Sonja is a big black lady, a sweetheart. Her body’s falling apart at age 43, knees, back, innards. She can’t drive anymore. She took my cab to work last week and she asked me if I would be her regular driver. She’s a caregiver for an 80-year-old lady down on the south side, but she’s the one who needs a care-giver. She only works on Sundays. It takes her a while to climb into the back seat, groaning in pain, nearly in tears.
“All, right, Matt, I’m in!” she says.
I get the cab moving.
“How’s it going Sonja?”
“Can’t complain, no sir! God’s been a-SHINING on ME! I won 30 bucks last night on the penny slots!”
“I think Martin was there, giving me luck.”
“My ex. God he was such a slut! Men, you know? No offense! That motherfucker would fuck anything that came around. But I loved him. Still do. He was an alky too, what a shame. Dumb slut got the aids, but it was his liver that finally kilt him.”
“You’re just a loving person, Sonja.”
“I even had me a couple of Bahama Mamas last night!”
“What’s in those?”
“I have no idea, but they sure got my big black ass rollin’!”
The next week she’s moving even slower and more laboriously than before.
“You go to the casino last night, Sonja?”
“Naw, my son came over, do you know he brought me 40 dollars? I told him, you trying to give me a heart attack, bringing me 40 dollars out of the blue? Bless that boy.”
“You stayed home?”
“Hell no! I went down to buy me some lotto tickets. Do you know that cashier was hitting on me? I must have been looking cute yesterday.”
“Cuter than normal?”
“Oh, Matt, you are a doll! If you wasn’t married, mmmm, hmmmm…”
“How’d those lotto tickets turn out?”
“Shit. Do you know while I was buying them tickets some little ho’ in line behind me started giving me the business? Some little patite little thang! Oh, she thought she was something, gettin’ all up on me like she was in some big hurry to get down to the strip-house and do her thang or some other skanky shit.”
“You know it, Matt! So I turns to her and I say, you don’t want BIG SASSY to come out on your skinny little ass!”
“Who’s Big Sassy?” I say.
“Big Sassy lives inside me. She used to come out all the time, back in my wild days. She don’t come out much anymore.”
“I wouldn’t want to mess with Big Sassy.”
“You got that right. Even Martin wouldn’t mess with Big Sassy. The only one who ain’t afraid of Big Sassy is my mama. But then, mama’s not afraid of nothin’.”
“You live with your mother?”
“Yes, she took me in a few years ago when I got sick.”
“You don’t know my mama, ha ha! Naw, she’s all right. But she keeps buying too much food. We got the freezer full and stuffs just falling out on the floor when you open it up. I told her, Stop buyin’ so much food mama but she can’t resist a sale. Just yesterday she came home from Fry’s and honked the horn. You KNOW when mama honks the horn she done bought a lot of groceries and needs some help carrying them in.”
“You crack me up, Sonja.”
“The lord’s been good to us.”
Every week she’s got a story and every time we laugh and every time she looks sicker and more tired.
The next week when I pick her up she’s telling me a story and stops short, says, “Shit!”
“I just done lost my ring.”
Her ring flew right off her hand while she was gesticulating her story. Her fingers are so fat I have no idea how this could have happened. She searches for the ring until we get to the old lady’s house where she works, then I get out and I help her look.
“It fell down in the seat-belt hole!”
I stick my hand down in there and feel something bite me. I yank my hand out and there’s a little blood on it.
“What the fuck? Something bit me!”
“You ever clean this cab, Matt?”
“Maybe it was just a loose spring?” I say, sucking my hand.
“My ring, my ring! You got a wire coat hanger?”
“Shit, Sonja, you got to search the world far and wide to find a wire coat hanger these days.”
“Ha, ain’t that the truth.”
We look for it for 10 minutes but have no luck.
“It must be down there somewhere, Sonja, but I have to get going. Was it valuable?”
“Sentimental,” she says.
I’ve never seen her look this sad.
The next time I pick her up that’s all she can talk about.
“Did you find my ring, Matt?”
“No, ma’am. I’m sorry.”
“Martin’s pissed. I have these wind chimes in my room and he was making them jingle all night. He gave me that ring when we was 16 years old. He’s pissed I lost it.”
“Sick Big Sassy on him,” I say.
“Big Sassy’s too tired.”
The next week it’s the same, until about half way to the old lady’s house. Then she starts to scream and jump around in the back seat. I’m on the freeway and the whole cab is shaking and bouncing. Sonja’s a big girl though she has been losing a lot of weight lately.
“What’s going on back there?”
“EEK, AHH, it’s a bug, you got a BUG back here Matt! Oh MOTHER OF GOD, I hate bugs! EEEK, THERE IT IS! See it? SEE IT?”
“I’m driving here, Sonja, settle down!
I get her to the house where she takes care of the old lady and she opens the door before I can stop and kind of jumps/falls out. She’s dancing around brushing herself off and shaking her arms. I get out and run around the cab.
“THERE IT IS, THERE IT IS!”
She stomps away mercilessly at the ground for a few minutes and then finally stops and runs about 15 feet away. She’s out of breath.
“Is it dead?”
I look at a tiny insect squashed into the gravel.
“Dead as a doorknob.”
She comes hesitantly over like she’s tip-toeing to the edge of a cliff, and looks down, trying to hide behind me even though I’m smaller than she is.
“You got bugs in your cab, Matt.”
“Pretty sure you brought that one with you.”
“Shit,” she says. “I hope that wasn’t Martin.”
The next week Sonja never calls for her ride. I drive over to her house anyway at around 7:30 in the morning, her regular time. She doesn’t answer her phone, so I knock on the door. A tiny old black lady answers.
“Is Sonja going to work today?” I say.
“Sonja isn’t here. She ain’t coming home no more.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s with the lord now, son.”
I get back in my cab and sit in her driveway. I’ll miss her. I never really believed she lost the ring in my cab, I never saw a ring on her finger. But when I pull out of her driveway I hear a rattling somewhere under the back seat. It rattles for a week. Every time I turn a corner or apply the brakes I hear it, back and forth, back and forth…
On Sunday when I go in to the office to cash-out, I put in a request for another cab.
Mather Schneider was a cab driver for many years in Tucson. He has published stories and poems since 1994 and has books available. He now lives in Mexico, where he is unemployed.