I rode home in a taxi the other night from a party. I’m not a big fan of taxis because I prefer the comfort of a car I know and trust, but seeing as my sister was using our shared family-sized SUV and I couldn’t find another way home, I was stuck in the back of a cab, winding down shoelace streets. My driver was a man with a sallow complexion, moon-lens glasses, and an angular turban of gray cloth coiled around his head, looking jagged. His whole being was sharp. Glancing at my watch, I realized that I was five minutes away from curfew and asked the driver how soon we could be at my house. He answered me in a slightly accented voice like broken leather, telling me that it would be about twenty minutes. I pretended to cry quietly, hoping that seeing a hysterical teenage girl in the rearview mirror might terrify him into doubling his speed. He coughed anxiously and I could feel the cab accelerating around me. He looked just as nervous as I felt and we plowed forward into the night, the headlights working as twin packets of light in the solar system of street signs and lawn gnomes. We moved faster and faster, my hair unraveling into a nest on the low hanging branch of my neck, his turban getting tighter and sharper. It was geometric. I longed to measure the angles with a protractor. And then I remembered that I wasn’t going to make it. My parents would punish me so hard that I would cease to exist. And I had been so certain that I could get there! So swaggering and self-satisfied in the knowledge that I would arrive on time or maybe even with time to spare! The agony of overestimating my ability to be punctual just about killed me and I fake cried even harder. Sasha (I know this is his name because I had looked at the laminated identification card stapled to the back of his seat and had been chanting, “COME ON, SASHA, WE CAN DO THIS!” in my head) turned back to me briefly, dabbing his forehead with a ratty napkin, and I saw how young he was. Just a baby, maybe six or seven years older than me, no lines on his face, just concern and terror in his white eyes. We were uncomfortable, me because I didn’t know how to gently stop the ersatz sobs from tumbling out of me and him because he clearly didn’t know what to do in this kind of situation. And that’s when the deer jumped in front of the car.
There was a scream like a child getting soap in their eyes, a howl gleaming with ache, and I’m not sure if it came from Sasha or the deer, but everything stopped. I stopped choking on counterfeit whimpers. Sasha stopped patting his shiny head. The deer stopped moving. Sasha’s suit must have been made of tinfoil because I could hear every crunch and curl of his body as he folded himself out of the cab. I looked around, catching a sight of a street sign. It was about six minutes away from my house by car and maybe twenty by foot. I could run. I could leave the driver and his ratty napkin to handle the deer. He could forget that I was there at all, think that I was just a bad dream, just another demanding face to enter and exit his life in the space of a drive. But it was dark. And I was tired and selfish. So I waited three lifetimes (which actually adds up to about four minutes) for Sasha. He was standing in front of the cab, making no move to touch or prod the deer. “DO something!” I was thinking, “Let’s go here!” I was dying in the backseat but I wasn’t actually dying. The deer was. I saw Sasha’s lips moving and there were tears streaming down his face. He got back in the cab and I could hear him whimpering but I hung my head in my lap. And then I started crying too. For real this time. And not because I was going to be late (that ship had sailed about ten minutes ago) but because this man was going to have to keep driving after he dropped me off. He would pick someone else up and drop them off too and maybe the best and least selfish connection this man would make all night would be with the deer.
He started up the car and staring straight ahead said, “I’m sorry.” I don’t think he was saying it to me. He asked if I minded if he turned on the radio and I didn’t so he turned a station playing heavy, Gothic songs, the type of hymns that belong in a cathedral because they’ll shatter your chest cavity if their holiness is in a small enough space. This cab was his cathedral. He drove and we bawled, his person becoming softer and softer, his turban’s edges filing down into curves. Sasha dropped me at my house and told me that I really didn’t have to pay because of the accident. “The ugliest thing in life—”, he started to say but he stopped and just bit his mouth. I left the money in a sweaty pile in his backseat anyway; the dollars formed to the palm of my hand, and sprinted to my house. As his black cab turned in the driveway and left a trail of greasy exhaust drops on the pavement, I didn’t concentrate on the impending castigation waiting behind my house’s door or the tire treads Sasha had left in the shape of a cross on my lawn: all I could see was the sadness that followed this man, trailing his car like a long gray cloth weaving its way into the night.