Femi used to say, ‘Mini-cabbing’s the last refuge of the scoundrel.’ He should worry. He was only at it a year, filling in while he done his evening classes. He’s at proper college now, same place as our boy.
It’s not the sort of job where you tell somebody what you do and they ask if you enjoy it, or they say, ‘That must be interesting.’ Used to bother me when the boy was small. I’d say to Mary, ‘I’m going nowhere. And I still have to ask for directions.’
But me attitude now is, the grass is always greener. The job shows you that. You turn up places then you fuck off again. You get to have a quick nosey over other people’s fences, see little bits of people’s lives, see how they treat each other.
Like with her. The first time I picked her up was in the Trafalgar, on the river. I went in, said to the barman. He called out and she waved over. Lovely looking girl. Woman really. Thirty odd.
She was with this bunch of blokes and a few girls. Think it was a birthday drink for somebody from her work. I had them pinned straight off. When I was driving in town, I used to do account work for a T.V company. That sort of people. Never got any ugly mates. Can’t trust them.
I mooched over. She was right in the thick of the talk, going off on one about how even these days women are expected to look a certain way and how it’s all bollocks. All the blokes were nodding. I had a bit of a smile to meself. I thought, if you was seventeen stone and you looked like someone had set fire to your face and beaten the flames out with a shovel, none of this mob would be taking a blind bit of notice of you.
Someone touched her arm. She turned round and see me again, said, ‘Sorry.’
She started saying her goodbyes. They kiss every fucker, that lot, so it took a while.
That’s when I clocked soppy-bollocks. I knew on sight he thought he was it and a bit. She kissed him last. You could tell she was into him. I thought, if he’s got any sense he’ll smooth in now; make an excuse to call it a night and smooth in there.
But he never. Playing it cool, making out he wasn’t bothered.
So I run her to Brockley on her own. She chatted a bit on the way. Can’t remember what about. She was pissed as a pudding but I liked the way she talked. Like it was in proper sentences.
The next time must’ve been the first time they got off. I got a call for the Rose and Crown, next door to the theatre. Drama Queens’ Arms they call it at work.
They were stood just inside the door. She had her hands in his back pockets and she was looking up at him. She was saying something about the play they’d just seen. Something about how it was heartbreaking the way the woman almost set herself up to have the dirty done on her, because the bloke was already doing the dirty to be with her. He just shrugged.
On the way to the car I heard them stop behind me. I heard her say, ‘I wanted to do this in the pub but I thought it might be seen as a bit crass given the clientele.’
Proper sentences, like I say.
Then she was all over him.
I could feel meself blushing. They didn’t get their faces apart till they got to Brockley. He paid the fare. Like he was running things now.
Next, I picked them up from his place in Blackheath. They were going over Camberwell for a meal at his mate’s place. I could smell her when she got in. She looked smashing.
We’d just got onto Deptford Bridge, past the office, when I heard him say, ‘New Cross Gate’s coming up just now.’
I said into the mirror, ‘It’s not for a bit yet.’
I see him look at me like I was off another planet, then he turned back to her and said how he knew somebody on Telegraph Hill and their house was going up in value by £200 a month.
I done the pick up later too. The house looked like the sort of place where they’d phone up the firm and complain if you just sat outside and sounded the horn, so I went up and knocked. The bloke whose house it was opened the door a crack then asked me in. They were all sat round the table in the front room, chatting and laughing. Hardly saw me.
Stunk like a dentist’s in there. You could tell they’d made a night of it. Know that smell anywhere.
What’s his chops was sat there, giving it the big I am, I’ve done it, I’ve seen it, I’ve been in between it, all that.
Didn’t see her for a while. Probably indoors shagging. The next time she was moving in. She had a man with a van. I was down to follow on in the car with her.
I sat in the motor waiting while her flat-mate give her a hug. They waved at each other as I pulled away. She put her thumb and little finger up to the side of her head and said, ‘Call me.’ Her friend nodded.
I didn’t twig it at the time but I thought later, how come he isn’t giving her a hand with the loading up and that? Selfish prick.
But that’s just how some people stay. Maybe people just treat each other as badly as they can get away with. Think it was something about the lot she knocked around with. As if the less people think they’ve got wrong with them, the less they think they have to bother with anyone else.
I see it at this party I picked them up from in Brixton. I had to have a wander round the house to find them because I got there quicker than I expected. There was something about the way everyone was acting that made me want to get away.
I remember standing on the landing and there was a handful of people chatting. And it was like a competition. A competition to see who could be cleverest and most interesting. Somebody’d say something and everyone would laugh, but not properly. It was like they’d stop themselves halfway through because they were thinking, shit, I should have said that.
I went downstairs. I see her bloke in the kitchen. He was talking to this girl. They were leaning into each other’s faces as if the music was making it hard for them to hear what they were saying. But the music wasn’t that loud. I left him to it.
In the hallway this bloke come up and asked if I was a friend of Toby. Dozy prat. Whatever else there is about me, I don’t come across like someone who knows anybody called Toby.
He must’ve been three sheets to the wind because he started talking to me like I was one of the guests. After a bit he said, ‘Well, you’re not very interesting.’
I said, ‘I’m just pretending to be boring so you’ll stop talking to me.’
He shoved his eyebrows half way up his forehead and said, ‘Ooh, get you!’
Just then I see her. She come over. Looked pleased to see me.
She said hello and asked if I’d like a Margarita.
I said I wasn’t much of a one for pizza. And she got it. Laughed her tits off. Then she touched me arm and said, ‘You’re very quick.’
That’s when I thought, no, she’s not like the others.
And she knew she wasn’t.
I run her and her old flat-mate back from the station once. She was saying about how everyone they knew seemed to be chasing after people, but making out to themselves that really they were avoiding them. She said about how she was never sure of her bloke’s feelings for her, like he was always keeping something up his sleeve.
Her mate said, ‘For some people, life’s just one long mind-game.’
I thought, yes! Thank you!
I took her up the clinic. Same story as with the moving in. No sign of lover-boy.
She might have chose it for all I know. Her having a good job and that. But the least he could’ve done is go up there with her.
I collected her after. She weren’t weepy or anything. More like she was off away inside her head somewhere.
She stopped over her old flat in Brockley for about a week after. I thought she might have knocked it on the head with the bloke but she went back.
Never stops amazing me, what people put up with. Dennis I used to work with, his wife used to go round Twilights and the Sahara and all them clubs, picking up blokes. And she’d always order a cab back with the firm, so Dennis’d know. And he took it.
She was back over Blackheath by the time she had to go up to Crewe.
I put me foot in it on the way to Euston. I said it’d be a nice break. She said her step-dad had died. I was surprised, her having a step-dad. She seemed like somebody who’d have proper parents.
I said I was sorry and asked when they were burying him.
She said, ‘They’re cremating him actually. Don’t be sorry on my account. I always said I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire. Now’s my chance to prove it.’
I give her a look in the mirror. She shrugged and looked out the window.
I said, ‘I expect your mum’ll be glad of the support.’
When she got out she said, ‘Thanks for your concern.’
I felt like giving her a hug. Not because I felt sorry for her but because I liked her. By then I knew why I liked her. Most fares, you’re invisible to them, but her, she saw me.
I was invisible to him though, her bloke. That’s why he never bothered being careful. He didn’t hang about either. Evening of the day I dropped her up Euston, he had some girl straight round there. I watched as they went up the path. I thought, well, could be his sister. Till I see him steer her into the house with a hand on her arse. She never left till the Thursday.
I didn’t feel too good about the way it ended. Even felt a bit sorry for him. He had it on a plate and he pissed it away, the fucking mug.
I’ve picked women up from domestics, where it’s all kicking off and they’ve got everything they own packed in a bin liner. But this was pretty civilised.
I put her suitcases in the boot then went round to close the passenger door. He was stood with one hand on the door, asking and asking her not to go. She was sat shaking her head and not looking at him.
I said, ‘Sorry. I need to go. I’ve got other fares waiting.’
He said, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’
I said, ‘Noone in particular. Why, who are you?’
He said, ‘I’m the man she loves.’
I said, ‘I don’t care if you’re the man who shot Liberty fucking Valance, let her go.’
I slammed the door shut, got in and drove.
Maybe I was a bit jealous of him. But really I wouldn’t want either of their lives. Especially hers. I might get turned over for the odd fare, but as far as getting shafted goes, that’s about as bad as it gets for me.