I tell Maurcio Obeja, taxista numero 82599, the address of where I am going. I say it correctly this time, street first, number after, Suipacha 637.
“The six-hundred block of Suipacha is only three or four blocks down there,” he points to the right—to this octopus heart with tentacles of black raincoats and scurrying and cars that stop for no one—to the next block in this five-street-and-boulevard intersection.
I examine the information card, tin and plastic slung with black cord, hanging from the back of the driver’s seat. His mugshot photograph is surrounded by stamps and dates of certification, a number that seems to be a rating, a high rating, and contact information if something goes wrong.
“Mauricio, I do not walk very well.”
He nods his head. He looks back at me in the rear review mirror; his gaze lasts for a while, and his eyes appear to be searching the back seat.
Obeja translates to bee; we begin to buzz toward the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, 235 feet high, erected in 1937 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city. It reminds me of the state capital building in Lincoln, Nebraska, which even stately, conservative Nebraska women referred to as the “penis of the plains,” which Hitler once proclaimed the future capital of America, once he took over.
“It will take some time drive there, that is a walking-only street, and we will have to go all the way around, past the Obelisco.” He points in the distance, and seems concerned.
“Time, I have plenty, good knees I do not.”
I take a whirl at a grin, but feel awkward, aware of the asymmetry of my face: lips and eyes crinkle to the left independently, as if they wish the car to turn in that direction, and three more times, until we are back just where we started and we can get out and we would not have admitted anything about our knees or our walking.
But to not take a shot at appearing more at ease? I force goodwill upon my face when I speak about my mobility, how my body refuses to obey me, how my leg-bones grind against each other, betray me.
Ten minutes of circling and circumventing, and we come to a long light. “Suipacha becomes one way here, your address is about half a block, esta bien?”
Is it OK, that I walk on crisp, breaded tentacle? It is OK that when my lover and I travel to Ulleungo, squid Island, Korea, where she was born and left as a toddler, that I might have to wait at the hotel while she scales the hill-top cemetery of her ancestors? Bees and octopus and squid; when they are captured, flailing in nets or dangling off hooks, at least their injuries are only physical. They are not wounded by the perceptions of others, slammed by the impact their conditions have upon their sense of self, tortured that they are a slightly less functional mollusk or hymenoptera.
Mauricio, this is far beyond your simple question. You are merely being considerate and straightforward, preforming your role with integrity, gifting me a bit of kindness on this overcast Buenos Aires morning, which you said was a nasty day, yet one I told you that I loved, that it was just like my home in Tacoma, just south of Seattle, below the volcano and next to the Sound, where I once pushed my then-wife around in a wheelchair. How far away am I now?
* * *
How wrong I was, Obeja does not translate to bee. Abeja is a bee. One simple letter and my whole interpretation sunk. Anaïs Nin wrote that we do not see things how they are, but how we are. Perhaps I misread the entire day, if not more. Anonymous taxi driver sees a limping man walk toward his car; he is not in the mood for it today, maybe because his father beat him with his cane and he is repulsed by the lame, or because for three years he cared for his disabled wife and then she died, and the memory is still too fresh, a small octopus used for bait on a hook, pulled apart and stretched. I might have triggered a latent weariness, and just after I hobbled from his cab, he might have turned the corner, walked into traffic, and disappeared.
Or maybe, upon hearing the street and number of my destination, he simply wanted nothing to do with such a short fare. In this part of the city, he might have said to himself, when you see an obvious tourist you can count on driving them to Recoleta or Palermo Sur, if not the airport, miles through traffic, an outstanding fare!
In Catalan, Oveja, pronounced the same way as Obeja, is a sheep, or the third person for the verb “to obey.” I try to wrap my mind around it all, mollusks and kindness, sheep and self-interest, knees that refuse to comply.