Social Climbing

(1980)

After five years of driving a cab, the only day Bob still looks forwards to is Sunday. The traffic is light and the fares are out there if you know where to look. Even now, forcing himself out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness, ever so careful not to wake Nettie or the kids, kissing his bronze brown babies so lightly they stir without waking. He is out of the apartment ten minutes later. Sunday morning is the time, like the song says, “The good people are going to church and the bad people are going home.”

Of course, if he took another teaching job out on Long Island, Sunday morning he’d be curled up in bed with Nettie. He’d own a car instead of just driving one and the kids would have a back yard. But the Long Island of his memory is a hostile ocean of white people. As he walks to the subway, Delancey Street almost deserted, he hears the faint rumble of waves on a white beach.

FROM Around the Way
(Lower East Side, NY, NY)
BY Martha Pinson

Waiting for the train Bob misses the car he doesn’t have, and wonders if he’ll get to the garage before 6:30 a.m. Most Sundays an elderly Episcopal priest and a dark-skinned boy around eleven years old appear at the corner of Ridge and Houston Street between 6:45 and 6:50 a.m. Up the Drive to 135th Street the meter humming, furiously flipping numbers, the final destination an Episcopal Church on Convent Avenue with, Bob assumes, a West Indian congregation. 6:16 a.m.

It was a month ago that, after discharging his fares, he left the cab and walked to the front of the church. The entrance was almost blocked by an enormous basket overflowing with tropical fruit. This fruit bouquet was as bright as flowers and so numerous as to be beyond words.

Bob remembered Nettie and her Jamaican family and friends discussing mangoes and arguing for their favorites: be it a “Blackie,” an “East Indian,” or, a “Number 11.” He continued to stare, momentarily silenced by how many tastes and textures that remained unknown to him, remembered his mother-in-law mourning the fruit trees she had left behind in Honduras and Jamaica.

The priest and the boy, both in gowns, emerged from the back of the church. The priest tentatively smiled. Bob briefly nodded in reply and returned to the cab. He was overwhelmed in the face of close to bewildering abundance: in nature, in people’s natures and in the nature of different people. He should have stayed long enough to see the congregation: the hats, the fans, the flowery dresses.

The only other person waiting in the subway is a disheveled man, muttering to himself and, Bob thinks, waiting for more than the next train.

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