I climb up on the rocks at the Branford Point Beach to get a higher vantage point but I find I can’t look directly at the expanse of sky and ocean ahead of me. There are too many distinct shades of blue and the late-afternoon sun is painfully bright and it is hard for my eyes to find a place to rest. I try instead to focus on the smaller frames: the jagged pieces of rock, the heads of ducks bobbing up and down, the water rippling in a perfect circle like a coin a kid would pick up off the street. I visualize the fish at the bottom of the ocean, jolted awake by the cold, twirling dizzily in their schools. There is a middle-aged woman in sunglasses seated to the left of me on the rock and she meets my gaze for a moment. It is almost humiliating to need so much from the world on a random Wednesday afternoon but it is good to know I am not the only one.
On the ride home, Abed, my Uber driver, says that he also prefers traveling alone and that I have made a very sound choice coming to Branford for the afternoon. We get into a meandering conversation about the state of Connecticut and about my schooling. He tells me he dropped out of university when he was young because his mother was very ill and he moved back home to Morocco to take care of her. He doesn’t pity himself when he recounts this story and neither do I. That’s life, he says, everything has a beginning and an end, and this insight does not have to be particularly novel, because he has lived a while and earned the right to make pronouncements like these. I have not, so I stay quiet. The sunlight strikes Abed’s face, illuminating his jawline and his hands on the wheel, bony like the skeletons of fish. He offers up further tidbits about himself to me. I learn that he rarely speaks to his passengers, that he doesn’t believe in monetary compensation for favors, and that he paints, though he almost stopped for good when the friend who taught him passed away. I’m sorry for your loss, I say, feeling the futility of the phrase. Your friend sounds beautiful. He says, yes, yes, everything has a beginning and an end, but it’s good to have a friend. Abed’s friends these days are his neighbors and the other congregants at his mosque, who ask after him if he is absent from services for a couple weeks in a row. I tell him I’m Jewish but I haven’t been to services in a long while and I miss it. He tells me about the unlikely prevalence of Jews in Morocco and how he once ate one of their breads, which was like pita but with a flatter texture. In the middle of this anecdote he receives a call from his brother and I make a mental note to tell him that the bread is called matzah and we eat it in the springtime.
As I am approaching my street and gathering my things I tell him I am going to remember our conversation and he looks at me sideways for a beat too long and laughs. He is much older than me and doesn’t indulge my childish urge to trap the moment, to canonize these twenty-five minutes in my memory. When I am back in my room he calls me through the Uber app, asking if I left my keys in his car. I am known to forget pretty much all of my possessions but I actually didn’t this time, the keys aren’t mine. I linger on the phone for a minute too long but I know that he already knows what I know and there’s no way he would want me to say goodbye again so I don’t.