This South American Life: The Turtle, The Scorpion, and The Taxi
By Vivi Rathbone.
As I opened the door of the taxi the thought briefly passed through my mind; that when I enter in the car, I enter into the world of a stranger, and I trustingly put my life in his hands. I have no choice but to trust that he will deliver me safely and unharmed to my destination. It’s a risk, a trusting gamble, a shot for the fates.
I sat down and closed the door. I was in a foul mood, and I’ve never been one for hiding my emotions.
“Voy a Coronal Diaz y Las Heras”. I gave him the direction and buckled my seatbelt.
Securing the seatbelt is a risk to take while in a taxi, if you’re lucky enough to get a taxi with working seatbelts. Buckling it ensures protection in an accident, but might make it more challenging to jump out of the backseat if the driver pulls any funny business. I’ve never encountered either scenario, but I have been called paranoid.
The cab driver said something about the weather and I took the opportunity to spill my guts. Taxi drivers never seem to mind if you blurt out your problems. They’re used to it.
“I feel so empty. My love for Buenos Aires has abandoned me so swiftly. Where once I felt the high of glorious euphoria, now I feel trapped by the stupid inconveniences of a broken system. The crumbling architecture that I once found to be romantic, now makes me sad.”
“Little girl, you are dramatic.” He responded.
The pitch of my voice rose and I started speaking faster.
“Of course I am dramatic! This city made me dramatic! If ever I expressed myself, I was dismissed as ‘histerica’ and alas, I have become histerica!!!”
“Little girl, you can’t hate Buenos Aires for being Buenos Aires. Have you heard the story of the Scorpion and the Turtle?”
I lowered my voice, but made no effort to mask my irritation. “No. What is it?”
The taxi driver then proceeded to tell me a story. Taxi drivers are always telling me stories.
A scorpion sat at the bank of a river, looking across to the other side. He wanted to cross the river, but was unable to swim. As he sat helpless on the riverbank, a turtle swam past him.
The scorpion cried out to the turtle; “Turtle, won’t you help me cross the river? If you just give me a ride on your back, I could cross to the other side.”
The turtle replied: “You must be joking. Yes, I could do that, but I know your reputation, Scorpion. As soon as I let you on my back, you will sting me.”
The scorpion replied: “But I really must get to the other side of the river! Besides, I have no reason to sting you, if I did, then we would both drown! For the sake of my own survival, I would not sting you.”
This reasoning resonated with the turtle, who came close to the bank and agreed to let the scorpion ride on his shell across the river. But as they reached the middle of the river, the scorpion stung the turtle. As they both descended into a watery grave, the turtle let out one final cry:
“I don’t know why!” Said the Scorpion. “I can’t help it – it’s just my nature.”
The taxi driver finished the story with full dramatic flair, and looked at me in the rear view mirror, his eyes pleading for applause.
“Bueno, y?” I asked.
“Don’t hate Buenos Aires for being itself.” He concluded.
“I don’t hate Buenos Aires,” I replied. “I just don’t love it anymore, the way I used to. Do you love Buenos Aires?” I asked him.
“I enjoy Buenos Aires. Love is a big word. It has a lot of definitions.” He told me.
“How do you define it?” I asked, only slightly amused to be having another theoretical conversation about love with a taxi driver. I thought briefly that the the fact that scenario repeated itself made it deserving of a Twitter hashtag dedication, something like #thatssovivi or #viviproblems or #sh*tvivisays.
“Define love?” He asked me like he had an answer prepared.
“Yes. Define love.” I challenged him to sum up the intangible and inexplicable force of the human condition while we were waiting at the stop light.
“Amor sin condiciones no existe. Yo creo en conditional love. Love is the appreciation of virtue, a resonating harmony with your own virtues. You love that which you admire: beauty, intelligence, wit. You don’t love that which is not virtuous: corruption, deceit, weakness. Love is selective. If unconditional love existed, and everyone loved everyone and everything unconditionally, than this ubiquitous love would essentially cease from existence, by aligning itself with the nature of existence. But love isn’t existence. Love is a rare phenomenon, that happens only when deserved.”
He finished. I felt more depressed than ever.
“Your definition of love makes me so sad.”
“Why?” He seemed surprised.
Well, I think that conditional love exists, obviously, but true love is unconditional. Divine love is unconditional. None of us are deserving of love by our own acts, which is what makes love so beautiful.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like you love and accept Buenos Aires unconditionally.”
That made me laugh. “Maybe my love for Buenos Aires is conditional, but I did love someone unconditionally, once. Or at least my love for him wasn’t conditional on the love being returned to me, or of him being worthy of it, or of him accepting it.”
“Why?” The cab driver asked me.
“He was rude and immature, overweight and drank too much. He was awkward and had a bad reputation for extreme mood swings, or so they told me. I couldn’t see any of that when I looked at him. I loved him instantly, I was completely helpless to that love. It was consuming and painful and confusing. I dreamed about him in the most vivid and lucid dreams. He didn’t seem to share any of my emotion. He kissed me once, but he never loved me. My friends told me that I shouldn’t waste unrequited emotion, but to me it never felt like waste. The feeling was inexplicably authentic: torturous, but real. And even when I no longer knew him, I still carried a piece of that love for him in my heart. I don’t think he deserved my love at all, but the tragedy of that made it all the more romantic for me. They say unrequited love is the most romantic.”
The cab driver didn’t say anything. I sighed, my feelings reverted to helplessness and confusion. We arrived at the destination. I didn’t want to pay the cab driver, but I went for my wallet. Before I handed him the bill, I felt a swell of anger, and it made me bold.
“You are contradicting yourself. Your example of the scorpion and the turtle negates this idea that love is conditional. That turtle died because he accepted the scorpion, stinger and all. The story just shows your irrational fear that to truly love and accept someone for their flawed nature would lead to your own demise.”
The driver was listening, he looked contemplative, so my rant continued to spill out of me.
“There are only two motivating forces in life: fear and love. One can’t fathom unconditional love while operating from a place of fear. Maybe I’ve done that, maybe I loved someone unconditionally because I was afraid of experiencing the success of mutual, requited love.”
“Puede ser, little girl.” He responded.
I got out of the car and realized that my love for Buenos Aires was unconditional. I loved the city in the sun and during the storms, for it’s virtue and it’s corruption, for it’s passion and its poverty. I loved Buenos Aires when I was in the city, or away from it. I loved the city for exactly what and how it is, and I could think of no greater romance than a love of true acceptance. That was the moment I knew I was free.