This afternoon, he seems to be having a bit more difficulty picking up passengers. Too often, some other TapTap driver is able to rush ahead of him and quickly pick up a potential passenger. This is not good he thinks. If he doesn’t begin to make some progress soon, he won’t be able to return the car with the fifty dollar borrowing fee. His right palm slams on the car horn several times. While feeling frustrated, he notices an odor that is slowly surrounding him like a fog on a warm summer night.
At first, it is just a hint, the kind he often makes a mental note of as he drives pass the landfill on the Belt Parkway near Starrett City, but quickly forgets. As he continues to drive, the odor appears to be getting worse, filling up every area of his car. He looks outside at the pedestrians to see if anyone notices this pungent smell, but people seem to be occupied with their own personal matters. He decides to stop the car and check the backseat to see if any passengers had accidentally left some food in the back.
After getting out of the car and making his inspection, he finds nothing out of the ordinary in the back. Getting out of the car doesn’t help either. The horrible odor is all around him and it is getting stronger. He gets back into the driver’s seat wondering if a sewer cover was left open somewhere near. And again, another TapTap driver passes him to pick up a passenger that he had visually claimed as his from half a block away. “Tonnere foutre!” “Damn!” he hears himself shout as his right fist punches the car horn. While driving and now actively looking for potential passengers, he catches the reflection of his face in the rearview mirror. He is actively perspiring and the look of anger is clearly in his eyes. He tells himself that he has to calm down. As he takes another look at his face, trying to make it look calm, he notices his mouth and his mind takes him back to several weeks ago when he had visited the dentist.
Slowly, the wall of a mental dam begins to crack. For the first time in his life he seriously entertains a thought that a few days ago would not have made any sense, would even be comical, but now seems to explain everything: “could it be that…maybe…no that kind of thing can’t…YES! Of course! It’s my mouth…there’s something wrong with my mouth… my breath!” The thought that his breath is the cause of this horrible stench that is getting progressively worse begins to eat at his mind, transforming it, hijacking and carrying it away to a dark and frightening place.
Suddenly, the mental dam breaks and he sees the world differently, as if for the first time. The events of the past several hours take on a new meaning. “That’s why I haven’t gotten any passengers today” he reasons to himself. It all makes sense. It is now perfectly clear to him that these people know what is going on but they are making believe that they don’t. “Why haven’t I noticed that before?” he wonders. Somewhere in his mind, a remnant of rationalization tries to reason with him while he feels his blood pressure rising to his head, punching at his temples. These thoughts can’t be real he begins to think. “There must be another reason for this odor” he says to himself.
His ears begin to hurt from the vibrations of his heartbeat pounding in his head, sounding louder than Haitian drums in the night. He begins to wonder if someone might have even placed a voodoo curse on him. As he continues to struggle with his inner demons, he is so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t notice the light at the intersection that has just turned red. He is barely able to stop in time.
While impatiently waiting for the light, he notices one of the other TapTap drivers in the opposite lane picking up passengers. As he is looking at the driver, his happenstance look turns into a wide eyed gaze as the man, who is busy watching the car in front of him, begins to momentarily scratch his nose with the tip of his pointer finger. That is all the evidence that he needs to allow the last vestiges of his sanity to burst behind a flood of lunacy. By that man’s incidental nose scratching, he knows that the world is aware that the horrible odor is coming from him. As his breathing becomes louder, he is certain that it is only a matter of time before the police apprehend him for this unforgivable crime and cause him to disappear, never to see his family or country again. The possibility of disappearing in a foreign country without anyone knowing what happened was worse than the language barrier that held him at a distance from everyone but fellow Haitians. “No” he thinks,” It can’t end this way”.
When the light turns green, he presses hard on the gas making the tires scream, causing pedestrians to look his way. He speeds off and quickly cuts into the opposite lane in order to pass the car ahead of him. He gets back into his lane as soon as he is able to and continues to drive the car wildly, crossing an intersection. He continues with this brazen driving into the opposite lane every now and then, catching the attention of passersby. “You crazy?” he hears them yell at him. “Madman…you gonna kill somebody” someone else screams. Coming to Nostrand Avenue, he sees the light going from yellow to red and he accelerates even more, crossing the intersection just as the light changes to red. His heart is racing now and his hands begin to tremble.
He can feel his palms becoming sweaty, soaking the steering wheel with moisture. He is constantly looking at his rear view mirror, searching for anyone who may be following him. He is now heading towards the next intersection at New York Avenue and he notices the pictures of his children taped to the dashboard. “These are the reasons why I came to this country” he thinks. “This is why I can’t disappear. “Ede ‘m Bondye… mwen fatige avek lavi sa a”. “God help me, I’m tired of this life” he cries out as tears begin to make their way down his dark brown cheeks.