Exiting Dulles airport at dawn after an 18 hour flight, I was happy to plonk into the rear seat of some large American car. My driver was friendly and had a very sub-continental accent. India or Pakistan, I wondered to myself. Maybe Bangladesh?
“Where you fly in from?” he asked, thick glasses mostly obscuring his eyes and having me worry about what he could actually see much of the road ahead, as the V8 engine powered us away from the airport.
“Oh, South Africa! You have a very strong cricket team!” he exclaimed in a combination of Indian/Pakistani lilt and American drawl. Okay, since SA was playing Pakistan in a cricket series, I had my bearings, “So you from Pakistan?”
“Yes, Yes, from near Islamabad.”
We chatted cricket, and within a few minutes he was telling me that he had come to the States 27 years ago, as life at home was very poor and he had to support the family.
I told him I had two children. He told me he had seven. Alhamdulillah.
“I love this country. I work hard and make a living. But fourteen years ago, things changed for me. I rescued a woman, she was in the military, and then I was poisoned by government agents with powders in the air.”
I ran that through my brain again. What could he mean?
“So that was when you were in Pakistan?”
“No, no, I was here.” he waved a hand in the air, dismissing his initiation of the conversation as a bad idea. I leaned back in the seat and thought I, too, would ignore it. Exhausting trying to figure out what the hell he was saying. After a few more miles, I cracked.
“So, when you rescued this woman, you got contaminated by some kind of chemicals?”
“No, no, I rescued her, she was in the road.”
“And how did they poison you? Why?”
“It is powders in the air, you know like if you take drugs like heroin, or cocaine. I could feel it burning my body, into my body. I have been sick ever since then.”
I should have stuck to chatting about cricket, even the now rampant corruption in the game (esp Pakistan’s) was a better subject than this.
“Why are you here, on business?” he asked.
“No, I am here to visit a sick friend.”
“Oh, so sorry to hear that, I pray that God will heal your friend.”
“Inshallah. Is the Walter Reed hospital close to the hotel?”
“Walter Reed? That is a military hospital.” He glanced quickly in the rear view mirror. Had he just told a military person about being poisoned by agents of the state? “Is your friend a soldier?”
“No, he is a journalist.”
“Ah, a journalist, very good,” he brightened up, “What happened to your friend?” I told him.
“I am very sorry to hear that. God will heal your friend. What is your work?”
“Also a journalist.” I decided to keep it simple, there was enough confusion around for one cab ride.
“Tell me again what happened with that woman?”
“She just jumped out of my cab, on a highway, like this one.”
“She was in your cab, a military woman?”
“And she jumped out, why?”
“I don’t know. She was talking on the telephone and then she jumped out, many cars ran her over. It was terrible. I ran through the traffic to rescue her, to pull her to the side.”
“So the people who are poisoning you think you killed her?”
“I don’t know, there was an investigation, I spoke to many military people, It was not my fault. Stupid. What she did made my life very dark.”
I sat back, a little stunned. I can could barely imagine how that must of all played out.
“And the drugs, or chemicals, who did that to you, why?”
I don’t know. After this happened, government agencies want to kill me. They put drugs in the air wherever I go.”
“Like now, in this car? Will I get sick too?”
“If you just breathe it once or twice, it will not harm you. They follow me around, even when I go shopping, they follow and put the powder in the air. I feel it burning my body.”
“They are still doing this?”
“Yes, they follow me everywhere.?”
I looked over around and behind. Any of those cars could be government agents. I was silent for a while.
“This country is one of Peace and Justice,” he said suddenly, “but not for me, it is not peace and justice for me.” He paused a while and continued, “I love this country.”
He pulled up at my hotel, and opened the trunk for me with a sad, but warm smile, “I pray for your friend – he will get better.”