I took a cab home from work last night. The driver was a middle-aged man and he had a thick accent that I assumed came from somewhere in Africa. He asked me where I was heading, and then he returned to his cell phone conversation. His voice was loud and his demeanor jovial. He had large hands with knuckles like fat acorns, a big soft smile, and deep lines on his forehead. He laughed often and with his whole body.
And then I realized that I was mistaken. There was no hitch. No stutter. The man was using a language that includes clicks and pops and something that seemed to come from the top of the throat and the roof of the mouth. As if he were gathering phlegm. The sounds were more quiet than those that were more familiar to my ears. Just soft and subtle sounds among the louder bits of English, French, and something unrecognizable.
And as I listened intently to the man's conversation, I became more and more curious about him. I climb into at least a couple hundred cabs a year, and almost all of those drivers are foreign born. But this time, as I listened to these foreign sounds from the back seat, I stopped to consider just how radically different this man's native country may be from the one that he lives in now. And I wanted to know about those differences. Or perhaps there are more similarities than I'd guess. Which I'd also like to hear about. Either way, I just wanted to hear this guy's story.
I didn't get his story though. He did finish his phone call a few blocks prior to pulling up in front of my building. So I was able to ask him where he was from. But that was it. I decided to be content with that.
And I wonder where this cab driver's story fits in. He was born in Algeria. A little baby. Probably some time in the 1960s. Probably into one of the densely populated cities in the north. Perhaps Algiers? Maybe Oran or Constantine? How long did he stay there? What was his experience like? What was his family like? Did he leave them behind when he left the country? Or were they here in Chicago with him today? Were they even alive? Does he miss home? Does he lay awake at night and think of somebody that is half a world away?