“I deliver pizza sometimes now too.”

I had just arrived in Chicago for a company meeting. I was pumped up, excited about a bunch of different work things, and the prospect of seeing the Cubs, and overall in a pleasant, good mood. Samuel rolled up, and opened the door to help me with my luggage. I watched as he struggled out of the car. He was morbidly obese, so it took him a while to get the leverage he needed to pull himself out. I wanted to put my bag in myself but then I wondered if that would make him feel redundant. So I waited, uncomfortably. After a few grunts, labored breath, and heaving, we were all set.

I asked to sit up front, like I always do, and he was surprised, but agreed. He brushed off crumbs and a paper towel, and I got in. I began chatting with him, first about the weather (not great) in Chicago, and then I asked him if he had always lived there. “Yes,” he told me, “in the suburbs. But I went to Madison for my graduate school work in Math.” I asked more questions and found out that Samuel had gone to University of Wisconsin at Madison for a masters degree in Math. But somehow—and he was very vague about this—he hadn’t finished. He dropped out after spending a couple more years in Wisconsin (he liked it there) and then moved back to Chicago.

While trying to figure stuff out, he became a chauffeur, and then eventually, managed to purchase or share (I can’t remember) a taxi medallion. That went south, and Samuel began delivering pizza on the side. He tried to go back to school, and enrolled in an online university, but again, for some unknown reason, he wasn’t able to concentrate, and he dropped out and lost all the money he had spent on enrollment and classes. “They weren’t very nice about it,” he mused.

I tried to lift Samuel up by showing interest in his life—“What are your hobbies?” (I watch TV.) “Where is your family?” (They’re nearby. I don’t see them much.) or “Do you think you could try again and get back to school?”  (No…it’s too late…)

It all backfired. He looked like he was going to cry after each question.

I felt sad and depressed after the ride. And I certainly didn’t manage to cheer him up at all. In fact, I think I made him feel worse.

About the artist

Nina Rupena is a visual artist based in Melbourne Australia. With background in fine art, illustration and industrial design, she tends to work across mediums and practices. Her interests lie in people, stories and creating connections through art. For more info visit her page www.ninarupena.com.au