Sunday, April 6, 2014


"Ooh-hooh, leaving!"
Stroke, stroke,

     The street was endless. It seemed like it's been hours since we boarded a Paratransit taxi in front of the hospital in San Francisco, where my mom, finally, heard her diagnosis. 
     We suspected the worst all along, although I didn't stop dragging her from one doctor to another: "This last test was not 100% reliable. We want you to do something else!.." Couldn't they just let mom have their most revealing exam right from the beginning?! Instead, it took three months to hear the words.
     A small group of would be passengers gathered at the curb . When the taxi arrived, it was a sedan, and all four of us had to get in. Wizened, mean looking old lady pushed her way into a wide front passenger seat. A tall lady in an African dress, my mother and I stuffed ourselves in the back. Cancer and the chemotherapy did not melt away most of mom's weight yet. She and I were of similar generous proportions. The black lady was tall and not skinny either. Even though I let her sit at the door and took the uncomfortable middle for myself, she kept squirming in pain and rhythmically stroking her knee. Mother, although in shock, was throwing resentful looks at the old lady and her, and I knew that, soon some very politically-incorrect pronouncements, reinforced by thick Russian accent, will make everyone even more uncomfortable!
     The driver was a huge Latino man. He dwarfed his seat and the taxi. All we could see of him was the back of his head and neck, with dark-pink rolls of fat covered in short stubble. 
     Paratransit cost almost nothing, but it was a shared ride, and driver had to drop everyone off at different locations. We fought through the midday traffic jam to get on the Bay Bridge, crawled amid other cars, desperate to get out of the City and, almost as soon as we were across the Bay, had to exit the freeway. 
     That's when the song came on the radio. All of us were uncomfortable. The black lady kept trying to move away from my sweaty side, but there was nowhere to go. Stroke-stroke: her fingers knew no rest, touching stubborn aching knee in a constant, pleading motion. My own legs were cramping from being twisted on the bump of the cars' floor.
     "Mmmm, L.A. proved to be too much..." - Gladys Knight's voice was a balm to my nerves. I never paid much attention to that song before, but now it was the only escape from my thoughts and our excruciating ride. 
     A long boulevard stretched before us.  Speed bumps (bump-bump) crossed it every few yards, making the journey even more unbearable. But soon the music, the emotion and the rhythm of the song had us all in their grasp
     I saw my mom glancing at me in surprise and realized that I was saying the words out loud. I could see the mean old lady's face in the side mirror. She sat with her eyes closed and soundlessly mouthed the words too. The black lady was silent, but fingers on her knee accepted the new tempo, and her face relaxed. 
     "Ooh-hooh..." -  the pink folds on drivers neck quivered and sang too. It was ridiculous, really, to hear this big man's tiny, soft tenor coming from behind this bulk. It was also oddly comforting.
     The doctor's voice was still fresh in my head: "She has about a year and a half to live with chemotherapy and - about nine months - without it." Before this, I kept telling my mother that, people could live with cancer for years. I guess, it was not to be so! All of us were in pain. 
     I wished myself numb, but the song had a different idea. It replaced my heartache with a beautiful longing:
      "Leaving!.." "I'll be on that train (we know, you will)!" 
     Gladys and the Pips knew what they were doing! Other people's pain was easier to digest, and the promise of love in the story soothed our hearts. 
     "Ooh-hooh, aah-aah!.. I'd rather be in his world, than live without him in mine!" - if only we could keep on driving through that long, wide highway! If only the song could carry us for always! We did not feel resentment for the mean old lady anymore. Mom, the black lady and I meshed, dampened in our common sweat and wrinkled together, as we swayed in the same motion.
     Stroke-stroke, bump-bump...
     Driver tenderly helped the old lady to her door, and she disappeared forever behind some raging rose bushes. I can't recall, if the black lady or we were next to be dropped off. I remember, that she smiled at us broadly, as we parted our ways.

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