Jan became a cab driver after a failed attempt at using his inheritance to open up his own canal tours business. He was one of the few Dutch people that could be classified as good looking: blonde hair, blue eyes, svelte body. The only time women were offput by him was when he encountered an American one who didn’t understand how to pronounce his name and therefore saw it as feminine. Perhaps a life spent having things come easily to him was what made him fall so hard.
Prone to daily jaunts into coffeeshops, strangely named in that they served weed not coffee, Jan would often smoke four to five times a day. At first, it was purely for enjoyment. In his early twenties, this was his friends’ hobby of choice. When he became older and lost most of his friends as a result of losing most of his money, smoking grew to be more about coping than relishing. Coping with the falseness of Dutch nicety and the fact that he had not become someone great.
But he tried to be a great cab driver. The first time Marianne got into his car, he proceeded to tell her some historical information about the city, like how the narrowness of the canal houses stemmed from seventeenth century merchants being charged higher taxes the wider the structure. Marianne found him interesting and unusually good looking for a cab driver. So when he gave her his card at the end of the ride, she decided she would, indeed, “use him” again.
She had come to Amsterdam from Manchester, determined to show her boyfriend that she didn’t need him, that he was no Ian Curtis and that she could exist perfectly well on her own. So far, she had proven herself wrong, and Jan had served as a breath of fresh air to her cloud of loneliness these past few days. Though she had contemplated going into a coffeeshop by herself in order to numb her sorrows, a recent negative experience in a club near Damm Square during which a man pushed her head toward his groin like she was an on-demand button for sexual gratification had soured her on leaving sobriety while among males.
But when Jan started talking about how no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without going to a coffeeshop for the “ultimate marijuana experience,” she suddenly felt compelled to take the risk.
Still, Jan admitted that after getting into a car accident as a result of his perpetually intoxicated state, he would now “only do ecstasy.” He would be willing to break his abstention, however, if it meant he could help Marianne not only get high in Amsterdam, but get high for the first time. As a Manchester-bred girl of twenty-four, alcohol had long been her only drug of choice.
That night, Marianne stayed in, ordering takeout from Foodora, the strangely named food delivery service in Holland. She didn’t want to be among the Dutch for a while. It was clear to her why their renaissance period had been so brief. They had little to offer on the personality front, lacking the sort of dry wit she hadn’t realized she loved about England. So instead, she ate alone and read Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim–a novel, she felt, proved how often sons are pale shadows of their fathers. After about thirty minutes, she fell asleep, and possibly dreamt of Jan, a barrage of impressions infusing her dreamscape.
In the morning, the sound of birds and rain woke her up. Even the birds sounded happier than the ones in Britain. Happy. What a load of bollocks the concept was, Marianne thought. To be happy was to be complacent, unquestioning. The Dutch government was merely conditioning its citizens to be drones with weed and free health care. As Marianne made Nespresso and mused on this, Jan was driving an older woman and her daughter to the Van Gogh Museum. Generally speaking, it was only ever women who took a taxi. Jan figured it was a testament to their daintiness, their inability to function in a rough world when they themselves were such delicate creatures.
Of course, this didn’t stop Jan from penetrating some of that delicacy in the Red Light District. As he drove away from the Van Gogh Museum, he got a call from Marianne. He remembered her from yesterday because she looked South American but somehow spoke with an English accent. He liked that.
“So you want to get high today?” he greeted her as she got into the front seat.
“I reckon,” she confirmed.
“Very good. You’re not going to regret choosing me as your guide.”
Marianne looked over at him as he smiled at her. Maybe he wouldn’t be like the others.
At the coffeeshop, the druggist instantly recognized Jan. “Jan, it’s been too long!” he exclaimed.
Wilhelm had dreads and only played Dr. Dre at his coffeeshop. It was for this reason that Jan had always been so fond of it. Marianne could already tell she wasn’t going to be long for this world after one inhalation. Nonetheless, she sat down with an air of detachment, as though she’d done this countless times before.
Jan said to Wilhelm, “I decided to come back for this one here. She’s new to the scene. It’s her first time in Amsterdam.”
Wilhelm nodded slowly, “I know what she needs.”
Marianne felt mildly uncomfortable being discussed as though she was not there.
“For someone of her weight and build…” began Wilhelm before trailing off as he went to prepare her a joint.
Jan stared at Marianne and asked, “Are you ready? I’ll be here with you every step of the way.”
Marianne nodded. “Thanks.”
“I’ll take you down to the canal after, you’ll really see it with entirely new eyes.”
Marianne had been wanting to see things with new eyes, to apprehend some arcane knowledge that seemed to be evading her.
Wilhelm returned with a huge smile on his face, declaring, “Behold the Mellow Yellow. A striking blend that calms and inspires.” He presented it to Marianne.
“Blend of what?” she inquired suspiciously.
But Wilhelm had moved on to giving Jan another strain, Big Boi, insisting, “It’s for the seasoned smoker.”
Jan smiled, “Fantastic.”
And so, amid the other coffeeshop regulars, Jan taught Marianne how to properly smoke. Though, naturally, a series of robust coughs ensued before she could seamlessly inhale.
“How do you feel?” Jan asked with the disinterested tone of a high person.
“Fine,” Marianne lied.
She felt horrible, sick to her stomach, perplexed as to why anyone would do this to himself voluntarily. Suddenly, Jan looked like a caricature, an ominous Dutch mascot that wanted to convert her to the coffeeshop cult.
“I need to go,” she started, letting out words the way a balloon might if it was about to burst.
“Okay, I’ll take you to the canal.”
She didn’t want to agree, but she was afraid she would upset him if she didn’t. So to the canal they went, ambling with the lackadaisical gait that exists only in the Netherlands.
Jan took her by the hand to steady her as they descended the steps to get right next to the water.
“You see that?” Jan motioned to a cluster of ducklings trying to climb up the wall.
Marianne was transfixed. All that youth with no knowledge of how to use it. Before she was aware, she leaned too far, trying to get closer to the ducklings’ majesty. Jan was preoccupied with being inside his own reverie and only slowly processed the splash he heard as being Marianne’s body. He watched her struggle in the canal and left. No one wants to be around you the first time you’re high.