The man climbed into the back seat of the taxi beside me, slamming the door clumsily as the driver pulled back onto the highway. Hunched forward, balancing his bag on his lap, his teeth gleamed in the dark. "Gracias señora. Buenas noches," He nodded at my clutched children, "Niños. . . niños. . . ."
I waited for him to demand all my valuables. My husband John, in the front seat, had all our traveller's cheques tucked away in his money belt. My classroom Spanish would not stand up to a robbery. We would be pitched off the side of the road, peso-less.
The taxi accelerated, fish-tailing around the next corner, leaving the night-time lights of Puerto Angel behind us. We've been set-up, I thought, the driver has an accomplice. . .
The taxi had come to pick us up at nine o'clock. "That'll get us to Pochutla in time for the midnight bus to Oaxaca," we had said.
After the driver finished urinating into the darkness we negotiated a price. John, at six-foot-four, squeezed himself into the front passenger seat, his knees up around his ears. I took the back seat with one child on my lap and one snuggled tight against me, my arm around her. I locked the door on my side. There were no seat-belts. The taxi sprayed rocks as it turned and left the parking lot of the hotel.
Barely out of town, the driver said, "Look, a campesino. We have room." He skidded to a halt. "He is a poor man needing a ride." The stranger got into the taxi with us.
We continued on our way. The taxi slewed around corners. swerving out to pass slower vehicles, headlights slashing the darkness. A dozen time in the half-hour drive to Pochutla I was certain we would be killed. Then it wouldn't matter much if we'd also been robbed. I clung to my children and prayed to Canadian gods.
The man beside me held his tattered nylon sports bag tightly against his chest. He said, "Gracias, señora," every time I gave him a sidelong glance. He patted the empty space between us. I tried not to list as the taxi careened around corners. My son fell asleep in my arms, sprawling hotly against me. My daughter squeaked, "Mom, you're squishing me." My back ached.
As we neared Pochutla the man in the back seat with us called out, "Aquí, aquí." to the driver and leapt out of the taxi, vanishing into the warm night.
At the bus depot the taxi driver demanded more money, because, he said, disgruntled, he'd never get a fare back to Puerto Angel at this time of night.
Under the bright fluorescent lights of the bus depot I collapsed, exhausted, into a blue plastic chair. "We're all still alive," I groaned.
"Still alive?" John asked, "Was something the matter?"
It was a long, safe wait for the midnight bus to Oaxaca.
Box 62, Grantham's Landing, B.C.
Canada V0N 1X0