Rodest comes with a cell phone growing out of his ear. Rodest likes Indian girls. Rodest likes spicy food…your typical teenager right??
Wrong! Rodest is a taxi driver and he comes from Haiti.
In Chicago, if you are lucky, you find a taxi driver who speaks, then if you are really lucky, you find one who speaks something sounding like English and if you are the luckiest sod on earth, you find one who actually speaks English. That is how we met Rodest, or rather he met us.
When we called the taxi to take us to Devon Street for a Desi dinner, Rodest barely held his cell away from his ear, to ask where we wanted to go. We would have gone nowhere otherwise, anyway. The minute we drove off, he continued his yapping. We thought of the miserable person at the other end of the conversation, he was probably sleeping. Because only Rodest seemed to be doing the talking. He used some strange language. We caught some French words here and there, but could make no head or tail of it.
Then there was the fear that he would land us someplace else. He barely seemed to notice where we were going. Some other people from our team who were following us in another car had the same suspicion and pulled over to confer with him. Rodest was irritated at being separated for a second from his beloved toy. “Where are we going?”, they asked him with the intention of confirming. Fatal mistake! “The same place where you are”, was his reply. Smart man!! Blank stares all around. Finally Rodest broke the silence, “You follow me. We all go to Devon Street. Stop asking where we are going” he said.
We drove off again. His volume was so loud in that closed taxi that conversation amongst us was impossible. Devon had never seemed so far to us.
Finally we were there and on time too. Rodest finally shut himself up to receive the payment. I guess even much loved things can be put away when it is pay up time!!! He asked us if we needed a ride back. Even before we could answer, his card was in my hand and he asked us to call 10 minutes before we left. And just to ensure that we hired him for the ride home, he refused to take any payment. He would take the entire amount from us when we drove back to the hotel. Not only did we bear the constant yapping on the way here, we would have to suffer the same on the ride back???? Aaargh!!! This, definitely was not our day.
Dinner is always a merry affair at Sabri Nihari on Devon. It’s a Pakistani place, but then the taste of Frontier chicken beats the flavor of patriotism, especially in lands far off. The lassi is as good as what you get back home. The meat is tasty and well cooked. So is the mutton biriyani. And the Naans are as huge as bed spreads. We demolished them one by one. We are after all to the manner born.
Finally, it was time to call Rodest. One of us had a brain wave after all that food. With our man busy yapping, we were sure to get his cell engaged. If we could not reach him, there goes his money and there goes the ride. He He!!
We should not have counted on it. The man answered on the second ring and told us, much to our discomfort, that he was waiting right across the street to take us back. Any elation we felt after eating the Desi spread disappeared like bakarwadis at Chitales.
We were dreading listening to his chatter all 45 minutes of that ride back to the hotel. Grin it and bear it we told ourselves for god helps those who help themselves.
And talk he did right through out. But mercifully not on the cell, but with us. It was as close an insight as we would ever have into the life of this man, coming from an impoverished nation. Very much under the same circumstances our people come here.
He had come here in 1983 and had been driving a taxi ever since. The conversation took off when he asked us if we were Indians and if we liked spicy food. That was like asking a scot if he liked his scotch. He had made friends with an Indian taxi driver in his early days. He loved the complexion and the long hair the Indian girls sported, he told us and was waiting for his chance to marry one. He took tips from his friend without actually revealing his intentions to marry. One day he finally told his friend he was serious about marrying an Indian girl. Much to his surprise, the friend laughed at him. So much for you fascination with their hair he told Rodest. They will hate you for the same reason. Your curly top, he added. There went his chances of ever getting an Indian bride. But his love for our spicy food continues.
Rodest finally settled for a Jamaican girl to marry.
He has some relatives back in Haiti and he keeps going back every 2 to 3 years. The fields his forefathers ploughed are all under water now and he can’t bear to look at them. Obviously agriculture can no longer be a means of livelihood in his country.
As we got ready to go in the hotel Rodest told us it was fun having us on the ride. He handed us a stack of taxi receipts. He understood that we would want to share the fare for the ride. How intuitive!!
This is Rodest for you. And Rodest is a taxi driver.