Taxi Ride

We jumped into the taxi, sliding across the cracked plastic seating to fit all three of us into the backseat, before anyone else could. It smells, as most taxis here do, of smoke and stale sweat. The driver looks back at us mildly curious, noticing we’re westerners, by not just our clothing but also our mannerisms, bold and overt to them but normal for us. I’d love to know what he’s thinking in those few seconds that “Americans” registers into his brain, the associations that flow out of that. My heart sinks as I realize they’re most likely all negative. He asks us where we’re going, and we explain, or at least try to. Between his broken English and our childlike Arabic, he figures it out. Amman blows past us, blurring into faces and buildings and cars and the occasional herd of sheep one’s apt to see in this city more than 5,000 miles away from my own. The air-conditioner cuts heat from the mid-day sun. The driver, who looks as if he once was handsome, has deep lines in his face, lines I imagine were put there from trying to scrape together an existence for his family from the meager earnings made driving people places. The radio plays, and he hums along to it, an upbeat song heavy with drums as most here are. It ends, and he mumbles something in Arabic before taking his eyes off the road to change the station. The car swerves to the right, and we all in the backseat suck in our breath and silently pray we will exit the taxi not in a crumpled mass but alive. Cars come at us from all directions. No one here uses turn signals, creating chaos on the roads, but people here like to call it “a more fluid way of driving.” I just call it crazy. Our driver straightens out the car a second later, just as a new pop song emits from the speakers behind our heads. He puffs on a stub of a cigarette—as nearly all Jordanian men do — and glances back at us in the rearview mirror, seeing three well-dressed, frightened foreigners.  I learn after awhile to adjust to the heightened adrenaline accompanying any ride in a taxi, and I learn also that while death may seem imminent on these roads, it is not likely. So my stomach settles itself if only by sheer will, and instead of imagining how my obituary might read, I instead imagine how I might recreate this city someday in words.