The Ambulance Driver


I was eating some cashew nut macaroons at the Dhanalakshmi Bakkery in Tuticorin India recently.  The afternoon was hot as the passersby flittered here and there on a thousand unknown journeys in this Indian port city.  I gazed with a sense of wonderment from my bakery shop window seat at the complexities of life and the conundrums of daily existence.

I was lost in these musings and the crunchy sugary macaroon tip that hovers with sublime grace over the gooey cashew crumbs when I saw him go by.  He was singularly focused.  He wove through the street traffic like a magician appearing and disappearing behind this truck and then that cart of produce.

He pedaled his ambulance cart, a strange kind of tricycle with a caged space behind him for patients in desperate need of medical care.  They call these mechanical inventions jugaads in this part of the world.  They are real world improvisations, contraptions made of dreams and elbow grease and late night tinkering behind some corner store.

I paused in mid crunch, putting my macaroon down and simply staring.  The driver was intense.  He didn’t sit on the make shift seat; no, he pedaled upright with a sense of urgency as if the gods themselves had commissioned him to hasten to some wounded soul without delay.  He looked straight ahead seeing nothing but the imagined patient lying wounded or bleeding on some distant river bank or factory floor.

If I could have done so, I would have leaped from my seat at the bakery and rushed to follow him.  Where did he go?  What did he find?  I will never know.  But it was this frenetic scene outside the bakery where I sat nibbling a macaroon that I conceived the the story of the pearl diver out on a mission to save the world only to find himself the victim of love’s snares and foibles.

(P. S.:   Has anybody tried an authentic macaroon?  Tell me about it).

(Read the story in Teatime in Old Havana)

Slow Hands on an Athens’ Trolley.

Slow hands on an Athens' trolley.

I was swaying on the trolley car in downtown Athens.  It was a hot day and the locals were pressed in tightly about me as I stood in the aisle holding to the overhead grip.  The trolley rolled merrily onward and I almost seemed to dance a Greek samba as my body adjusted to the stops and starts and the gentle undulations of the city avenues.  A trickle of sweat ran down my arm but a breeze from the open windows whispered of Greek dalliances yet to experience.  I felt a satisfying hum of happiness within my heart.  After all, this was Athens.  I loved it!

I saw ahead that the park I wanted to visit was the next stop.  I prepared to exit waiting for the trolley to stop.  There was a little jostling near the door as people moved here and there adjusting to the flow of passengers.  I was bumped about a bit but I thought nothing of it until I saw the man in front of me drop something.  It fell on my feet.  I bent down and picked it up and to my horror realized it was my wallet. The man had a folded newspaper still in his grasp, the very paper that had held my wallet hostage.  He looked at me somewhat bemused.

I put two and two together and shook my finger at him.  I gave him a little bit of southern rhetoric, choice words that didn’t translate well into Greek, and then stormed out of the trolley, wallet firmly in my grasp.

I didn’t let it ruin my day or my opinion of the Greek people.  It just made me realize that there are thugs everywhere.  But c’mon.  This is Athens!  Land of dreams.  Oh well.  Let’s have an ouzo and laugh about it.

Share your pick pocket story.  Got one?

Sugar Roads

Midnight Train to Athens

Midnight Train to Athens

Athens Odeon
“…She was an actress on her way back to the Odeon….”
     A young Greek actress sits, in anguished solitude, at a bar on a midnight train home to Athens where she performs nightly at a Greek theater. The man is returning on a train from a conference where he was the main speaker. He too is lonely, his home in Athens as empty as his life.

It was a midsummer midnight on a bullet to Athens. The air was sticky. I loosened my tie and sipped slowly from a bottle of ouzo in seat 22 by a double window. Fading lights, like florescent fireflies, flickered past from distant villages as the train whisked through the dark countryside tied to its ribbon of steel.

The conference over, I was heading home, the limelight scattered now, just comet dust on the edge of silence. I could see the barren garden, the empty cottage, my solitary bed. The divorce had sent me spiraling into a maddening chaos that had blinded my heart to life’s joys. I tasted the pending loneliness in the ouzo fumes. I tossed the empty bottle aside lost in a subtle despair. My head spinning, I wished the train would speed on through this nightmare and release me somewhere in a borough of New York City, but I knew better.

It was in the midst of this midnight melodrama, that I saw her. She was moonlight on a Greek barstool. Her ring finger, minus the ring, stirred languorously a pink daiquiri in a shot glass. The Blue Nile three-stone diamond winked a sad tale quarantined beneath a Scotch tumbler 8 inches from her hand. Her eyes, lost in hot contemplation, bore traces of some ancient Greek tragedy yet to be discovered.

She rose and showed the conductor her ticket and then jabbed at the daiquiri with pointless attacks. She saw me staring. She quickly adjusted looking away. A bar clock chided her, the second hand clucking, clucking, clucking.  She looked at me again, this time driving recklessly without brakes, her stare cliff bound.

I trembled, wondering her intentions, then flagged her down and hitched a ride to the barstool beside her. The bartender winked. He slid another daiquiri across the marble top and waved off the cost.

She wore a black lace scoop neck dress that had my number in the lace. She was an actress on her way back to the Odeon where she performed nightly beneath the stare of the Parthenon. She spoke broken English; I spoke broken hearts.

She toyed with her pearl necklace. I leaned in slowly and touched my lips to her cheek. Her hands found me, reading the sorrow in my face I had hidden from the world.

My fingers followed the pearl trail. She sighed in Greek. She leaned forward her knees touching mine. “Se thelo,” she whispered as a tear trickled down her cheek. “I want you.” Pocketing the Blue Nile, she sucked the life out of the daiquiri, took my hand and led me like a lamb down the train’s corridor to her room and into a steamy midnight reverie that was Athens bound.

One of my stories in Teatime in Old Havana: Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places (Vol 1).