Yuri popped into the cafe she usually frequented to get her usual cuppa. It was late afternoon and she wanted to take a quick break before the evening peak hour crowd rushed in.
There was only a handful of people in the cafe and most of them were queuing up for takeaways. Yuri joined the end of the queue and waited patiently.
“Stop bothering me, Min. I made myself very clear the last time!”
The sudden exclamation made everyone in the cafe turn their heads in the direction of the commotion for a moment. One of the women at the table stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder.
“Please give me another chance. I promise I will make it up to you.”
“I’ve given you way too many chances. I’ve been tolerating all your nonsense though we’ve already broken up more than six months ago! This is really the final straw!”
Just then, the woman who was standing turned around to leave. Yuri realised it was Jessica and the latter had a look of frustration on her face.
The woman who was sitting down held onto Jessica’s left wrist. “Just one more chance…please…”
“I’ve moved on, you should too, Min.” With a flick of her wrist, Jessica tried to brush the woman’s hand away but it was to no avail.
“Min, please. I don’t want to cause anymore commotion and embarrass the both of us any further,” Jessica pleaded in a low voice.
“Hey,” a new voice greeted.
Both women looked at the newcomer who stood next to Jessica.
“Sorry I’m late. I couldn’t find a carpark near this cafe. Are you ready to leave yet?” Yuri said apologetically, flashing a goofy smile.
The grip on Jessica’s wrist loosened and the hand retracted back to its owner.
Jessica automatically linked her arm with Yuri’s, sending a jolt of electric current up Yuri’s arm. Yuri was blushing profusely but she had pretend to be cool.
Jessica gave Yuri a light tug. “Min, this is my happiness. You should find yours too.”
Min’s face showed a look of despair. Tears were brimming in her eyes. Jessica gave Yuri a quick nudge and both of them exited the cafe, not wanting to stay a second longer.
Once they were safely out of sight, Jessica removed her arm from Yuri’s. It was strangely comforting and natural when Jessica’s arm was on Yuri’s. For a brief moment, Yuri missed the arm that was on hers a few seconds ago.
“Thanks,” Jessica said firmly.
“Glad I could help. An ex?”
Jessica nodded with a frown on her face. “A tiresome and persistent one who simply cannot understand the meaning over the phrase ‘we’re over’. She cheated on me… anyway, I hope it’s finally over.”
A long sigh escaped Jessica’s lips.
“Need a lift to somewhere?” Yuri offered when they stopped at her taxi.
“I want to go home.” A voice filled with fatigue.
Usually a passenger would give his or her home address to the taxi driver but in Jessica’s case, that was all she said before boarding the taxi. Yuri merely started the engine and headed for Ocean View with asking a single question. Yuri played light and soothing music during the journey and hoped Jessica would feel better by the time they arrived at her home.
No words were exchanged throughout the journey. Yuri stole glances at her passenger every now and then. She was concerned with the deepening frown on Jessica’s face. When Yuri arrived at the foot of Jessica’s apartment, the latter insisted on paying for the taxi fare but Yuri strongly refused.
“Take it as a friend sending a friend home. You can buy me coffee the next time we meet,” Yuri said as she pushed Jessica’s hand away.
Jessica kept her money in the wallet.
“Alright then. No banana today?” Jessica asked in a serious manner.
Yuri was stunned for a moment before she realised what Jessica had said. Then she broke into a short laugh.
Digging into her bag that was on the front passenger seat, Yuri pulled out two pieces of the yellow fruit.
“You look like you need an extra happiness booster.” Yuri held up the two pieces of bananas upwards, forming two ‘U’s.
This time, it was Jessica who was stunned for a brief second. The corner of her lips rose naturally and a warm smile was formed as she took the bananas from Yuri.
“You look prettier when you smile,” Yuri complimented.
It was the first time Jessica had addressed Yuri by her name. Yuri couldn’t help beaming from ear to ear. It was a sign that they were finally friends, not just on solely on “business” terms.
“Here’s my namecard. Besides taxi services, I can lend you a listening ear…for free.” Yuri handed a white name card to Jessica.
Jessica took the name card and headed for the lift lobby without a word.
“I hope she’ll feel better soon,” Yuri mumbled as she drove off.
“Would you consider booking me on a long term basis?”
Jessica was taken aback by Yuri’s question. She called the taxi company for a booking and it turned out to be Yuri who was assigned to pick her up that morning.
“What do you mean?” Jessica asked. It sounded as if Yuri was a call girl who worked in a night club.
Seeing her passenger’s puzzled expression, Yuri quickly explained herself.
“I meant if you would like me to pick you at a stipulated time every morning and to send you to work. This saves you the hassle of waiting on the line, especially during peak hours. Your apartment isn’t very conveniently located along a main road and without a booking, it is tough for you to hire a taxi. Moreover, you did complain about the long waiting time when you were put on hold by my company’s customer service. What do you think?”
Jessica quietly considered Yuri’s suggestion for a while.
“Wouldn’t that prevent you from picking up other customers?”
Yuri shook her head. “I would rather have a steady income instead of driving around the streets and hunting for passengers. Don’t worry, I won’t charge you a booking fee.”
“Alright, I’ll take up your offer. But business is business so I’ll pay you the booking fee. You’re also working to make a living,” Jessica insisted.
“Okay, I shall not argue any further since you are the customer. Thanks for making my day!” Yuri beamed and gave a thumbs up.
A smile appeared on Jessica’s face. “You’re rather strange. Now I have doubts of asking you to pick me up for work.”
“Oh, why am I strange?” Yuri glanced into the rear view mirror, happy to see her passenger smiling.
Jessica looked into the rear view mirror, meeting Yuri’s eyes at that brief moment before looking away.
“For one, you are easily satisfied. And you give out bananas to your passengers. Tell me, isn’t the second point a little unusual?”
Yuri laughed. “That’s not unusual. I just want to share the benefits of eating a banana and more importantly make someone’s day brighter with a simple gesture. Be the reason someone smiles today.”
“Is that your motto?”
Yuri nodded with glee. “Use your smile to change the world and don’t let the world change your smile.”
As Yuri’s words had a magical effect, Jessica couldn’t stop smiling throughout the journey.
A week later on a weekday afternoon…
“One Americano please,” Jessica said as she dug into her handbag for her wallet.
“Make that two please,” a voice called out.
Jessica turned around and saw Yuri smiling at her. There was a sense of warmth when Jessica see the smile of Yuri’s face.
“What a coincidence,” Jessica said.
“I’m here to claim my free coffee from you.”
Jessica appeared to be shocked, wondering if Yuri had been stalking her.
Yuri grinned. “I’m just joking. I always stop here for a break. The parking’s free and it is not crowded once the lunch hour is over. What about you?”
“One of my client’s office is just across the road. I’ll usually drop by here to grab a coffee before I go back to the office,” Jessica explained.
Jessica paid for their coffees and moved towards the collection counter to wait. Yuri suddenly moved closer and leaned towards Jessica.
“Not many people know about this but this cafe’s pulled pork sandwich is one of the best in the world!” Yuri whispered, as if she was revealing the biggest secret in the world.
“Sounds good. You’re making me hungry,” Jessica replied in a hushed tone.
“I’ll go order one portion and we can share, if you have the time to spare.”
“Sure, why not?”
“Great!” Yuri beamed, her eyes twinkling with delight.
Both of them had a good chat over sandwich and coffee that afternoon. Since that day, Jessica never sat at the back seat in Yuri’s taxi anymore. She always sat in the front, just like how a friend would sit in another friend’s car.
“What’s the title of the song you always hum to?”
It had been two weeks since Jessica took Yuri’s taxi to work on a regular basis.
“Sorry, is my humming bothering you?” Yuri asked.
“No, it sounds like a happy tune.”
“It’s a song by Uncle Kracker called Smile. It’s quite a cute song.”
“It keeps me awake on the morning shift and brightens up my mood for the day. Starting the day on a happy note is very important to tide us through any challenges we may face.I have a bunch of happy songs in my car. Would you like to listen to it?” Yuri offered.
Pressing a button on her audio system, the songs began to play one by one. Jessica found some of them familiar and soon found herself muttering the lyrics to herself softly.
“Don’t be shy, just sing aloud!” Yuri encouraged.
Yuri started singing first.
You’re better than the rest
I’m lucky just to linger in your light
When it came to the chorus, Jessica joined in and the taxi was turned into a moving karaoke.
You make me smile like the sun
Fall outta bed
Sing like a bird
Dizzy in my head
Spin like a record
Crazy on a Sunday night
You make me dance like a fool
Forget how to breath
Shine like gold
Buzz like bee
Just the thought of you can drive me wild
Oh, you make me smile
When the song ended, they gave each other a high five and burst into laughter at their own silliness.
“Don’t you feel so much better after a good laugh?” Yuri said excitedly, still high from singing in the taxi.
Jessica nodded quickly in agreement. “It is quite energizing and feels like I just did a good workout.”
“To be honest, it is the first time I seen you so happy and smiling so much since I first met you at the airport. It is a good progress!” Yuri announced.
“I think I shouldn’t smile so much, else I may end up with smile lines on my face, just like you,” Jessica teased.
Yuri traced the lines on either side of her mouth with her finger.
“At least there’s lines are formed because I am smiling, not because I am upset or worried. If I am to have wrinkles, I want happy ones,” Yuri grinned.
Jessica laughed. “You’re rather unique. It is hard to find such a positive person in our society nowadays.”
“Well, aren’t you glad there’s a rare one sitting next to you?”
“Gosh, you’re thick-skinned too!” Jessica gave Yuri a light smack on the arm.
“Ouch, I gotta report to my company for abuse of taxi driver!”
“Since I’m going to be reported, I should just smack till I’m satisfied,” Jessica retorted. She continued to smack Yuri lightly on the arm in a joking manner.
“Fortunately I’m tanned so the red marks wouldn’t show up so easily, else my next passenger would be giving me queer looks.”
A few minutes later, they arrived at Jessica’s office. As Jessica arrived at the reception area, the receptionist couldn’t help but pass a comment about Jessica being extra cheerful in the morning. Usually the receptionist would greet Jessica and the latter would return the greeting with a nod before disappearing in a flash to her office.
However, this morning, Jessica even stopped to chat for a little while with the receptionist before entering her office. Along the way, she returned her staff’s greetings with a smile on her face. It made her feel good to smile more.
Sitting at her desk, Jessica couldn’t get the tune of Uncle Kracker’s Smile out of her head. Each time the chorus came, she could visualise how Yuri and her started singing merrily in the taxi. It was fun and she couldn’t wait till tomorrow to see what other songs Yuri had in her taxi.
“As a taxi driver, I’m sure you’re familiar with places that serve good food. Do you have any recommendations?”
Jessica was tired of eating near her office and calling for takeaways to her apartment.
“Yes I sure do. What sort of cuisine do you prefer?” Yuri asked.
The both of them went on to chat about the food they enjoy and Yuri listed a number of places for Jessica to go.
“Actually, if you’re free on Sunday evening, would you like to visit the western restaurant? It isn’t easy to go via public transport such as bus or train so you would need to hire a taxi. Since I’m driving one, I can bring you there,” Yuri offered.
Jessica jumped at that suggestion since she was free and was getting bored of staying home on Sunday.
“Don’t you need to drive?”
“All of us need proper rest in order to feel revitalised the next day. I only drive in the morning on Sundays since people are going to church or waking up late for brunches. After that, it’s rest time for me. I honestly don’t mind taking you there unless you mind eating with me.”
“Of course not. I’ll be glad to visit that hidden find of yours.”
“Great!” Yuri beamed.
Sunday came and Yuri arrived at Jessica’s apartment ten minutes before their stipulated meeting time. Jessica, being an punctual person, was already waiting there.
“I hope you don’t mind sitting in a taxi to get there. This is my only mode of transportation since I can’t afford a car,” Yuri said as Jessica sat in the front passenger seat.
“There’s nothing shameful about not owning a car. In fact, the public transport system here is so efficient and easy to get around,” Jessica praised.
Yuri blushed a little, feeling her cheeks warming up when she saw Jessica looking at her for a little longer than usual. Perhaps it was her casual dressing that made Jessica stare since she was usually in the taxi driver’s uniform and black jacket. Today, Yuri wore a loose white shirt with her sleeves folded at the elbow and a pair of dark blue leggings which flaunted her slender long legs.
Pressing a button on her screen, Yuri switched the green ‘Available’ sign on top of her taxi to a red ‘Busy’ one. She didn’t want people on the streets to flag her down since she was off duty.
It was a half an hour drive to the restaurant. Instead of her usual happy songs playlist, Yuri put on some jazz music. She wanted to create the mood of eating at a chill-out western restaurant.
Jessica and Yuri enjoyed a nice casual chat on the journey to the restaurant. The cosy western restaurant was tucked among a row of shops perched on a small hill top. The exterior of the restaurant was white-washed and a row of country-style lamps lit the main entrance. An elderly gentleman led them into the restaurant and gave them a seat by the arched glass window so that they could admire the scenic night view of the town.
The restaurant had a country-styled theme and it was packed to the brim. Jessica was pleasantly surprised at the crowd, given that this restaurant was difficult to locate. Yuri was delighted to see Jessica in awe of this hidden find. It was a restaurant she found out by chance when a passenger wanted to come here for dinner. Yuri ate here a few times and even became friends with the owners of the restaurant.
The two of them enjoyed a lovely western dinner with wine and a hearty conversation. They hadn’t realised time flew by and it was closing them. Thanking the owners and chef for the wonderful dinner, both of them left the restaurant.
Instead of taking the straightforward route to Jessica’s apartment, Yuri decided to go on a winding but more scenic route. Yuri stopped by a spot midway down the hill so that they could go out and take a short walk.
Jessica, being unfamiliar with the path and that the path was dimly lit, almost tripped. Fortunately Yuri managed to break Jessica’s fall by catching the latter’s arm. They walked side by side, at times their arms would touch. And whenever that happened, Jessica felt butterflies in her stomach. It seemed like their first date. Yuri, on the other hand, was blushing as red as a beetroot and she was thankful the surroundings weren’t bright so that her blush wouldn’t be obvious.
As the wind was getting chilly, they headed back to the taxi.
“I’ll buy you dinner the next time,” Jessica promised as she alighted from the taxi.
Yuri flashed a wide grin and made an okay sign with her hand. “I’ll be waiting.”
Yuri waited until Jessica was out of sight before she drove off. She couldn’t stop smiling on her way home.
Two days later…
“Yuri, I wouldn’t be needing your taxi service from tomorrow,” Jessica said rather hesitantly.
“Oh, why?” Yuri was surprised at the sudden statement. She thought they got along very well and wondered if the dinner was part of the trigger for Jessica’s departure. Maybe it was too brazen of her to ask a passenger out for dinner but Jessica wasn’t just a passenger to Yuri. However, Yuri was certain Jessica did enjoy herself that night too.
“I’m leaving later tonight. I’m actually based in London and came back for the past two months to handle some issues here.”
The truth was finally out. Over the last few days, Jessica had been pondering on how she should break the news to Yuri. Yuri was more than just a taxi driver. She was a friend and someone whom Jessica felt comfortable with. She was someone whom Jessica saw almost everyday except the weekends. Unknowingly, Yuri had become part of her routine. Seeing that bright cheerful face that greeted every morning as she went to work was comforting and delightful. Plus, the dinner they ate together recently made her heart ache a little at the thought of bidding farewell. Saying goodbye to this smiley taxi driver was a little more difficult than she had imagined.
“Oh I see. One of them has something to do with your ex?”
Jessica was surprised Yuri mentioned her ex girlfriend. She nodded.
“What time is your flight? I will send you to the airport,” Yuri offered.
“It’s okay. It’s a late night flight and you would need to rest for the next day.” It was Jessica’s indirect way of rejecting Yuri. She couldn’t imagine how she would react if Yuri sent her to the airport.
“I insist. Take it that it is a friend sending you off at the airport,” Yuri persisted.
Jessica relented and the rest of the journey to Jessica’s office was spent in an awkward silence for the first time in a long while.
Later that night, Yuri drove towards Jessica’s apartment with a heavy heart. It was probably the last time she was going to ferry Jessica in her taxi. Though she encountered many passengers in her job and made friends with several of them, Jessica remained the closest one.
When Yuri saw Jessica coming out of the lift with the suitcase, she hurried over to help. Their hands brushed against each other’s when Yuri took the suitcase from Jessica. There was a moment of awkwardness between them.
“Jessica, I would prefer if you sit at the back today, is that okay with you?”
Jessica was a little puzzled by Yuri’s request but didn’t question her. She willingly obliged and sat at the back. Little did she know it was Yuri’s way of dealing with her upcoming departure. Sitting at the back seat meant that Jessica was just a customer and Yuri would psyche herself up mentally that it was just a normal trip to the airport.
During the journey to the airport, Yuri tried to strike up a conversation by asking about Jessica’s plans in London. Jessica spoke while looking out of the window, wanting to avoid looking directly at Yuri whenever the taxi driver glanced at the rear view mirror.
The one hour journey seemed to fly by in a blink of an eye. Yuri helped Jessica unload the suitcase from the boot and reminded her not to leave anything behind.
They stood at the kerbside, looking at each other, not knowing what to say or do. Just then, a security officer came to interrupt them.
“Madam, you’re not supposed to park here for too long. This bay is only meant for alighting. If you wish to carry on your conversation, you should park at the complex,” the security officer instructed.
“Sorry, I’ll get going soon. Give me a minute,” Yuri assured.
The security officer walked away.
“Well then, it’s goodbye. Have a safe trip and I wish you all the best for your career in London. Do come back and visit soon.”
Yuri stuck her hand out for a handshake.
Instead of returning the handshake, Jessica stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Yuri in a hug.
“Thank you for making my short stay pleasant and happy,” Jessica said softly with her head on Yuri’s shoulder.
Stunned by the sudden hug, Yuri stood frozen for a few seconds before circling her arms around the shorter woman to return the hug.
“I should thank you for giving me the chance to ferry you around. You have my name card, call me when you get back and I’ll be more than happy to be your driver again.”
Jessica broke away from the hug. She grabbed the handle of her suitcase, gave a quick wave and quickly entered the terminal. She didn’t want Yuri to see the tear that was threatening to fall down her cheek.
Sticking her hand in her pocket of her trenchcoat to take out a packet of tissues once she was inside the terminal, Jessica touched the corners of a small box. Surprised, she pulled it out from her pocket. It was a plain chocolate coloured box. She opened the box and saw a thumbdrive and several sheets of post-its. Each post-it had a quote about happiness and smiles on it.
After Jessica checked in, she sat down at the waiting area outside the depature gate. Curious about the contents of the thumbdrive, she booted up her laptop and stuck it in to see what was in it.
There were two folders; one contained all the songs in Yuri’s happy playlist and the other contained a short clip.
Jessica played the short clip and found herself trying not to giggle aloud when she saw Yuri’s face on the screen. Yuri took a video of herself singing Uncle Kracker’s Smile while driving in the taxi. At the end of the video, Yuri left a message for her.
“Hey Jessica, whenever you feel stressed or unhappy, I hope this video would make you laugh and forget all your troubles for a while. To be honest, you made me smile in a different way I had imagined. Anyway, I’m bad at expressing myself so do remember to call me when you’re in town. By the way, don’t forget you promised to buy me dinner the next time we meet.”
Emotions flooded Jessica as she held back the tears once again. It had been a long time since someone made her feel so touched.
At the same time, Yuri was driving home in her taxi, singing to Uncle Kracker’s Smile. She reminisced about the time when both of them sang this song in her taxi for the first time. It was so funny and memorable. She was happy she had the opportunity to slip the box into the pocket of Jessica’s trenchcoat earlier on. She knew she wouldn’t have the courage to pass it to her directly.
After parking her taxi, Yuri did a routine quick check of her taxi before she went up to her apartment. She noticed a small box and a card on the back seat of her taxi.
“Aish, I hope it wasn’t something she had forgotten.”
Yuri picked up the card and saw her name on it. She opened it and read the message inside.
Dunno how I lived without you
‘Cause every time that I get around you
I see the best of me inside your eyes
You make me smile
Just the thought of you can drive me wild
Oh, you make me smile
The last line of the song was underlined several times. Yuri’s heart leapt, butterflies in her stomach fluttered and her legs were feeling a little weak. It was too late to do anything now that Jessica had already left. The only consolation was that Jessica and her shared mutual feelings for each other.
Turning the card around, Yuri saw a handwritten line at the bottom of the card.
The snail cream is a gift for you. I heard it is effective in reducing smile lines. You can be happy but with lesser wrinkles. LOL!
Yuri couldn’t help but smile at the gift. It was something she would treasure for a long time.
Six months later…
It was autumn and the weather was rather chilly. Yuri was waiting in line at the taxi queue at the airport. She turned up the heater in the taxi and drank hot coffee from her tumbler.
When it was her turn, she parked her taxi in the lot and went to the back to open the boot for the passenger. Turning around, she saw a slim-built woman whose face was partially hidden by the thick scarf around her neck. Greeting the passenger in her usual bright manner, Yuri placed the suitcase into the boot and jumped into her driver seat.
“Madam, where would you like to go?” Yuri asked, looking into the rear mirror.
“Ocean View apartments, do you know the way?” came a muffled voice.
Yuri nodded. “Yes I do.”
Of course I do. Someone close to me used to stay there. Yuri thought to herself.
Driving onto the highway, Yuri noticed the passenger still had the scarf around her neck.
Being the considerate driver, Yuri asked, “Are you feeling very cold? Should I turn up the temperature?”
The passenger shook her head as she unwrapped the scarf around her neck.
Yuri almost slammed on her brakes when she saw the passenger’s face.
“Hey, focus on the road!”
“So-sorry, it is just…I mean…I…,” Yuri stuttered as she tried to collect her thoughts.
“Shouldn’t you say something nice to welcome a friend who is back from a long flight?”
Yuri snapped out of her excitement and took a deep breath to calm herself down.
With a sincere warm smile, Yuri greeted, “Welcome back, Jessica.”
There was a short pause before Yuri continued. “I missed you.”
Jessica’s face mirrored that of Yuri’s. “I missed you too, Yuri.”
= THE END =