“Always look people in the eye and smile.”
George, Play Writer
Lisa King, www.lisakinglondon.com
Stuart, 30, Agent
Blair Easton, Artist, California, www.blaireaston.com
Anonymous, Kew Gardens
Price James, Director
Claudette, Notting Hill
Suzanne, New York
Bob, Advertising (the above four)
Amy W, Communication Manger
I was driving through an edgier part of north London when I saw the doors of a shabby and less than desirable establishment open. Out stepped a large and menacing looking fella who seemed to be looking in the direction of the oncoming traffic.
My eyes were then distracted by the glow of a green traffic light rapidly turning to red. Instinctively I knew the large Fella (who looked like he’d had a few) was going to approach my cab. He wasn’t the only one who required my services. A crowd of three men who I guessed had just left a large fashionable nightclub also approached. The large fella muttered, groaned, or growled something in the direction of the competition, and this was enough to inform them that they need not take another step closer to my cab, they wisely changed direction and went in search of another taxi elsewhere.
As my cab ground to a halt at the now red traffic light, the large fella approached my front near side door, his right arm slightly raised and in a no nonsense tone of voice, he said,
“Driver, I need to get to Brockley.”
I looked him in the eye and thought for a second….
“We’ll be there in twenty minutes driver, I’ll pay you up front, if ya like.”
My gut feeling told me this chap did have a rational side to him, despite the bar he’d just come out of, and despite the fact that his mere appearance combined with a groan had scared the living daylights out of three fellas who also required my services only moments earlier.
I released the rear door locks, “Get in mate”. With him now seated in the back of the cab, the lights smoothly changed to green (something which was only going to happen once the encounter had come to its conclusion) and we started our journey to Brockley.
“So, how’s your night been, driver?”
“My prediction is that it ain’t been half as eventful as yours.”
I responded in a verbally punchy manner.
“What do ya mean by that?”
“I saw the bar you’ve just come out of.”
“Oh, that ain’t half as bad as it looks. I’ve just been catching up with some old muckas.”
“To be honest with you I was slightly hesitant about picking you up, given the bar you’ve just come out of and the way you sent them other guys packing, I thought you might be a bit of a roughian.”
“In my defence, I did see your cab before they did.”
That I could not deny.
“As for the bar, you’re right, it’s definitely not the classiest of joints.”
Before I could respond my ears were greeted with…
“WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT… driver your back seats ain’t half uncomfortable, I swear there’s something digging in my arse.” He continued to add. Oh no, my quote clipboard. I had forgotten all about that…. What with the handful in the back, and contemplating the best route to Brockley….
“Oh that’s just a, er a clipboard, you can just pass that through the partitioning, just a creative project.” I hesitatingly mumbled. “Mind if I have a gander driver, seen as it’s near disembowelled me!” (a comical exaggeration).
I was hardly going to say no, was I?
“There’s writing on here driver, this is from your past passengers, innit?”
He’d grasped the concept immediately, which meant I didn’t have to deliver my verbal encouragement pitch for the ten thousandth time! He’d now found a pen that should have been attached to the clipboard, but instead was lying idle on the seat beside him.
“I like this driver, ok for me to add to it.…”
“Yeah, of course.”
A quick glance in my rear view mirror showed me a passenger who was in deep thought. As I headed southbound my own thoughts were now more relaxed (my initial prediction that he would launch the clipboard out of the window after it had aggravated his backside when sitting on it, were without doubt a little unjust!)
The roads were clear, as they should be at this hour, and with my passenger engrossed in my quote project, no words were exchanged between us for the next five or so minutes.
Then the silence was broken….
“Nice idea driver, great stuff. I’ve left a couple of quotes for you to check out at the end of your shift.”
Our conversation reverted back to the bar where I’d collected him from, the characters who drank there and the staff who served them. In a funny type of way, I began to wish the traffic was flowing slower as this was the type of passenger one could listen to and learn from. However, it wasn’t long before we’d made it to Brockley, I turned off the main road and into the side turning where he lived.
“Just pull up on the left, driver.”
With the cab now stationary, the passenger pulled out his wallet and paid me the outstanding fare, along with a handsome tip, and then….
“Ere driver, don’t go anywhere, I’ve got something for you.”
“Just wait there. I’m getting something from the house, a present for you.”
Alarm bells started ringing. Was it a set up? Or had tiredness or paranoia set in on my part? I began to ask myself mental questions…. We’d got on ok…, hadn’t we? Had he been offended by me saying I thought he was a roughian at the beginning of the journey? Surely that was a compliment to his type, wasn’t it? My mind returned to the present moment when he stepped out of the cab and firmly closed the passenger door behind him. He crossed the road and went into a house, bushes blurred my vision of his front door…, and there I sat in mental limbo….
Should I just go while the going was good? I’d got my money, the shift was over, what at this hour, could he possibly have for me? Why me…, why couldn’t he say goodnight, leave the cab and be done with it? What would my fellow cab drivers do in this situation???
Thoughts of working different hours in the future, or training for a new job raced through my mind. And then before another thought could enter my mind, I heard a noise, followed by a figure appearing, the passenger who’d left my cab a minute or so earlier was now strolling confidently back towards my cab, I noticed an object clutched in his right hand. Adrenalin began to race around my body. My left hand pressed a button on the gear stick and selected drive, then I released the hand brake, but something inside me prevented my foot from releasing the brake. The cab stayed still, tiredness, curiosity, karma combined, and then he spoke.
”Didn’t take me long to find it.” With that he raised his right hand (as he had when hailing my cab about 25 minutes earlier).
“A present, as promised, (it was a book and its cover harmoniously glowed from the light provided by the nearby lamp post) ere you go driver, I know you like quotes and philosophy… I’m giving you my copy of the ‘TAO TEH CHING by LAO TZU’.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. My eyes and mind were now rejuvenated and the tension eased from my back, arms, and shoulders. I’d heard of this book, “TAO TEH CHING” (The classic of the way and its virtue) but if I’m honest, would probably have never got around to getting myself a copy…. Some describe it as one of the most profound books ever written.
I looked him in the eye, extended my arm, and shook his hand.
”Thanks mate, that’s really good of you, means a lot to me that does.”
Now all relaxed, my right leg eased and gave permission to my foot to lift off the break and the cab gently pulled away. At the end of the street was a T junction which lead me back on to the main road, I stopped…Temptation had got the better of me, I couldn’t help myself, I had to take a peep inside the book. The first page was a beautiful picture of a dragon (said to be an age old symbol of the spiritual essence.) I continued, skipping the content page, and found myself at the book’s foreword section, and there, my eyes were drawn to five words at the bottom of the page. Five words that would provide me with my last quote of the shift….
“Learn to unlearn ones learning.”
As I turned right onto the main road and headed in a homeward-bound direction my face wore a warm contented smile, and my mind thought…, wow, what a quote, what a book, what a passenger, what a journey, what a job, what a life.
To see the Tropics Black Cab Session – http://www.blackcabsessions.com/
For more Tropics tracks – https://soundcloud.com/tropics