Jessica Zafra: Leonardo da Vinci was my cabbie.

Jul 25, 2012 by

One Saturday afternoon a month ago I took a taxi outside the UP Shopping Center.

“Sa Makati po,” I told the driver.

“Do you have a UP ID?” he asked.

“No.” I mean I had one when I was a student, obviously, but I don’t have a current university ID.

“We’ll have to take Garcia Avenue then,” he said. He was a burly man who looked to be in his 50s. Do you remember Bomber Moran?

“But you went to UP,” he went on and I nodded. I regretted not having earbuds on as a conversation deterrent. Talking to cabbies is always instructive but there is the risk of arguments, yelling, and stuff that leads to cars fusing with lampposts.

“May I ask what you majored in?” (Our conversation was in Tagalog by the way, I’m just saving myself the translation work.) I said Literature.

“I’m here to consult with a professor friend of mine,” he announced. “I’m an inventor, you see.” I congratulated him, for I have a great admiration for inventors. “I’ve invented a process that reduces vehicular emissions.”

I said this was important work and that he should have his invention patented. “That’s not a problem,” he boomed, “I am a mechanical engineer. We’re working on the requirements.”

“Good luck,” I said, hoping this was the end of our chat because I wanted to listen to music. “Don’t get ripped off by evil corporations.”

“I don’t care about the money,” he declared, “I’m doing it for humanity.”

The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey started playing in my head. “I knew someone who was helping inventors get patents,” he continued. “My friend had found a way to save fuel by using a mixture of gasoline and water. But not a hybrid engine.”

“That’s great,” I noted, “as long as the engine doesn’t explode.”

“No, he solved that problem,” the driver said. “It takes a long time to get the engine started though, about an hour.”

Wonderful for emergencies, said my thought balloon. He went into a long and detailed story about how that guy had actually swindled other inventors but his friend got his patent safely. “Karma,” he concluded.

“That was quick,” I said.

“Yes, karma strikes fast. I’m a cancer survivor, you know. My friend cured me. He taught me how to beat the cancer. I was working in Japan when I was diagnosed; I thought I was a goner. Resigned to my fate, I gave away all my possessions. That’s when my friend showed me the cure. Now I help others to overcome the illness.”

An inventor and a medical genius. Leonardo Da Vinci was my cabbie.

“Do you have bad eyesight?” he asked me. This did not require genius—I was wearing glasses.

“Nearsighted,” I said.

“What grade?”

“High.”

“Would you like laser surgery?”

“No.”

“That’s what I thought until I had the surgery and now my vision is perfect,” the driver declared. “You mustn’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid, I love glasses,” I said. This confused him. “They’re part of my work,” I explained. “I work in…fashion.” Not exactly true but not entirely a falsehood.

“I kept sitting on my glasses,” the driver went on.

“I keep them on my face, not my ass,” I told him, obviously omitting the last part. Blast this traffic, I was late for my late lunch.

“I prayed to the lord to give me a girlfriend,” the driver went on. “I’m single, see, but I want to have ten children. I asked God for a beautiful girlfriend. A kind girlfriend.”

Obviously he wasn’t referring to me. “And he answered my prayers!” he cried, like a game show host unveiling a kitchen showcase. He took a framed photo from the dashboard and handed it to me.

“Don’t you think she’s pretty?” I nodded with all the enthusiasm I could muster.

“The other girl in the picture is her twin sister. I didn’t know she had a twin!”

“Good then, you’ll get your ten kids in no time.”

“We became close when she almost drowned during typhoon Sendong,” he recounted. Why do strangers feel compelled to tell me their life stories? It’s not as if I seem sympathetic. “She called me, crying for help. Her house was flooded, the water was rising. ‘Help me!’ she was screaming, then we got cut off. She drowned.”

An inventor, a medical genius and a protagonist in a tragic romance.

“Drowned?” I echoed.

“I didn’t think she’d survive. Lucky her mother found her. They didn’t have a good relationship, they were fighting all the time. But the experience brought them closer together. They are closer now than they’ve ever been.”

Not a tragic romance, good for him. “I’m getting out there, by the coffee shop,” I said.

“Don’t leave your smartphone in the cab, I’ve collected so many from my passengers!” he warned me, cheerfully.

“Keep the change!” I said as I ran away.

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