The flight numbers and Iranian cities on the display board shuffled and rearranged themselves so that it was now my time to board. I glanced out the window and pulled my tired body towards the vintage 1970’s Tupelov that waited to fly us an hour across the desert to Yazd.
It was only when we’d landed that I realised that today was Friday; that everything was closed. The gravelly surrounds of the one room airport were devoid of cars except for a single, rusty Paykan that choked and spluttered, perhaps at the indignity of being denied a well-earned retirement. I looked around for another option but finding none, nodded towards the driver to take me ’home’, to a guesthouse I’d telephoned the day before.
Despite the 90 degree weather the taxi driver was wearing five layers of clothing and his car smelled of stale sweat and rosewater. He was the kind of Muslim man I was least comfortable around; devout, likely never missing a prayer, performing his ritual ablutions by flushing water down his arms and rinsing his feet, but rarely changing clothes or enjoying a hot, soapy shower. During the twenty minute journey from the airport he said nothing and I fidgeted impatiently with my scarf as I sat in the back. I could feel that we would both be happy to be free of each other.
A green handled screwdriver jammed into the gap next to my window – possibly to secure the glass into place and keep it from sliding down – rattled as we entered the honey coloured maze of mud and straw walls that made up the old part of the city. We came to a stop in front of a passageway dimly lit by dusty copper lanterns that hung from the low ceiling.
I was bleary eyed and clueless at how to decipher the endless series of zeros on my stack of banknotes so I handed two 50,000 Rial notes to the driver, the equivalent of about $10.
On receipt of my money he sighed in that ‘stupid tourist’ sort of way, rolled down his window and flagged down another taxi to ask for change. Through the lengthy exchange of Farsi and insistent gestures that followed I understood that neither driver was willing to release his money until the other handed his across first. I suggested that I run into a nearby shop to break the deadlock, but both men ignored me, instead looking first at each other and then up at the sky. With the option of payment by kissing unlikely to achieve success, I waited silently as they continued their standoff. After the passing of nearly five minutes, perhaps more, my driver finally ran out of patience and passed across my banknotes and received the smaller notes in exchange. ‘God protect you’ each muttered to each other before the other driver spun away in a haze of dust.
I climbed out of the car and my bags were promptly deposited on the pavement. Relieved to be free of his charge, the driver nodded quickly in the direction of my hotel, down a dark and narrow, mud and straw laneway, and sped off.
He hadn’t even given me my change.