Part of me has always envied taxi drivers. Think of all they see, all the people they talk to. The world passes through their cabs, connections are made, stories are told. That’s why there’s often no better place to be than in the backseat of a cab.
Unfortunately, I don’t usually take cabs when traveling. There are cheaper options and I tend to travel light. But I’d spent this morning, our last in Dublin, in shopping heaven – i.e. the city’s largest second-hand bookstore.
As a result, going by cab seemed the far less painless way of getting to the airport, which is why we are here now, watching two grown men argue in front of a taxi queue on a street corner beside the Liffey River.
Their words are largely indecipherable, on account of both the noisy Monday morning traffic and their heavy Irish brogues. The guy with curly white hair is throwing his arms into the air, bellowing something that must be an insult because moments later the wiry, older fellow makes some kind of scalping motion.
The curly white-haired one seems to have won because seconds later he takes our bags, still yelling, and arranges them in the trunk. I keep the books with me.
We squeeze into the back, an assortment of titles by Christopher Hitchens spilling out between us. Finally our driver gets in the front and slams the door. His older colleague continues hollering as we pull out into traffic.
“Sorry about that,” the driver says, though his actual words require a bit of guessing. “Morris is … fella but we … a … row now an’ .. gen.”
After a couple of minutes listening to him go on I think I’m starting to understand every other word instead of one out of every three.
“Yeah, good fella, we just get into a row every now and then. He said ya goin’ to Trinity College, but that only be an eight minute walk. There be no point in ya going to Trinity College … all those bags and books wit’ ya. Though I suppose students read books. I write some books myself actually. Crime … the odd one actually.”
“You’re a writer?” I perk up.
“Sure, sure. I’m writing a book called “The Three Wise Men”. It’s bout these three lads ya see. Willy, Mikey, an’ Joe, who the other two call “Jail”. They be normal lads ya know, stealing the odd bit, throwing rocks into shop windows, doing the odd cocaine. Normal youn’ fellas.”
I nod, thinking on my decidedly un-Irish adolescence.
James, I learn his name from the license affixed to the dashboard, goes on at some length, but I won’t spill all the details here. Needless to say, keep an eye out if you happen to see it in your local bookstore.
“Yeah,” James continues. “I been meaning to write something on my own childhood as well, but gotta focus on one at a time.”
“Did you grow up here?” Elisabeth asks.
“That I did, but it’s not me childhood in Dublin I fancy writing bout. It’s me childhood in France.”
“Oh, you lived in France?”
“That I did, revolutionary France.” James says, as if it were right down the street.
“Revolutionary … France?” I say, not sure if he was making another joke.
“That’ll be the one,” he says, eyeing us in the rearview mirror. “And no, I ain’t tryin’ to be funny. Do ya two believe in reincarnation?” He plows ahead without waiting for a response. “I know it sounds like bullocks, but it makes sense, ya know. The science ain’t disprove it neither. How else do ya explain having these memories ya can’t account for.”
“Or the feeling that you’ve been someplace you haven’t,” I say. “Deja vu and all that.”
“That’ll be right then,” he says, excited now. “I can remember me childhood in France vividly. The peelin’ paint o’ the walls. The stench, e’erywhere the stench.”
He turns serious, eyeing us once again.
“Ya know, I was 11-years-old when I died. Strung up from a lamppost in Paris. Louis XVI had been beheaded the day before and, while everyone was distracted watching it happen, I stole a loaf o’ bread from a cart. I was hungry, ya see. No parents, both dead. But I wasn’t careful enough, got myself caught. Grabbed by the wrist as the guillotine fell. That sound sealed the fate o’ the Bourbons, sealed mine too, sure did.”
“That’s crazy,” I say, “I mean, crazy in like the “awesome, what an insane story” kind of way.” I pause. “But not “insane” like crazy, but “insane” like awesome.”
“Sure, sure.” James says, saving me from explaining myself to further embarrassment.
“There’s more where that came from too,” James continues. “I got all kinds of memories from me other lives. I still have something of a memory of French, though it’s a slang infested French you won’t find spoken much anymore.”
With that, we enter the congested street outside the departure gate and James pulls to a stop.
“Was lovely talking to ya both,” James says, handing us our luggage. “Bon voyage.”
I believe it’s for occasions like that the Brits coined the word gobsmacked.