“When hair doesn’t define you: A story about Cancer” – Taxicab Chronicles

Storytime: This is a story of solidarity from the family of Cancer Warriors.

When I pick people up in my car I always offer the front seat. Not out of habit or loneliness but because in my head, someone whose ready to not pay their fare, rob me or kill me is less likely to do it once we have a chat. I’m able to spot the ones who don’t want to pay. Even if my car is packed with customers. By the end of the ride they always respect me and give me a tip on top of the fare owed.

Don’t get me wrong; there is no scientific evidence backing this up. Just my primal instincts to survive and has kept me here until almost 40. My goal is to always connect with and be inspired by the life they’ve lead. That’s neither here nor there and I won’t be giving out any secrets!

However on this particular day I did more listening than speaking because this beautiful black sister had a story to tell.

Rolls down passenger window:

Also Me – Miss would you like to sit in the front.
Her – No thank you; the back is just fine.

Moments later we’re off! I’m hopeful you are following along in this Taxicab Blog Series to know that “Nascar” inspires me. We set out swiftly to drive down the mean streets of Brooklyn. People say that things have changed (especially the whack ass realtors helping to push out us common folk). The pitch goes it’s a much safer place… But pockets of violence can happen anywhere. So you never want to get caught slipping or being too comfortable in thinking a razor blade can’t do work. Ask the females whose faces are scarred up. Many black people have Keloid skin and unfortunately bad people know it.

I’ve seen a quick exhale from the lips of people around me. You blow fast and exhale hard as the razor blade sings its way into your hand. Seconds ago it was lodged between their teeth, gums and cheeks. Nestled away enough so they are able to speak slang around it. Carrying protection everywhere they go. I personally never learned the trick but always respected them for it.

That’s another story to be told on another day. So let’s get back to the Nubian Queen that was placed into my cab.

She’s older than me by a few years and hard learned situations. Her natural hair is shaved very low with a honeycomb dye job framing her face and makes me wish I knew the beautician. The woman is stylish with a cream pea coat, white collared shirt, denim blue jeans and black knee high shoe boots. Matching bracelet and earrings that jingle, jingle when she talks. Faint wrinkles surround her eyes and mouth letting me know she’s used to smiling every single damn day of this life. The test of time was made livable even through storms of turmoil and regret.

We chat about the cold weather and the slow drivers. Before getting into what makes her spine go rim-rod straight. The laugh lines fading briefly around her eyes as time yanks her down that dirty and bleak drain to the sadder part of life. Imagine that sunken pothole on the once smooth highway. It erodes over time as the weight of hundreds of semi-trucks daily continue to rip small pieces of the asphalt. Their heavy rubber tires meld and carries chunks of the road with it. Leaving behind a lesser version of picture perfect that we all start with.

She leans forward onto the edge of the back car seat. Whispers of her jewelry makes me glance in the rear-view mirror. The sound is like a wind chime blowing in the summertime breeze with a glass of sweet tea in your hand. The pain in her voice is raw with memory. So I just listen. No words, as I make turn after turn to her destination. Glancing briefly in the mirror to lock eyes with her grief. Because if she can live it; I can damn sure hear the tale of her losses.

Her mom passed of Cancer two years ago. Grandma also fought a good battle. But just last year her sister also succumbed to the disease. All I can do is pause. Time stands still for us. We are in this grief together and I’d have it no other way.

When people say “Fuck Cancer” I always nod in agreement. Because there are entire families being wiped out from it. Imagine going to three funerals in three years for people that you love. Or when you hear those stories of an entire family suddenly killed during a car crash. My jaw drops in awe and I raise my eyes to the sky wondering what made Him take them all. Is there a bigger task needed for them to do? Unfortunately and thankfully I won’t know on this day to ask him face to face. But we all eventually find out.

For me I tell myself daily; make sure you’ve been a GOOD person. So I smile big, listen hard and hope they will remember me once I’m gone.  But one major obsession is I can never picture my ending to this life and that’s a good thing. I think.

However for now the epitome of Secure Blackness seated behind me continues to tell her story. Her sister called one morning like every other morning to chat. Saying she was moving back to New York City without much notice. The Nubian Queen never questioned what her sister ever wanted to do. It’s been that way since they were kids. So when she landed in the Crooklyn Zoo that’s when shock settled in. Her sister had lost weight and looked sickly. My passenger didn’t give much detail and as a writer I damn sure didn’t push for more. How could I? Why would I? If I don’t know what sickly looks like after being raised in Brooklyn during the 90’s then I need to retire. Because my voice isn’t the one worth listening to.

The Nubian Queen said not a peep and just embraced her sister. They had already went to battle and lost family each time. But the thing about War is; you can lose constantly and all that matters is that you won in the end. Did you fight hard? Did you give up? Or did you wake that morning and say – FUCK CANCER while marching to your own beat.

Before her sister passed she agreed to cut her hair in support. Unfortunately she wasn’t ready to tune out the friends and family that said – Girl don’t you mess with all that glorious natural hair. She used to have long luscious hair that you could do anything with. Hot comb one day, roller set the next and wet like a “Chia Pet” to bring the coil pattern right back the day after. She had the kind of hair that her husband used to run his fingers through. Making comments daily on how beautiful she looked. Their marriage had lasted a long time. So I had to ask:

Me: What did he say when you cut it all off?!

Her: What could he say? This is my hair and my temple. He got over himself real quick!

But as she spoke this I thought to myself was it too late. Showing solidarity for her sister didn’t come when she was living. I’m reminded of when people say give me my flowers when I’m alive. I can’t enjoy them when I’m dead and buried. So of course I also hushed that voice of judgement and replaced it with; who gives the right time as the precise time for you to pay it forward. We as people need to do things on our own damn time during our own damn terms. Without those doubtful voices stopping you. Unless of course you plan on jumping out a plane without a parachute. Some things people need to talk you out of.  

I slowly pulled up to her destination with a huge grin on my face. This life hasn’t always been good to me. But the faint wrinkles forming on my face matches hers. The Nubian Queen steps out with that whisper of jewelry bringing me back to my childhood in the South. And I think to myself; her sister lost that battle but so many continue to fight this war.

Thank you for reading. For writing inquiries and opportunities email msvontimcrae@gmail.com and follow me on IG: the_real_vonti

Image credit: https://acancerdad.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/the-war-against-cancer/

Disclaimer – Names/Location have been redacted to maintain confidentiality and trust of participants. Stories are a mix of fiction and non-fiction due to privacy.

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