I would say that about a quarter of all taxi rides I have taken in Africa involve the driver hot-wiring his own car. It feels like watching a woman breastfeed her child. Are they allowed to do this? Am I allowed to talk to them while they do this? The whole process only takes about 4 seconds (the hot-wiring, not the breastfeeding), and the taxi's tail pipe shakes, and begins spitting out the kind of exhaust that can only result from the marriage of dirty fuel and no emissions control.
Maybe I am just imagining this next part. Maybe I'm just imagining the corners of the drivers mouth turning slightly upwards as he looks at us passengers while his engine sputters to life. Maybe the reason his nod to us seems almost imperceptible is because it is actually nonexistent. But if that subtle nod and sly smile are real, as I hope they are, I like to pretend it's the driver's way of saying, “Now you have to promise that you won't tell anybody how I did that.” I'm part of their club. I know how to steal their car.
I remember a job I worked in Salt Lake City. After my first day in the office, my new boss pulled me aside, and said in a low voice, “I usually don't show this to people this early on, but I want to show you where I keep the spare office key.” It was his post-hot-wire nod of approval. He gave me the smile that I swear to god I see in the face of every hot-wiring cabby in Africa. I was in the club. I knew how to steal the office.
Ezekiel is the driver that will carry me from some dusty taxi park to its clone 22 kilometers south. I sit shotgun. In the back is a farmer, a mother and her baby, and an old man holding his bible with the type of grip that comes naturally when one knows, more or less, how and when they will die, but is still unsure where their soul is headed immediately afterwards.
Ezekiel deftly handles the wires under the steering column, then pauses and looks at me. No subtle nod. No subtler smile. I'm not in Ezekiel's club. I instead look at the mother in the bask seat, who is now breastfeeding her child.