Iwas on tour again, just landed in Calgary, and more than a little jetlagged.
I heaved my suitcase into the trunk of the cab and slid into the backseat without even looking at the driver. I laid my head on the leather seat and closed my eyes, which were burning and felt like they had sawdust in them.
“Beautiful day today, right?” the driver broke the silence. His voice was soft and syrupy, supple.
I sighed and opened my eyes. He was right. It really was a beautiful spring day on the prairies. I hadn’t even noticed.
I sat up and passed him the printed out email with the name and address of the hotel on it. He reached over his shoulder into the backseat, and when he gently took the paper out of my hand I noticed his hands.
His fingers were remarkably long and slender, poised like preying mantises. His nails were a little bit too long, and buffed to a high gloss. They almost looked like they had a coat of clear polish on them. Gold pinky ring with a sapphire in it.
I’m not one for stereotypes, but the man had gay hands.
I followed his gay hands up his arms and found his face in the rearview mirror. His facial hair was immaculately trimmed, and his eyes sparkled velvet and brown from under caterpillar eyelashes. Handsome fellow.
His eyes met mine and he raised one eyebrow, almost flirting.
“You travelling alone?”
I nodded. We exchanged the usual: no I didn’t live here, yes, I was here on business. He was almost finished for the day, he had started at 4 am, no, he didn’t mind the long days, it left him time to study at night and take classes, University of Alberta, Kinesiology. That kind of thing.
Then he cleared his throat. Asked me if I was married. I told him no. His eyes caught mine again in the rearview mirror for a little too long, and he squinted at me for a second, like he was pondering something unsaid.
“Can I ask you something personal? Something I’ve always wondered about you people?”
I shrugged a bit, told him sure, he could ask, but I couldn’t speak for all of us, I was only the one person, couldn’t really speak for the many.
I wasn’t quite sure if he thought I was a dyke, or if he was asking me to comment on behalf of gay men everywhere, but I figured the answer to this query might be found in his question, so I told him go ahead, ask, and I would try to answer.
“Do you live alone?”
I told him yes, I did.
“Don’t you love your family?”
“Of course,” I told him, “But most of them live up north. I need to live here, in a bigger city, for work.”
“I live with my brother,” he nodded firmly. “And his wife, and their two sons. Also the mother of my brother’s wife, and her sister, the great aunt, I think you call it in English. It is very good for all of us. Especially my nephews. No daycare. My brother drives this taxicab nights. And I am learning from the children how to be a father to my own.”
I nodded, and then asked the obvious. Was he married? He couldn’t have been older than 25 or so, and was kind of obviously at least a little bit gay, but it seemed like the polite thing to ask.
“My parents have arranged for me to be married in Pakistan this August. I will fly over and my wife will return to Canada with me.”
“Your fiancée lives in Pakistan? Do you get to see her much? That must be hard.”
He shook his head, smiling. “I haven’t seen her since we were four years old. But my mother sends me pictures. She is a very beautiful girl.”
“Do you love her?”
“She is a very beautiful girl.” He repeated.
I nodded. He was trying to understand my lifestyle, so the least I could do was return the courtesy.
He took another deep breath. “So, forgive me if this is a rude question, but don’t you think living alone without any family is a little bit selfish? And don’t you ever get lonely?”
“I get home to the North at least twice a year, sometimes more, and I talk on the phone to everyone all the time.”
In fact I had just talked to my grandmother for an hour while I waited for the plane in Ottawa. And yes maybe, living alone is a little bit selfish, but I am a writer and work at home and need the solitude to get any work done.
He nodded. “Your people, I’ve noticed, are often very creative. I get a lot of movie people in my taxicab these days, one time a very big star. Fancy guy. Big tipper. Why are you all so creative?”
Again I told him that I couldn’t really speak for all of us, that I was only one person, and I wasn’t sure that there were any more creative types among us per capita than any other segment of the population, maybe just those of us he noticed, blah blah blah. He didn’t seem convinced by my half-assed politically correct argument.
The cab pulled up in front of my hotel, and a gust of wind twirled a mini cyclone of dust and bits of trash across the road in front of us.
He shivered a bit in the wind, wearing only a deep blue dress shirt. He gingerly placed my suitcase on the sidewalk, and turned to shake my hand. His palms were almost unnaturally soft. I thought about his wife. I thought about him. He blinked a few times, his giant eyelashes dusting his pretty boy cheeks.
“I want to thank you sincerely for answering all my questions. I hope you didn’t find me too rude. I’ve never met one of you that I felt I could ask before this, but you have very kind eyes, and I’ve always wondered these things about you people. About you white people.”