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16th April
posted by amber

In a Taxi

The taxi driver thought he had offended me. I could tell by the way he stopped staring at me in the rearview mirror. For the first half of my journey, he’d been watching me without embarrassment, the way men in those countries always look at women, as if we were simultaneously invisible and red-flagged.

I’d tried to dress modestly, but the long skirt and the scarf swaddling my head and hair obviously weren’t enough. The women I saw as we drove from the airport to the hotel were totally encased in paper – pages of their holy books sewn together into an impregnable fortress of text, the ‘thou shalt not’ rules virtually ensuring obedience through a barrier of religious script.

I’d visited the country frequently during the change – from t-shirts with p.c. logos and buttons with patriotic or religious sayings to brands of clothing bearing popular sentiments, followed by political parties issuing approved outfits with velcro strips for adding Bible verses and facile slogans about loyalty and patriotism.

Of course, clothing was just a manifestation of the deeper changes – the fears of common people exploited by an increasingly power-hungry economic and ideologic elite. I’d written about all these changes in the free press of another country, using a name that was not the same as the name I travelled under.

I returned, ten years later, to a county stable due to extreme repression. And the taxi driver remarked that I must be some kind of journalist.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because only journalists travel without their husband,” he told me.

“My husband is dead,” I replied, the answer I’d been counselled to give to such questions. “I’ve brought his ashes back.” And the man was embarrassed for casting aspersions, by labelling me a journalist, when I really was a grieving widow.

Of course, as he wheeled his great gas guzzling vehicle along, I could see his face in the mirror, ruminating on the obvious questions – why wasn’t I properly dressed, why was my husband living in another country at the time of his death, was he not a faithful Canadian?

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story.

The first line of this story was suggested by my mother, Mary Bond, and is the first line of The House of Stairs, a novel by Barbara Vine.

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