Omar’s “executive” taxi was long and clean and smelt sweet inside. It was Friday, and he wore a crisp Moroccan kaftan for the mosque. He is Egyptian. I would have called him for the return trip from Farmington, but my customer wanted to help and she organized the return. I watched this other taxi arrive, it was a gleaming yellow when it turned round into the unfenced driveway and came up. I opened the door and took a socking from the reek of tobacco, and dirt on the floor and in every crevice, and the stains on the seat. But I was committed, so I belted myself and held my breath. He had a loud voice, the driver. There was an added foul smell on top of the tobacco and I saw its source after a few minutes, a tiny dog that sidled up and attached itself to him: a pomeranian, as the breed is known in India, which is usually white, but this one, if washed, would be the color of honey. It wore plenty of debris on its coat, and after a while it turned and blew bad breath at me that stayed the entire time to the airport.
The driver’s name was Stefanos. (You’re right, he’s Greek.) His shock of hair was the texture of his dog’s fur, with speckles of unnatural red on black, knotty like it was never combed, wild like the rest of him. His uncared-for face was made coarser still, with pocks. And his frame was solid. How tall he was, I couldn’t tell, he’d sunk so low in his seat. He has two more dogs at home, one of them so big and so well-trained he need never lock his house. I saw a bunch of keys that hung from his waist; there were so many keys in them, it seemed that everything he owned he had locked.
You’d be happy if you settled in the US, he told me; and with silence gave rebuke to my silence. After a time he unloosened and pointed out to me the tower of Trinity College and the not-so-high tallest building in Hartford. And he told me he’ll never live anywhere but in Connecticut, with his wife whom he has brought here from Greece, and his daughters, none of whom are willing to go anywhere else. He told me about Indians. He told me that an Indian girl got into his cab the other day, and after her first few sentences he challenged her that she was no Indian. Surprised, she spoke of herself to him. “She was adopted,” he told me, and repeated the sentence for effect. Having reset matters, he told me again: “You’d be happy here.”.
The pomeranian began to bark when I paid, and Stefanos took the tip that I gave in cash with no care for it. When I opened the door the dog began to leap with his barking, but, with the seat soft beneath him, and his weight too light, he never rose to the heights he desired. “He doesn’t want you to leave,” Stefanos shouted after me.
Standing on the kerb at the Hartford-Bradley Airport, taking the breeze while watching them leave, I felt for the two a warmth that wouldn’t come when I rode with them.