He heaves, folding his newspaper and throwing it on the ground. The taxi driver carelessly turns on the radio the man specifically said not to put on. He felt like he was running out of breath. “Roll the windows down, will ya?” Chase mutters. The hot air was stiff and thick.
The taxi driver pays no attention to him. He hummed to the music very loudly as if that could make the traffic ease. “You’re jus’ too peevish,” the driver murmurs. “Ain’t got nothin’ to worry about. The air iz fine.”
Chase sighs. “What are taxi drivers for, then?” he asks himself. “To torture them in their vehicles?” Of course, the driver kept humming obliviously, or ignorantly. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter.
Chase had a wife at home, who was doubtlessly going to yell at him for being late. “Nine o’clock sharp,” he told Phyllis a week ago. He checks his watch. Wayyyy past nine.
“Can this go any faster?” Chase asks, his voice snippy. “I just got here from Texas, and I really need to go home. I haven’t got any sleep and I would be satisfied when I get my first chance in bed.”
The driver snorts. “Say that to the vehicle. I ain’t nothing but a man who works all day n’ night. Sucks fo’ me. Shouldn’t be complaining, you’re gunna get home real soon.” He turns the radio off, both of them silent. Only the taxi speaks with its wheels.
Even though the driver acts cranky and slightly tetchy, Chase felt a pang of guilt swim inside of him. He was going to get home from Texas, but the driver would be working all day, every day. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Didn’t mean to—”
“Aye, that’s what they all say.” The driver waves his hand, softening.
The traffic had finally stopped, and they both relaxed. The driver put on quieter music that soothed Chase. Maybe that’s why he put it on. Not to soothe Chase, but to pacify himself.
“Well, here’s yo stop,” the driver says, breaking the silence besides the music that he just turned off. “Prolly never gunna see ya again. Now, get on that bed like ya said ya will. I’mma get back on these wheels.”
Chase thanks him and pays, and the driver raises an eyebrow. “Ya paid me an extra nickel.”
“You deserve it, you really do.”
The driver doesn’t smile, but he doesn’t frown either. “I ain’t gunna accept the nickel.”
Chase’s face fell. “You deserve it,” he insists.
“Nah. I got more than ya think. Ya deserve it more than I do.” He waits for Chase to put out his hand again, so he forces himself to. He drops the nickel on Chase’s hand and salutes. “Aye. Betta’ get goin’, or else imma lose ma job.”
“See you, then.”
“Ye.” He closes the car door, and Chase watches until the driver’s car was completely out of sight. Then he walks in, preparing for the yelling to start.
“Damn, you finally here!” Phyllis mutters as Chase walks inside. “Damn, you know it’s ten, right? What’s your damn watch for, then, if you ain’t gonna keep your promise?”
“Aye, you ain’t in no mood to talk. What’s up with you?”
He noticed that Phyllis has almost the same accent as the taxi driver. He never thought he’d say this, but he actually missed him.
“I rode a taxi.”
She was suspicious, now. She jerks her head at him. “And the driver was a girl, ain’t she?”
“Honestly, Phyllis, you’re getting on my nerves. The driver was quite pleasant. And he was a man,” he adds before Phyllis exploded.
Phyllis didn’t look away, and she changes the subject. “I am inviting my family over for my birthday,” she says. “You will invite yours too. Please.”
“I don’t have a family.”
She snorts. “Suit yourself. My brother and my nieces are comin’ over.”
“Don’t expect a party. I’ll be the one cleanin’ up everywhere, then.”
He just nods.
The doorbell rings. Chase flies to the door, peeking into the small hole cautiously. Then he grasps the handle and opens it, and finds an unsmiling man.
“Whatcha doin’ here?” the man snaps, leaving Chase in confusion. “Don’t tell me. Ya live here?” He sounded surprised.
Chase presses his lips together and nods. “Yes, I do. Do I know you?”
He widens his eyes as if Chase was an idiot. He felt like one. “Ya forget so easily. I was yo taxi, remember? Young people these days.” He shakes his head and begins to scurry off. “I prolly got the wrong address.”
“Wait!” Chase shouts, making the man jump. “Are you here to see Phyllis Oakley?”
The man was frozen. “How do ya know?” He turns around, his face wild.
“I’m her husband.”
Phyllis stares in awe. “So ya were his taxi driver,” she says to her brother, Phillip.
“Ye I was. Can’t believe the coincidence, can ya?”
“Nope. Not at all.”
Chase says, “I should’ve realized how you both had those accents.”
“Well, lotta peeps got ‘em,” Phyllis points out.
The doorbell rings again. “Must be the children. Open up, Phil.” He obliges, getting up from his seat and peeking through the hole. “Yep, it the children, ain’t it?”
Phil nods. “Got ‘em.” He opens the door.
“Phil, are these your children?” Chase asks. He watches the young girl sneeze into her teddy bear, making a mental note not to touch it. And not to touch the book On the Road, because the girl put her teddy bear on it.
Philip barks, “Iz Philip to ya. Only Phyllis calls me that.” Then he adds, “Yes, this iz Caty. Other one is Pop.”
“Poppy, Pop for short.” He rubs his eyes and lays his hand on an armrest. Don’t touch that either, Chase.
“How’d they get here?”
Phyllis answers it. “My, ya got lotta questions. His wife dropped them off. Ya don’t expect them to walk here alone, do ya?” She chuckles, and so does Philip.
“Caty and Pop are some cuties.”
“They some cuties, all right. Pop is eight, other one is five. Caty has none manners,” Phil says as he watches Caty rip a page out of a book. “None manners.”
Chase gently takes the book out of her hands. “No more, sweetie.” Caty shrugs and gets sudden interest with her bear.
“Well, I thought this get-together would be some fun, but really it has been none fun without any cake,” Phyllis declares. Phil rolls his eyes.
“Ya ain’t ten, Phy.”
“I can be ten when I wanna,” she snaps. “Stop playing mother. It ain’t hurt to be a child. It only hurts when you can’t.”
Chase shakes his head as Phyllis and Philip get into a full-blown fight, while Poppy drops all the books out of the shelf, while Caty tries to reach her teddy bear out of the bathroom faucet. But it doesn’t hurt to be a child again.
I can be ten when I wanna. It ain’t hurt to be a child. It only hurts when you can’t.