Front Seat Rider
He in the driver’s seat and me beside him in the front, I begin to notice that as we speed in and out of the traffic flow, we are like two branches floating on a river’s current, separated from our trees, now interlocked by the movement, now being carried by the river of life around the same bend in her channel as she cuts through earth.
I’m a front seat rider now in Zaheer’s taxi. I remember the first time I moved from the back seat to the front passenger’s seat in the taxi. After sharing 3 Friday adventures with Zaheer driving my car where, of course, I sat in the front, I began to feel strange sitting in the back of the taxi. So one day, when he came in the taxi to take me on some errands, I first opened the back door as usual, then looked in shyly and asked if I could sit in the front.
“Absolutely,” he said, using a word common in my lexicon.
The view from the front made me feel privileged. He’s MY driver, I thought to myself, unashamed of my possessive claim. It was kind of like being “teacher’s pet”. Sitting in the front sealed the status of our relationship in my mind: on the one hand, he the driver and me the “madam”, and on the other hand, “we”, the odd-paired two in an unlikely friendship.
This definition of the boxes where our friendship / partnership / customer and server dynamic exists has been difficult for me to determine and navigate. I want to move easily in and out of these boxes in an effort to develop a friendship, but I also don’t want to overstep my boundaries, or for Zaheer to be put in a strange or difficult position as a result of my relaxed attitude regarding socially set boundaries. I am keenly aware that this person, target of my friendship intentions, has no background knowledge or experience with friendships between people socially defined as we each are: (i.e., man / woman; worker / customer; older / younger…). As I learn more about him, and share more of myself with him, I continue to tread carefully between the boxes we individually occupy.
I found that my move to the front seat helps blur those box walls without either of us actually stepping out of any socially-designed boundaries. Fortunately, Zaheer is easy-going and adapts to non-verbal clues and unfamiliar circumstances with ease. He never acts surprised, though I may find out later in a conversation that something had been strange (like the first time I asked him to go into the market with me as opposed to waiting outside while I shopped alone). As I behave in my typically American ways that drop me awkwardly into spaces a woman from his culture could never enter, and pull him into spaces normally taboo for him, I am always aware of my desire to blur lines without crossing them. My move to the front seat seems to be an acceptable means to that end.
My front-seat position fosters an interactive experience. There is banter and laughter in the front; we talk about things in the friendship box of our relationship: his day, my day, our next adventure plans… But when I am in the back seat, we only talk about things in the “Madam and Mohammad” box of our relationship – the immediate purpose of the trip: stop by the bank, please, then I need to go to the fruit market…
So now, I always sit in the front. He lets me sit in the front seat of the taxi as if it’s my own personal queen’s seat, as if it’s perfectly normal. And maybe it is normal, I don’t really know. Zaheer has other customers who will only ride with him – dedicated customers who call him regularly, some even daily, and I don’t know if they sit in the front or the back because I have never asked him that, but I think they sit in the back. I believe they sit in the back. I will probably not ask where these other regular customers sit because I prefer to think that MY position there in the front is mine and mine alone.
Zaheer doesn’t say if he likes my front seat position, but his smile as we chatter indicates that he is as comfortable with me beside him as I am. This comfort is expressed without words as he cruises along the city’s ribbons of avenues and alleys taking my trust and my life in his hands and my stories into his personhood. And I, from the front seat view, surrender my authority and give in to the enjoyment of the ride – both literally and figuratively.
Oh yes! I’m a front-seat rider!