By Dawn Renee Jones
I took a cab ride today with a driver who seriously frightened me. He was yelling and screaming with indignation about the previous passenger. He’d smoked a cigarette in his cab before she got in but she could smell it. She told the doorman at the hotel where she disembarked that the cab wreaked of cigarette smoke. The doorman asked him if he was smoking. The driver thought the doorman was out of order to ask. “He is not my father! He is not my father!!”
Oy, how he screamed and ranted about the doorman, the passenger’s arrogance, Russian Jews that were ruining the taxicab business, and how he was disrespected by vulgar passengers who talked about sex in his cab and tried to get it on. “I could see what they were doing! I could see, they didn’t care!” He said people like that should be buried in vertical pits up to their necks for their shamelessness. He kept repeating “bury them to their necks! That’s what should be done with people like that! Bury them!”
This guy was a powder keg, an easy convert to domestic terrorism if he’s not already there. He was for sure from somewhere “over there.” His vitriol raged and I started thinking that maybe I should report him to somebody. I decided to memorize the numbers on his license.
“Tell me, my friend, how is Hanan Ashwari? Is she still walking the earth? Is she well?”
After a few bumpy midday midtown blocks I asked him, “Where are you from?” He said Jerusalem. The rolodex that is my mind sputtered and sped desperately trying to access something useful about Jerusalem. I asked my second question calmly, making every effort to sound casual, “Tell me, my friend, how is Hanan Ashwari? Is she still walking the earth? Is she well?” His eyes widened, a huge smile rushed his face. “How do you know Hanan Ashwari?!” I said, “Oh I pay attention to things.” He became joyous at once and told me “she is well,” as if he’d just spoken with her the other day. Beaming at me through the rear view mirror, nodding his head approvingly, he completely cooled out and relaxed. No more was said.
He was grinning when I got out the cab. I thanked him as I exited and he said “the pleasure was all mine. Anytime. Ride with me any time.”
Hanan Ashwari is a scholar and senior member of the Palestinian legislature. Her father was the founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. She is the first woman elected to the Palestinian National Council. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in literature and a Ph.D. in Medieval and Comparative Literature. I became aware of her through the media decades ago. As a young woman trying to find my voice and purpose in the world I was equally impressed by Ashwari’s laser intelligence and inspired by her activism, and how fearlessly she stepped to her countryman Yassir Arafat when somebody needed to, and how he respected her council. Tickles me to no end that the very mention of her name calmed this raging cab driver.
A writer’s most valuable tools are not the pen or keyboard but rather her ability to listen, to pay attention to things, and to know the right questions to ask.
Dawn Renee Jones is a playwright and alumna, living in Chicago. Most recently, she was a Writing Fellow at the Goodman Theatre.