost runs into your cab. You narrowly miss hitting him and pull onto a side street. You drive a block and pull in front of a Tudor-style house.
The man thanks you through the window and tips you two single dollar bills. You listen to the sound of the doorbell. A light comes on in the house. One life for another. You could call 9-1-1 but then what? Do you want to be on the news tomorrow? You shake your head no. Then, you remember that the Coney Island is open all night.
You drive a bit and then see a familiar face. A transvestite named Dorothy Gale, who is known for her red slippers and rescuing dogs off the street. But when you examine her, she’s actually wearing brown shoes and ugly ones but she is still lovely. She is a vision of mercy and redemption before the twilight evening begins. But then, a stroke of genius hits you. You’ll ask her for her favorite number and play it tomorrow in the lottery, after work, after the news and after you buy a new pair of dark, shaded sunglasses.