“Turn right at the next corner.” Shelly flicked her cigarette ash out the window and pushed her hair away from her eyes, the wind whipping it haphazardly, making her nose itch. She looked over at her driver and shook her head. Scrawny, long and greasy hair crawling out from under a blue bandana, folded and tied at the back of his head. It was hot, Africa hot, and soaked with high levels of humidity that made a person feel encased in plastic wrap. So, of course, he wasn’t wearing a shirt, his flat chest and stomach shiny with sweat. She was bewildered and ashamed at her predicament but could do nothing about it now. He would have to do.
The Dart made a slow arc on to the next street and slowed, the driver awaiting further instructions. “I didn’t tell you to stop! Step on it! If we’re late they won’t be mad at you but I will.” She took a short pull on the cigarette and added, “I’ll tell you what to do when it’s time to do something. Just drive, Toby.”
“Why you got to call me Toby? You know my name is Darryl. That don’t make sense.” He wouldn’t look at her, which made his complaint seem like it was aimed to a higher authority, someone who could make her listen. He was well aware that was outside of his power.
“I call you Toby because I want to call you Toby. There doesn’t have to be a better reason than that. But if you want an explanation I’ll tell you that renaming you makes it a whole lot easier to forget you when this is over.” She watched him to see if he reacted to that but he didn’t. She reached over and mashed her smoldering cigarette into the ash tray, adding to the growing pile of butts crowding the small space. The car was just as ragged as its driver, faded green dashboard, cracked vinyl seats and no working air or radio. However, the yellow and red air freshener with an elaborate rendering of the mother of Jesus dangling from the rear view mirror and flipping in the breeze appeared to be recently purchased. She noticed Toby glance over at what she was doing and quickly yank his head forward.
“What? You don’t approve of extinguishing my smokes inside the car? Would you rather I throw them out the window and litter? Is that what you want? For me to break the law?” She shook her head and looked outside.
Shelly whipped her head around and snapped, “What did you say?”
Darryl repeated his complaint, this time a little louder, and added, “Plus it ain’t good to be smelling second hand smoke. I got the asthma, ya know, and this ain’t helping.”
Shelly’s demeanor shifted as she chuckled and made an attempt to imitate Darryl’s drawl and inflections. “Oh, I got’s the asthma and I cain’t breathe! You gots to throw them cigarettes out the window and help me breathe!” She punched Darryl in the arm and flipped back to Shelly-mode, incredulous and angry. “Since when did you get asthma? You’ve never mentioned that before so stop your foolishness and deal with the smell. Good Lord, ahmighty!”
“I’ve had the asthma since I was a little kid. It was never the bad kind, the kind you have to get shots for, but I still had to deal with it every day for as long as I can ‘member.” He was animated now, the pitch of his voice rising with each declaration, determined to defend his honor and his lack of oxygen. “I swear!” He reached next to him and grabbed his t-shirt, currently a rumpled mess, and wiped his face, using it like a towel. Tossing it over his shoulder into the back seat, he gripped the steering wheel with new fervor.
“Are you a racist, Toby? Is that why you’re mad?” Shelly was in full poke and prod mode, being a bitch because she felt like it.
Toby sat up straight and yelled, “Why would you ask me that? Why would I be driving you around with no idea where I’m going if I was a racist? That don’t make no sense!” He cut his eyes toward her, flashing a mixture of disappointment and fear.
“Because I’m paying you?”
“I don’t know that for sure. Right now that money is air and ain’t real. It’s just your word that it’s comin’!” He took a deep breath and calmed a little, adding, “And that there should prove I ain’t racist if I’m trusting you like that! Don’t it?”
Shelly smirked. “Maybe, Toby, just maybe. Turn left at the light.” And she lit another cigarette.