Back This Way
Mick sat in his cab in the station car park and watched a woman—big tits, bit of a tummy, blonde—walk towards his cab.
“All right, love, where to?”
She gave the address. At least it wasn’t just round the corner; he fucking hated local fares, they were hardly worth the bother. She sat in the back and struggled a little with the seat belt.
“Been somewhere nice?”
“A work thing,” she said.
Yeah, yeah, he thought, don’t think you need to tell me anything, eh? I’m just the mug driving. Being polite. Not that I give a damn.
Mick looked at her in the mirror. She was a bit ropier close up, too much make-up and a few spots. She was rummaging in her bag, her hair hanging around her face.
“Would you like a polo?” she offered.
“Nah, you’re OK,” he said, but he was pleased to have been asked.
He was cut up by a stupid young lad in a baseball cap. Tosser. He gave him the finger and pressed down hard on his horn. God, he was weary. The weather didn’t help. So hot. And every punter wanted to discuss it.
Ooh, it’s hot, isn’t it? Well, yeah, it’s summer, innit! Where’s the surprise in that?
Stuck at yet another set of lights Mick looked out of the window. What a hole. The litter bins overflowed with moulding food stuff and papers. Rat’s paradise that. The smell of the rubbish hung in the thick, hot air. He licked his sweat moustache, tasting the saltiness. People were standing around in the street; small tribes smoking, drinking, leering, and calling to each other.
Fucking lights. Fucking hell. It’s hot in the cab, hot everywhere. Oppressive heat beating down on the city. The windows were fully wound down, no air con. Course not. All Mick could afford was this shitty excuse for a car.
Crap, all of it.
He was wearing blue shorts and the back of his legs stuck to the seat. He shifted every so often and heard the sucking sound of skin peeling away from plastic. They stung a bit. He could do with a drink.
An ice-cold pint of lager. Condensation on the glass.
He pulled into the woman’s road, looked at her again. Pretty smile she had as he asked for the fare. Something of his late mum in it.
“That’s four pounds fifty,” Mick said.
“Thanks,” she replied. “Keep the change.”
He watched as she walked up her path and opened her door. Above the brown wood of the door was a stained glass window. It reminded him of a church.
When he was young, his mother insisted he accompany her to Sunday mass. He had listened carefully to the priest’s weekly sermon, reckoning he’d better if God was speaking through this man. His soul had been young then, gold and glowing. He’d pictured it under his ribcage, below his heart, shiny, deep inside.
Mick drove back to base, through the High Street that had changed so much since he was a kid. A group of boys stepped into the road, he braked hard, jolting himself towards the windscreen, and they ambled past, unconcerned, fearless. Was he once like that? He wiped fat fingers across his damp face, sighed.
In the cab office, he had a mug of tea sweetened with three sugars. The milk was on the turn and had an unpleasant tang.
“Y’all right there, Mick?” asked one of the three other men sitting in the cramped portacabin, sipping their drinks, waiting for the next fares. The controller saying, “Five minutes, mate.” “Back this way, Stew.” “Five minutes, love.”
“Bloody hot one, eh, lads!” said Mick.
They yes-ed, and cursed, and when the door swung open and two men in suits asked for a car to take them a short distance nobody got up.
Mick could smell his own armpits. Peering through the tiny window, he watched a train pull in at the station next door.
What’d it be like to put my head through the closed window?
He had an urge to butt it, feel it shatter around his face. It’d be cool, may help him breathe somehow. He moved away. It’s the same as the thoughts he has when he goes home after a shift and sits in a bath. He looks at his arms and imagines slicing a straight line vertically down each. The bath water turning red as the first ribbons of blood spread and multiply. He doesn’t do it. He has a wank instead, or fries some bacon and eggs, puts the telly on. Tries to block out the worry that he’d not be missed until the stench alerted a neighbour.
He drove a kissing couple to a party. He watched them touching, entwining in his back seat, and he lifted his buttocks and pushed a fart out. He’d read somewhere that a smell is just molecules of the actual thing. It was satisfying to think they now had to smell his shit. When they got out of the car, he sat for a few minutes. Looked at the house they had entered, listened to the deep bassy thrum of music, laughter, loud conversation. Saw people smoking in the front garden, on the pavement, staggering with bottles of beer in their hands.
Fuck, that thirst.
He picked a woman up from an address in the good part of town. She was older than he had expected; he thought the night belonged to youth or those in safe numbers. Grey, stooped, she walked slowly towards the car, gingerly holding out a gift bag.
“A birthday present,” she explained.
“Oh right. Anything nice?”
“An ornament. Swedish actually. An angel.”
“An angel? Sounds lovely.”
An angel in the car. Fancy that.
“I’d like to see an angel,” he said. “I expect she’s all parcelled up though.”
“Only in bubble wrap. I was too worried that she’d break. Fragile, you know?”
“Yeah, I do.”
They drove on in silence, the woman rustling the bag occasionally, Mick thinking on angels. When they arrived, the woman got out of the car and walked around to the front, opened the door, and climbed back in.
“Here she is.”
From the plastic wrap she pulled a frosted glass statue. A triangle formed the body and a piece of gold wire ran through and attached a small circle of glass for a head before coiling a halo above.
“She’s proper lovely,” Mick said.
The woman beamed. “I do hope my friend agrees.”
“I’m sure she will.”
He reached over, took it gently from her, and stroked the cool, smooth glass.
Mick put it in his mouth, ran his tongue over the surface of the head. He could hear the woman’s voice but could not distinguish her words. He bit, sliding the head from the wire like a lolly, and sucked, waiting for it to dissolve.
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