Standing next to the faded yellow tax, a Lucky Stripe cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, Yanno Koykis pulls his frayed jacket closer to his chest as the bitter cold February winds press against him. The downtown crowd was much smaller than usual. Too cold to go out for lunch, he thought to himself. “Today won’t bring much change to my pocket”. Yanno sighs, and waits for his first fare of the day.
As he blankly stares down the nearly deserted street, Yanno notices a young woman briskly walking in his direction. Whether she was in a hurry or just cold, Yanno didn’t care. He hopes his luck is about to change.
“I need a taxi”, the petite woman asks. “Are you available?”
With a slight nod of the head, Yanno goes into motion, opening the passenger door and quickly returning to the driver side to start the engine. As he pulls into traffic, Yanno asks where she is going.
“Ocean’s Restaurant, over on Pacific Drive. I’m running late, however, so can you please hurry.”
Stepping on the gas, Yanno maneuvers the taxi around sports cars and mini-vans, also in a hurry to their reach their destinations. Stealing a glance from his rear-view mirror, Yanno watches the young woman as she types a message on her smart phone. An attractive girl in her mid-twenties with short blond hair, and striking blue eyes. By the way she is dressed, Yanno decides she must be a lawyer or accountant. Most of the women who work downtown have high-paying jobs in prestigious firms. Maybe she will leave a good tip, to make up for the lack of business today. Money was always on Yanno’s mind. Ever since Uber’s start-up, Yanno’s fares had dwindled, making it harder every day to earn a good wage. People seemed more drawn to the nicer cars driven by young college kids than an old, worn-out taxi, driven by an aging foreigner.
“You have special plans today?” Yanno liked talking to his fares. He thought it made them feel more comfortable and always started the conversation. Some fares were real talkers, but most preferred to be left alone in their own thoughts. Still, he tried, just to be polite.
“I am meeting my boyfriend for a Valentine’s Day lunch. It’s our anniversary. We have been dating for two years.”
The fact that it was Valentine’s Day completely slipped Yanno’s mind. But then, why should he remember. Yanno had neither a wife or girlfriend to impress. At least not any more. Suddenly the day seemed even colder.
They drove the rest of the way in silence. Up ahead, Yanno notices the large stone, marking the entrance to the restaurant. Ocean’s was one of those premier eateries popular with millennial professionals. It’s spectacular view of the Pacific waterfront drew people from all over the Southern California valley. Yanno peered down at the black lunch pail sitting on the passenger floorboard, and thought that one day soon, he would have a reason to eat lunch at a place like Ocean’s.
Yanno pulls to a stop in front of the restaurant, and as the young woman exits, she slips him cash for the ride, including a nice tip. As he watches her walk inside, Yanno wonders if he should wait for a fare, or head back downtown. Just as he is about to leave, he hears a whistle in the distance. A tall man in an old black coat is waving him down. As the man approaches, Yanno is struck by his familiar face. He knows this man from somewhere, but where, he cannot remember. Probably just an old fare. Yet Yanno is not so sure.
“Where to?” Yanno glances into the rear-view mirror, trying to remember.
“Westminster Apartments, on Broadway. You know the address?” The man spoke with a slight accent in a voice Yanno had heard before.
“You sound like someone from my home country of Greece”, said Yanno.
With that, the man begins to tell Yanno his tale.
“Yes, I am Greek”, said the man with the tattered coat. “I left the old country when I was just 21 years old and came to America start a new life. My dream was to own a bakery, but I had no money. So, I worked on the docks 16 hours a day. I was strong then, and able. Not like I am today. The pay was good, especially for a foreigner with little English. Still, they did not care, not as long as I did my job. I learned the ropes and soon moved up to foreman. All the while I put money aside to start my bakery. My wife…..
Yanno immediately cut him off. “YOU!” I remember now. You are Dennis, the man who stole the only woman I loved. How dare you get in my taxi and tell me of your life with her. I should pull over and… ”
The man in the back seat let out a deep sigh.
“Yes Yanno, I am Dennis. As soon as I saw you, I knew who you were and I almost turned away, because of my shame. My wife, your girlfriend, Marla, for a while we had a good life. But do not think of me as the man who stole her from you. Think of me as the man who saved you from her.”
“What do you mean?”, demanded Yanno. “Marla was a wonderful woman. The best woman. I have yet to meet a woman as good as Marla”.
“As I was saying, I saved all my money and spent only enough to live on. For years, we were very poor and Marla was very unhappy. I told her that once I had my bakery things would be better, but for a long time, it did not seem that my dream would come true. After many years, I finally saved enough to open a small bakery. We were very successful. Americans love Baklava, and Greek Butter cookies. Marla helped by managing my accounts. She was very good with figures and she told me often how well we were doing. She seemed so happy. Then one day, a police officer came into my business with a warrant for my arrest. They said I had embezzled”
“From your own business?” asked Yanno, who was suddenly very interested in the misfortune of his old enemy. “How could that be?”
“That is what I asked as well. The police man told me that for seven years I had not paid tax on what I had sold. Unbelievable, I thought. This was a mistake I told him. I asked him to go upstairs and get Marla. She would straighten this out, but when he came back down, he said she was nowhere to be found. He took me to jail and gave me a lawyer. I tried once more to explain that Marla took care of the money, but my lawyer said that the business was in my name only, and that I was responsible, no matter what Marla may have done.”
“Lawyers are no good. I hear plenty about them from the backseat of my cab. But please continue with your story.”
“I said to him, let me repay the taxes that are missing. I have money in the bank, my own personal funds. But when I called the bank, I was told that my account was empty. Marla had taken all the money earlier that week. I was devastated. There was nothing I could do resolve this problem. I was sentenced to five years in prison. In fact, I was only freed a week ago.
“And Marla, whatever happened to her?”
“I never saw her again. Marla has a sister who visited me once in prison, and she told me that Marla had taken the tax money and stashed it into a secret bank account. Her sister said she had planned to leave for a long time. All she needed was enough cash to start a new life. It was Marla who turned me in. In one day, I lost my business, my home, and my wife. I have been a poor man ever since.”
Yanno arrived at the Westminster Apartments, a dilapidated structure that housed men who had nowhere else to go. From the read-view mirror, Yanno could see Dennis with his head bowed, and was overcome with sorrow for Dennis. Such a horrible life! Even Yanno would not wish that kind of life on his worst enemy. As Dennis told his tale, Yanno had been thinking of his days with Marla. He realized that she had been a fortune seeker even then. Love had blinded Yanno from the truth, and like Dennis, Yanno would have done anything to make Marla happy. Except for the grace of God, Yanno could easily have been the one sent to jail for something he did not do. As the love for Marla faded, he realized how blessed he was that Marla left him. Suddenly, Valentine’s Day didn’t seem so bad.
“Friend, we have so much to catch up on. Can I buy you lunch? I know a great place down by the Pacific shore”
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from Creative Writing Now (http://www.creative-writing-now.com/short-st) using the words Taxi, Old Enemy, and Valentine’s Day.
The Total word count is 1537.