The conversation with the taxi driver usually does not get any further than the small talk of everyday life, but there are exceptions, the driver decided who would take us to the central station with our suitcases.
He was a man in his fifties, tall, well built and apparently as healthy as a fish. He put our suitcases in the trunk without sighing, although there was every reason to do so – once again they were way too heavy.
How come we never managed to select our travel essentials more strictly? Why did we have to add at least three sweaters, five trousers and an extra pair of shoes at the last minute as if we were going to spend the winter on Nova Zembla? And then that stack of books you already knew you wouldn’t read half of them. Was it just me? New! This was clearly a matter of collective responsibility.
I slid into the back seat next to my wife, the driver asked about the destination, started and before reaching the corner of the street said: “I should be happy to be here.”
A surprising opening sentence. He barely allowed us time to ask, “Why?” As he accelerated, he said in his strong Amsterdam accent: “I just spent five days in the hospital. Operated for colon cancer. They took two-thirds off, that’s a lot. Do you know exactly how long a large intestine is?”
I hoped my wife knew, but she also failed to answer. He cited a figure that was lost in the engine roar and continued: “I don’t know how it will end. It could just have happened to me. The operation went well, according to the doctor, but that does not say everything. I have to stay under strict control.”
In the backseat, we gasped like boxers who had received a blow to their kidneys, speaking of fragile entrails. “How did you know that something was wrong?” I exclaimed with difficulty.
He looked at me quickly through his rear-view mirror. “I couldn’t poop anymore!” he cried. “Not for a week!”
We were now in a part of Amsterdam that was considerably further from the central station than our home address. That wasn’t our intention, but could you expect anything else from a taxi ride that was more like an anatomy lesson? I realized that I had to wait for an appropriate moment to correct the course. For the time being, it had not come to that.
“If only it had stopped there…” he said, “but hey, I could still have some shit.” He paused for a moment before dropping the next bomb. “I also turned out to have PBC. So not PSV – haha – but PBC.”
He correctly interpreted our mutual silence as one big question. “Do you know what that is? A rare autoimmune disease of the liver. The small bile ducts in the liver become inflamed. I can only get rid of it with a liver transplant, but I’m not old enough for that yet.”
He started calculating out loud when he was old enough – luckily it wouldn’t be until after our ride.
The detour had made it an expensive ride, but it was clear that my tip shouldn’t suffer as a result.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of August 20, 2021