Like any major city in the states, Riobamba is crawling with public transport. The fleet of big blue busses spewing out clouds of black smoke, a smattering of less than reputable gypsy cabs, and of course, the omnipresent yellow taxi.
It was a crisp Riobamba evening when I flagged one down to bear me to my bus after Spanish classes. The wind was biting, and the temperature sinking just as fast as the sun. As the cab pulled up and I climbed in I was immediately welcomed by an incredibly enthusiastic “buenas noches señor!” The driver was a classic cabbie – somewhere in his early thirties, well dressed while not overly formal, and quick to smile. Feeling the warmth of his greeting I got comfortable, taking off my backpack and fleece and plopping them down in the seat next to me.
As we worked our way down the jammed streets towards the bus terminal, he caught my eye in the mirror. With another friendly smile he began to walk through the usual questions. What brings you to Ecuador? How long are you staying? Are you married? As we pulled up to a red light we reached a brief lull in our conversation.
Just as I had resigned myself to a silent ride the silence was shattered with a faltering “How are jeu?” More than a little surprised, I shot back a hurried “Well, thank you.” Though we quickly reverted back to Spanish, the gesture was not lost. We went on to talk about where he’d picked up his English. Indicating the rosary hanging from his rearview he told me how as a member of the Bible League he had hosted a group of international volunteers on their visit to Ecuador. Most striking of all, he told me how when they left for India they wanted to bring him along, but he had turned them down in favor of his cab.
As we drew near the terminal, our conversation tapered until with a final “Dios le pague” I gave him the traditional Riobamba cab fare of a dollar and shouldering my pack once again, left the friendly cabbie to go home. It was only after I had settled into the blue felt seat of the bus, ready to nap away the ride, that I began to feel I had forgotten something. After a brief search my suspicion was confirmed. How could I have been so stupid as to have left my prized fleece in the cab?
Yet still, disregarding the fear of my cabbie friend’s potential inattentiveness or opportunism, I hurried off the bus and ran to the corner in the hope that I could still get my jacket back.
Within a matter of seconds the cab pulled up to the corner. Through the open window the driver tossed me my fleece with a friendly “Forgot something?” And with one last toothy grin drove off into the night.