The Blue Taxi

( 4 )

Overview

In the middle of a busy intersection, in a city in Africa, a careening bus, a gongo-drinking driver, and - in an instant! - a terrifying collision nearly kills a local boy. Sarie Turner, a stunned witness, cannot stay on the sidelines. She offers the boy comfort until help comes, and for days afterward can think of nothing but his fate.

Once a nurse, now a housewife and mother, Belgian-born Sarie does not expect much excitement from life, but in the wake of this fateful ...

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Overview

In the middle of a busy intersection, in a city in Africa, a careening bus, a gongo-drinking driver, and - in an instant! - a terrifying collision nearly kills a local boy. Sarie Turner, a stunned witness, cannot stay on the sidelines. She offers the boy comfort until help comes, and for days afterward can think of nothing but his fate.

Once a nurse, now a housewife and mother, Belgian-born Sarie does not expect much excitement from life, but in the wake of this fateful accident, she finds herself with a new sense of purpose. However, when she tries to visit the ailing child, she is warned away. Those in the know say that there is a bad-luck cloud over the Jeevanjee household, ruled by a dangerous man known as Mad Majid. There is no telling what violence he might commit if she dares show up at his doorstep.

Still, dead set on her mission, Sarie ventures to the shuttered green house and finds there not a lunatic but a man haunted by grief for his nine-years-lost bride. Before long, their friendship blossoms into a taboo affair that surprises both them and the neighborhood eyes and ears.

Writing with an inventiveness and delight in language that is utterly her own, N. S. Koenings depicts an African city brimming with life and full of contradictions, just like the people who inhabit it. The Blue Taxi is a dazzling tale of love, courage, and what happens when lives and fates collide.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Köenings’s début novel, set in a fictional East African city in the nineteen-seventies, centers on Sarie Turner, a lumpish, naïve Belgian woman married to a British former clerk living off his uncle’s beneficence. After she witnesses a bus accident in which a Muslim boy’s leg is severed, she and her young daughter visit the boy’s home, where she meets his father, Majid, a widower and a failed poet. Their ensuing affair liberates Sarie from her sheltered existence and Majid from his bereavement. Köenings skillfully weaves together the stories of individuals from disparate cultures converging in a city that is entering a new era of political independence, but the characters display a frustrating inertia, and this sleepwalking quality is compounded by Köenings’s fondness for indulgent, at times fanciful description.
Publishers Weekly
When a young boy loses a leg after being hit by a drunk driver in his East African town of Vunjamguu, the shockwaves that run through his small community force a Belgian expat housewife to re-evaluate her life. Raised by nuns in a secluded mission hospital, Sarie Turner is lonely and isolated from everyone around her, contemptuous of her social-climbing British husband, Gilbert, and at odds with her snooty British contemporaries. Against Gilbert's wishes, Sarie and her young daughter, Agatha, visit the injured boy as he recovers, and Sarie becomes infatuated with the boy's handsome, anguished widower father, Majid Jeevanjee. Sarie seduces Majid; as their affair becomes a respite from her unfulfilling marriage, her feelings toward her husband and the coterie of high-class expats change in unexpected ways. The world K enings has created in her accomplished debut is tragic and exhilarating, as is her portrayal of weary, left-behind colonialists, poverty-stricken natives and the uneasy manner in which each regards the other. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In Koenings's mesmerizing debut novel, a traffic accident propels an unhappy housewife and a grieving widower into each other's lives. On the streets of Vunjamguu, East Africa, a bus crash robs a young Indian boy of his leg and leads Sarie Turner, a witness, to a relationship with the boy's father. As the news of their affair spreads through the neighborhood (completely bypassing Sarie's bookish, oblivious husband), the townspeople react by questioning their own destinies. Koenings anchors her characters' near-constant internal monologs with elegant, concrete details about their everyday lives; the result is a city teeming with both external bustle and interior world building, as Sarie, her husband, and her lover imagine new paths for themselves. When these visions collide, whose will prevail? Readers who enjoy psychological fiction will be impressed by Koenings's ability to flesh out the inner landscapes of Vunjamguu's diverse citizenry, while those concerned with style will appreciate the clear, graceful sentences that simplify the navigation of these multiple realities. Recommended for most fiction collections.-Leigh Anne Vrabel, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Limp first novel about desultory lives in 1970s East Africa. A small boy darts into traffic and loses his leg in an accident in the seaside town of Vunjamguu. The severed leg is cradled by little Agatha Turner while her mother improvises a tourniquet. Belgian-born Sarie Turner, orphaned early and raised at a Mission Clinic in the interior of this unnamed country, is married to Gilbert, a lowly courthouse clerk during British rule. Since Independence, lazy, timid Gilbert and his equally hapless wife have been scraping by on money sent from England by his Uncle James. Gilbert reads haphazardly. They both nap a lot. Sarie wears secondhand clothes. After the accident, she calls on the injured boy's family, Agatha in tow. (The author shows as little interest in the children as do their respective parents.) Tahir is an Indian Muslim; his father, Majid Ghulam Jeevanjee, is a failed businessman and sometime poet who has not left the house since his wife died nine years before, hardly bothering to eat or wash. Nonetheless, these two unappealing people fall for each other. Meanwhile, Gilbert is in a panic; Uncle James has threatened to cut off their funds. Nudged by a good-hearted Greek who owns a successful ice-cream parlor, the impractical Gilbert has visions of himself as an entrepreneur supplying spare parts, though he knows nothing about cars and has difficulty identifying the spark plugs the Greek has purloined for him. Oblivious to Sarie's affair, he sees the Indian as a potential partner and invites him to a business tea. Koenings seems to be reaching for gentle humor, but she has no more flair for comedy than for drama, and here the story ends, mid-flight. Adultery and interracial flingshave seldom been so dull.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641935138
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication date: 10/17/2006
  • Pages: 387
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Blue Taxi


By N.S. Köenings

LITTLE, BROWN

Copyright © 2006 N. S. Köenings
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-01061-8


Chapter One

The plus in Sarie Turner: a minus for the widower's youngest boy. An accident, it was, in the bright Kikanga neighborhood of seaside Vunjamguu. For the unseen, sudden child? A gongo-drinking driver, big blue Tata run amok. Great low rumble and a thrash, metal bending with a wail. A fall-a slip and tender snap-and cries and shrieks and shudders from those close enough to see. Next, the tremors of a riven street, belated shatterings of glass. A squeal, an interrupted skip. What else? Among others and perhaps the very least, but, still, one thing: at some distance from the fray, unexpected and intent, a simmer and a bubbling in a tall, ungainly woman who had not bubbled before.

Sarie Turner did, like others in that nest of high-housed, sooty streets, hear the rich commotion as it happened. But because she didn't see the Tata shedding its old brakes, taking its hard teeter, didn't see the stumbling boy's quick pitch, was still coming round the corner, she couldn't fathom what it was. In fact, she thought, C'est quoi? The bright perfume of burnt and bleeding things came flooding up her nose. Aware of Agatha's small hand tightening at her own, Sarie felt that she should hurry. But she'd gone very still, her eyes and mind a blank.

Her daughter's fingers fellaway and Sarie next experienced in her knees a looseness that, traveling up her hips and thighs, nearly caused her to collapse against the stationer's window-where, behind the oily glass (shocked, too), a steno pad threw off its dust and several ink pens rolled slightly to the side. Sarie felt the window hot and smooth against her shoulder and wondered why she couldn't see. She brought herself upright again and noted then that her own eyes were closed. She opened them.

Sarie squinted in the light but could not see her child (Agatha, while her mother's eyes were shut, had run on to find things out). As the street came into view, Sarie's stomach tilted in its house. She swallowed, turned the corner, too. She identified a crowd but, slow to see the obvious as she was, still didn't understand. She wasn't used to being dizzy, that squeezing in her chest, a blurring at her temples that took some time to clear. What is it that's happened? Was that Agatha, just there? When Sarie had caught on that the scarlet-stippled log her only child sat holding on the banks of India Street was no log but a leg that had been unhooked from its owner, it was too late for her to scream. Somewhere between her collarbone and chin, a scream-shape came careening to a stop-she gasped.

She was not alone. The others had screamed punctually, just after the bus hit, and now they only stood, unnerved, making tender sounds like mm and oh and haaa. A newsboy, head-cocked, knee-bent like an egret in a pool of fallen print, stood frozen in the sun. A small round woman the color of a cashew, gray hair middle-parted like a book, eyes as deep as bowls, clutched her racing chest with two immobile hands. Hovering like a specter from white smoke and toppled coals, a coffee salesman, tongue an arrow, held fast to his curls. In the plump and muted hush-breath-breath, gasp-gasp, and everything so slow-everyone was still. Everyone, that is, except the boy to whom that log-no, leg-belonged.

But the newly fractured boy, whose accident this was, wasn't screaming either. Rather, there slipped from other parts of him, as from mysterious insects, a range of thrums and squeaks. There was: from a shaggy head with opaque hair, a wincing; a creaking from the thin-boy trunk-and-thigh; and a steady, anxious droning from the one leg he still wore, which he clutched as if to keep it safe with two surprisingly big hands. The sounds his body made, delicate and soft, would have-somehow Sarie and the gaspers sensed that this was so-put further screams to shame.

Sarie, one brown knuckle tucked into the hollow at the base of her tight throat, wobbled on the curb, aware without quite knowing why that she was being called upon to think. To Sarie's left, squatting, showing flowered panties, Agatha was quiet, too. Brave child, she had not considered screaming. With care, with eerily professional aplomb, with love, perhaps, she had neatly folded down the cuff of the blue sock at the end of that lost limb as if preparing the loosed thing for a party or for school. Fingers lightly resting on that wounded, dappled skin as at the keys of a piano, Sarie Turner's daughter calmly oversaw the stranger's separated flesh in a square of city shade. Behind her, the split doorway of an alley lolled open like a blouse.

Despite everything else, perhaps because at times like this the mind moves rather strangely, Sarie thought, She looks nearly like a picture, and she was briefly proud. In all of her nine years, Agatha had never been a worry, pas une fois, and why should she be now? Seeing Agatha so serious and unruffled-sensing something of herself there and by this sense reassured-Sarie ceased her gasping and took stock. She pressed her lips together and turned towards her right. There, not on the sidewalk as she was, but in the middle of the road: the now one-legged boy, squeak and drone gone soft.

The hardy, sticky pool of red that seeped around his little hips and what had earlier that morning been a round and boyish knee made Sarie, of all things, think wistfully of sauces she did not know how to make. This culinary wish, its ordinariness, its very saucy plainness, coincided with a jarring and extremely strong desire to ensure that that boy's hair and chest and thigh kept making hopeful tunes. That the urge was visceral was curious, for Sarie-as she well knew herself, as her husband Gilbert often thought, and others had asserted in frustration-was not given to communion. But, oddly, there it was. Already. Accidents transforming.

Dutifully, she turned once more towards Agatha, to make sure she was all right. She was. Perfectly at ease, having understood, perhaps, that there would be no parties and no lessons any longer for the leg, Agatha had begun unlacing the brown shoe so the thigh-less foot might stretch its toes a final, dear time. The shoe? Not new, but still; Sarie noted, Bata, by the way. She briefly had the thought that she herself would like a pair of dark brown Bata pumps, someday, but she knew she oughtn't linger: To think about the shoes! A wounded boy, just there. A boy missing his leg! So be it. She would help him, yes. C'est moi, she thought. C'est moi qui vais l'aider. Agatha would soothe the shin, and she herself would take firm charge of that other, altered body. With an able, manly finger, Sarie tucked a strip of yellow hair behind one of her ears, and, deliberate now, like a hefty praying mantis, she lifted up one foot and prepared. She set the raised foot down, lifted up the other, and took into the street seven crucial steps that would, before she understood it, change the things she knew.

She was not alone in moving at that moment towards the injured child. As she set off, a neat, close huddle formed, hiding him from view. Oh, concealment of the target, so fresh and speedy on the heels of Sarie's taking aim! That urge inside her trebled. She felt needed by the world, as she never had before, and she went forward quickly. The swollen hush, its muted mms and ohs, died down as she moved, and a babble rose instead. Ears and heart arush, Sarie made out this and that: some in the assembly, whispering at first, wished to ascertain the cause of what they saw. Buses were no longer what they had been, sure, but was that up-country driver drunk? And did this sorry boy not have a mum or dad or uncles? What had he been doing, foolish, in the road? Here, the coffee salesman ventured that the boy (so it seemed to him) had been hunting house crows with a slingshot. The middle-parted woman, with an authoritative look, declared that boys these days-coffee-man included-had no common sense. She smoothed down her brown sari and commandeered a slightly wandering green eye towards the wounded child.

Sarie hurried forth. Enormous in her orange flip-flops, not unsteadied by her speed, she cleared a heap of rotted mango peels, eight pointed lady-fingers fallen from the gray-haired woman's basket, and also the rough slingshot, which Agatha would later learn indeed belonged to that felled boy who whimpered in the road. As Sarie came upon them, those around him parted like a sea. The driver's tout (a thick boy from whose lips protruded a thin twig), an able litter-woman (palm-frond basket heavy on her head), the coffee salesman, a watchman in a military cap, the woman in the sari, and the newsboy (papers now aswirl in a ragged play of wind) all stepped back to make way for the madam. Some among them, skeptical, prepared to be amused. They wondered what, exactly, the racing woman thought she might achieve. And-this Sarie did not hear-some of them imagined that she would have sound knowledge to apply that they themselves did not.

In this last, granting foreigners all kinds of super-expertise, people are frequently mistaken. For example, Sarie did most definitely not possess a bright Mercedes-Benz with which she could convey the patient to a luxurious private clinic; nor was she a doctor; and she was not related as far as she'd been told to any European football stars, actresses, or presidents. She was not even, as most who had not heard her speak assumed, English. But she had, as humans do, lived through a great deal, and she could be effective: as it happens, orphaned by a War, shuttled to the Colonies at a very early age, Sarie Turner (née Genoux) had been after all brought up by dexterous Nursing Sisters, and she'd taken some things in. It was thus neither fame nor power, but a vague and rusted habit coupled with a feeling, that pushed her towards the boy.

The members of the huddle watched. Sarie was: long, big-boned and ample, topped with desert-colored hair as unkempt as her housedress (dingy, yellowed, with faded flowery marks)-a personage, indeed. She landed from a leap over a pot-hole near the little crowd, and, hands on hips, hiked up that yellow shift-revealing as she did so two bright pomelo-sized knees-and squatted, wild-haired, in the center of the road beside the wincing boy.

She lost a flip-flop on the way. The litter-woman, moving with a grace that kept the basket on her head absolutely still, slid the bright thong over with a push of her big toe (her own flip-flops were blue). The night-watchman offered up the cardboard sheet on which, at lazy times, he napped. Sarie took it, sat, stretched her own legs out, and, oddly dainty, crossed them. She leaned over slowly.

As her big head cast a shadow on the boy, she began to whisper. Sarie did not say, "Your absent leg will cast a spell on my green daughter." Nor did she utter anything exceptionally prophetic, like, "Your father, nom de Dieu, will knock my apple cart." In fact, Sarie, who was Belgian in some way, though she had left that place too long ago to recall with any freshness its damp and gloomy clime, found English rather tricky and would not have spoken daringly like that, for fun. Sarie made mistakes. She twisted sentences around. She didn't always know the meaning or the import of the words she put together. She sometimes did not think as clearly as she could. But she had seen sick and wounded people in her life, and she had seen them tended. So she offered him distractions, small and tender things that in her long-gone youth she had been apprenticed to dispense. "My Agatha likes very much the candy, will you like some in a while?" And, "You want to stay alive to grow so tall and be resembling your papa." And, "Nevermind, now. Nevermind." And, "Please."

She wished the others were not watching her so closely. She did not like so many eyes on her-did not like even her own husband to look too long at her legs or her elbows or her face-and the heat from all the bodies and the sun felt a bit like melted wax. Vous me dérangez, she thought but did not say, aware that someone else's comfort, at this moment, mattered more than hers. She closed her eyes and shook herself and made herself forget them. I am needed, après tout. Indeed, she felt that she was acting well, that she was at that moment exactly where she should be.

The boy's eyes shut and opened, too. As Sarie touched his poor, slick brow, it did occur to her that he was not much older than her child. She gave the boy a smile. Glad that wounds had never fazed her, she felt strong. To one or two mean hoots and overall approval, which Sarie did not hear, she tore a length of cotton from her dress and fashioned him a tourniquet.

While there is little charm in losing a good leg, there was that day in the thronging bubble of Kikanga-well apart from the appearance on the scene of a sometime European nurse-a sort of luck at work. A timely-spacely wrinkle. First, in the jam-packed busy streets between this corner (India meets Mahaba), the Theosophical Society's hunkered yellow palace, the clock tower with the four round faces that look every way at once (each with its own mind), and the eggplant-radish-onion stands of old Kikanga market, there were several charitable clinics founded, as it happened, by the Aga Khan himself. On that day, two were sorely understaffed-one by a long-awaited wedding, the other by a funeral. A third was sadly understocked-thanks to the ill will of an official who would not let in the medicines from Delhi for the fee to which he had long ago agreed, and who was causing in a smoky room beside the harbor a bitter little scene. A fourth, however, was full of stuff and staff. This one-square, clean, pink Kikanga Clinic-was just two blocks away. The boy was, from the moment of the crash, therefore, not too far from help.

Another lucky object by that sticky place? On the second floor of egg-blue Mansour House, which overlooked the sharp joint of India and Mahaba, and was occupied by Bibi Kulthum, her fine son Issa and his clever wife Nisreen, there l lived a brand-new telephone that was eager to be used. Black, still smooth, not yet gummy from the air's thick oil and grime, the thing sat brashly on a table near the balcony; it was cushioned in high style by a yellow doily Bibi's son had asked his wife to purchase, to make certain Bibi understood the phone was there to stay. A forward-looking man, Issa had gone to great lengths to acquire it, and had in doing so, he said, brought the future home. Nisreen, admiring of her very busy husband, and a worrier, felt it might be useful. But while Issa had struggled to convince his mother that amenities like this one were milestones to success, Bibi was suspicious: entreated and cajoled, she had not used it yet, and had said she never would.

As she often was, Bibi had been seated on the woven mat that softened the hard floor of her Kikanga-facing balcony, thread and needle ticking in her lap. Because her ears were not what they had been, she neither heard the boom nor caught the rush of birds escaping like applause from the drama in the road. She didn't hear the shouts. No, wrapped up in her work-a square embroidered hanging she intended for Nisreen-she hadn't heard a thing. But, because Bibi had another, special sense, a skill she'd had since childhood, she did look up from her embroidery at the very moment that the brakeless Tata bus veered around the corner and next knocked the slingshot-aiming boy right on his little back and tore one leg clean off.

The skill? As a child, like many other children, Bibi had been open to the world, sensitive and curious. She wondered about words she overheard, dampness on a face, paper bits that didn't burn, twigs in patterns on the ground. Such wondering's not special. So? What was Bibi's talent? One: when it suited her, she knew how to be still. Two: she had, since a crucial period in her youth, almost without fail focused her bright eyes and set her mind to work at exactly the right time, looking up from chores and meals and stitching just as a new development that would busy tongues for weeks, a truth that had only been suspected, or an event that none could have imagined spilled onto a scene. So she'd learned that Mrs. Dillip's husband had abandoned her at last, that the creditors were coming, and that a certain cousin whom she loved had exposed her secret parts while climbing up a clove tree. Bibi, people later came to say, was more perceptive than a house crow, knew things before they happened-even if the happening was soundless, sneakier than snakes.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Blue Taxi by N.S. Köenings Copyright © 2006 by N. S. Köenings. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 22, 2009

    Well Worth Having In Your Book Collection

    N.S. Koenings' "Blue Taxi" is a must read!!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    deep historical look at 1970s Africa

    In Vunjamguu East Africa, a drunk driver hits a young boy. Raised in a mission hospital, Belgium expatriate Sarie Turner tries to stop the child¿s bleeding with a tourniquet while her daughter Agatha holds the lad¿s severed leg. Everyone in the small town is shocked by the tragedy, but especially stunned is Sarie, who feels like an outsider with the locals and especially with her British husband Gilbert and his social climbing peers. Sarie feels a need to visit the injured child Tahir recuperating in the hospital. So in spite of Gilbert demanding she should not, she and Agatha visit the lad. There Sarie meets his distressed father, the widower Majid Jeevanjee. Though he is a Muslim, Majid and Sarie find a kindred spirit in one another and she soon seduces him while Gilbert panics that his ¿sponsor¿ Uncle James will abandon him without a pound so he tries to persuade Majid to forge a business partnership. --- THE BLUE TAXI is a historical look back to the 1970s when many African nations were struggling between an affluent decadent colonial upper class and the vast impoverished natives. The story line cleverly uses its characters to represent differing, often in conflict, groups. Though more a cerebral tale with little action, fans who enjoy a fascinating historical with a deep symbolic cast will want to read THE BLUE TAXI. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2006

    In Anticipation

    I am so pleased to read that M.S. Koenings's novel will be published in October. In its Summer issue 2003 'Glimmer Train' published a short story written by this author. The review was laudatory and well deserved. I enjoyed it so much and I cannot wait to buy the novel and discover more about this talented writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2006

    looking forward

    I am so glad to read that N.S.Koenings's novel will be published in October, In its Summer edition 2003 'Glimmer Train' published a short story written by this author. The review was laudatory and well deserved. I enjoyed it so much and I cannot wait to buy the novel and discover more about this very talented writer.

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