He’s tapping my destination into his GPS and says to me, “This thing, you know, I use this and now I learn nothing. I follow it around, but I don’t learn how to get anywhere anymore.” He shrugs.
“I know what you mean. I can’t even read a map anymore.”
“You know what is amazing though, this works even in Cairo where there are no names on the streets. It still tells you how to go.”
I tell him that I used to have family friends from Egypt and I loved the food. “You like Egyptian food? Foul, tabouleh? You must have loved the lamb, yes?”
I didn’t, but I don’t tell him that. “I used to,” I said, “but now I don’t eat meat anymore.”
He bangs a hand on the steering wheel. “Are you a vegetarian? What is this vegetarian, my seventeen year old son says he is one now. I say what do you mean eat nothing that’s living. Trees, eggplant, they’re alive too but we cut them down, we eat them. Meat is good for you, you need it to be strong.”
I nod, and look out the window. He’s right, he’s wrong. But it’s his son’s fight, not mine.
We’re stopped in traffic and he turns around. “You know what, I have killed a lamb myself.” He draws a finger across his neck. “We have a holiday in Islam, Eid-al-Hadah, about Abrahim, he is the founder of our religion. The story is God tested him, he told him to kill his son Isaac. Abrahim says to Isaac, God tells me to kill you. How can I do this? Isaac says, look you have to do what God says. So Abrahim does, he pulls the knife across his son’s throat, but then instead of him there is a lamb. God tricked him. So we kill the lamb too, a sacrifice to God, to remember. Every year we go to the special butcher who kills them the right way, halal. One year I said, I want to do it myself.” Again he draws a hand across his throat. “He showed me how, I did it. The next year he told me how he gets the skin off too. Every year now, I kill the lamb myself.”
We ride on a while. This story of God as a trickster, I love it but I have no idea if it is true. I don’t know enough about Islam to know if a single word of this is accurate. I only know it is this man’s story. I only know that he gets both a thrill and moral balance from the act of killing the lamb himself.
“Religion is tricky,” he picks up the thread again. “This story, do you believe it? For the Christian story, it’s different. God stops him, not tricks him. All different religions have different stories. Chinese have the Buddha,” he encircles an invisible belly with his arms. “Hindus, so many gods. Which is true? Which is right and which is wrong?”
We’re so involved in our conversation that he misses a turn the GPS voice told him to make. We’re both laughing and squinting at the street signs trying to figure out where to go. We narrowly escape heading into the tunnel.
“No, no, please, don’t take me to New Jersey!” It’s our own little comedy, the two of us. We loop around one-way streets and finally find our way.
He’s quiet a while, so am I. I’m trying to memorize the conversation.
“I am Muslim because my parents are. Growing up I see this. If they were Jewish, I would see they are Jewish, I would absolutely be Jewish. Anyway Muslims, Jews, they are so similar. Same food, but they kill each other. It’s not the people. It’s politics.”
Suddenly there’s mischief in his eyes. “Do you know who I think is right?” I wait. I think know what’s coming but I don’t want to spoil the beauty of it.
“What I think is we’re all right,” That’s the part I was expecting, from this thoughtful, philosophical man. But then he frowns. “I’m a good Muslim. Mostly there are good Muslims. Some are crazy though. They want to kill everybody else. This, this is wrong. What they believe is wrong. If I saw them doing something, I’d kill them to stop them.”
“ No killing! Only the sheep.” It’s the end of the ride, I’m reluctantly climbing out of his cab.
“Yes,” he laughs, “only sheep. Have a good day.” And then, an afterthought. “Eat meat.”