Picture: "“Taxi in Ljubljana, Slovenia,” by Petar Milošević. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.
Steve stood by the side of the road, arm extended. He was hailing a taxi.
The street was filled to capacity with tricycles and jeepneys, all of them honking their horns and spurting plumes of dark gray soot into the air. He’d never seen anything like it, not until his first trip to Manila last year.
This was now his third time in the Philippines. He’d booked a condo in Quezon City for two weeks through Airbnb to see his girlfriend, an Orthopedic doctor he’d met online. Now, he was on his way to her apartment.
Almost fifteen minutes passed beneath the sweltering tropical sun before a white MGE taxi pulled over to meet him. He opened the right rear door and addressed the driver.
“Banawe? By the Orthopedic Center.”
The man nodded and Steve got in. The taxi pulled back into traffic.
Steve was still unsure of himself abroad and had a lot of anxiety navigating Manila. His girlfriend had told him horror stories about foreigners abducted and held up in taxis, and she’d warned him to be careful. He pulled out his cell phone, which now contained a Globe prepaid SIM, texted the plate number to his girlfriend and pulled up Google maps to make sure he was headed in the right direction.
On the left, a cluster of street children were running around half naked in the middle of the street. Behind them, squatter buildings jutted from the ground, jagged haphazard constructions of the flimsiest building materials imaginable.
By the time they merged onto Quezon Ave., traffic was moving at a snail’s pace. It was so much worse than LA. He’d never imagined so many cars could be packed into the same space. At one time, he’d thought Southern California was the worst in the world.
“Bad traffic,” said Steve.
The taxi driver didn’t respond. Steve settled back into his seat and sighed. At least the car was air conditioned.
A tiny black fly landed on his arm, and he swatted it away. He glanced down at the map on his phone, even though he’d already done so three times and knew exactly where he was.
Another fly, this time on his shoulder. Then another on his forehead, and another on his leg.
It was when he felt them getting into his ears that he began to panic. He looked up and gasped. The air inside the cab had swelled with bugs. They were buzzing all around him, filling his nostrils, drilling into his ears, reaching into his mouth.
He had to get out of the car. He tried to open the door while they were stopped in traffic, but the handle wouldn’t budge. It seemed the cab had been locked from the inside.
“Let me out!” he cried, choking on flies. The taxi driver didn’t say a word.
For one crazed moment he was certain it was a dream, that any second now he would wake up in his bed to the sound of the aircon whooshing in his room.
He coughed, gagging on air that was becoming increasingly dense and unbreathable. A deep resonant hum rose up from the front passenger seat, and when Steve gazed in that direction he saw something like a bloated deformed dragonfly, floating lazily in his direction.
He kicked and thrashed, trying once more to force the door to open. At one point he started banging on the glass, convinced that if he pounded hard enough it would break and he could escape to safety. All the while that disfigured creature drifted toward him, humming and buzzing as if it had all the time in the world.
It landed on his shoulder and Steve batted it away. Then it landed again and Steve batted at it once more. He tried to strike the creature from the air, but it nimbly avoided him each time. Finally, it landed on his ear.
Steve felt it vibrate against his skin, the buzzing becoming a deep bass rumble. When it burrowed inside, Steve squealed like a little girl. Never before had he experienced such world shattering pain. It pushed and clawed and tore its way inside. There was a deafening pop as it punctured his ear drum. Then it was digging into his skull.
In a fit of madness he considered banging his head against the door. Then the world went dark.
More digging, more tearing, and then —
Steve was assaulted by thoughts that were not his own. He could hear them all, the tens of thousands of flies in the air, the taxi driver in the front seat, blurred and indistinct, a collective consciousness born of their intersection.
It swirled inside of him, dissolving his mind like a corrosive acid until what remained was not Steve, but something larger. The part of himself that had been distinct, the part that had made him human, was gone. Not dead, but driven into the background and put to sleep.
When they pulled up to his girlfriend’s apartment, he didn’t pay. Instead he exited the car and waved. The driver returned the gesture before merging back into traffic.
Steve greeted the guard and started up the stairs. He couldn’t wait to see his girlfriend.
He had something to show her.
Original post: https://blog.jeffcolemanwrites.com/2016/05/25/taxi/
Text ©2016 Jeff Coleman. All rights reserved. For reproduction rights, please contact the author (who happens to be a kind and eminently reasonable man.)