Short Story (original draft JLeahy) The Cab Conversation
I parked on the taxi rank and waited in the queue. It was a warm night and I had started my shift at 6:30pm. It was nearly 2am. This would be my last trip for this shift. The streets were packed with drunks. Many of them were young. The cab ranks were still full. I had my tinted windows up, to cut out glaring lights and the street noise.
There was always action on Friday nights in Brisbane City, Australia. Nothing much has changed in people’s behaviour out here as I could see, after driving cabs for 30 years. The buildings and some of the streets have changed, but the people. Sadly, the drunks were becoming younger. The two cabs in front of me picked up and drove off. I rolled my white taxi sedan forward. Immediately, two drunken young men stepped off the sidewalk and started cursing and pulling the door levers to get in, even before I stopped.
I had been driving for the Turkish cab-owners for five years. They have been good to me. I would love to buy my own cab soon. The cabbie-money was good, but the nights were often scary. With my own cab, I can set the hours. The shorter of the two men, dressed in a white polo and jeans, finally managed to open the front door. He quickly turned back to his friend.
“It’s a big Indian woman”, he said. They laughed and he closed the front door. They got into the back of the cab. His friend, taller, was wearing a red cotton shirt that was tucked into a navy pair of pants. The street was well-lit so I could clearly see both their sweaty, drawn faces. They said something to each other, giggled and fell heavily into the backseat. The cab rocked. I ignored what was said and watched them on the rear-vision mirror.
“Kelvin Grove!” the shorter man said with pretentious authority. He looked barely 20. They seemed very drunk. I checked them again from the rear vision mirror, making sure there was no funny business.
“$30 dollars up front”, I turned to them.
“What? We will pay when we get there”, the short one spoke again.
“No, you pay now”, I insisted, knowing that there may be trouble ahead.
“Are you Indian?” he asked, ignoring what I had said. They laughed.
“You fucking pay now or you get out of my cab,” I said firmly.
“Joe, just pay her, I want to get home”, the one in the red shirt stopped laughing. He peered at me from the corner of the seat.
“Ok! Ok!” his friend Joe said fumbling in his pocket and hands me a $50 note. His expression was more serious.
“Address please”, I said taking the $50 note and placing it on my dashboard.
“We will show you”. Joe said.
“No, tell me the address now”.
The tall one called out the address quickly and I punched it into the GPS.
“I will give you change when we get there”, I said and released the hand-break.
“Ok, now can you tell me if you are Indian?” Joe started again.
“I do not wish to make a conversation, I just want to take you and your friend home safely”, I said, keeping my eyes on the road. I glanced in the rear-vision mirror. Everything seemed fine. They both sat in the back seat but the taller one started leaning to the side. I thought to myself, hope he does not vomit in the seat. The traffic eased as we left CBD.
“You are so rude, why can’t you talk to me?” the short one said raising his voice from the back seat and leaning forward. His friend was now asleep; slumping his tall lean body into the corner of the black leather seat as I could see quickly in the mirror. I could feel the short one closer to me.
“I don’t want to talk to you. I just want to drive”.
“That is bad service, you are rude, I am going to report you to your authorities and they will sack you tomorrow”, he said and leaned back into the seat.
“Please do”, I invited. I stayed calm, and kept my eye on the road and the speed limit. The police were out everywhere.
Joe started to say something else, but I took no notice. The fare had almost reached $20. It had been ten minutes, and we had almost arrived at their destination. I stopped to the red traffic light a few blocks away from their address. I glanced at the rear-vision mirror. I saw the short one shaking his sleeping tall friend roughly.
“Jeff! Jeff! Wake up! We are almost here; I don’t want her to see where we live”.
As his friend woke up, the light turned green and released the brakes and picked up speed. I changed to second gear.
“Stop here!” he ordered as I went through the set of lights.
I rolled the cab towards the left sidewalk and stopped. I turned to them.
The short one was already outside the cab, trying to pull his friend through the opened door.
“‘C’mon Jeff, hurry up man!” he said angrily. His friend reluctantly woke and staggered out.
“Run! Run! We are not paying the bitch, run!” the short one shouted and ran. At first, the tall one called Jeff looked surprised, and then he started running too.
I switched the high beam on and watched them run into the darkness.
I picked up and called control on the radio. I looked down at the total fare ‘blinking’, as I spoke to my supervisor.
“I am reporting a runaway”, I told my supervisor.
“What happened? They didn’t pay?”
“Yes. I got paid”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I had insisted on a deposit when they got into the cab in the city.”
“Where are you now?”
“How much was the fare?”
“They gave me a $50 note”, I said, staring at the $50 bill, still sitting on my dashboard.
“Don’t worry about it, we will deal with it when they show up at the office. Have a good night”, the supervisor said and hung up.
Note to readers. Taxi stories. My girlfriend nicknamed Mary, drives cabs in Brisbane. She is Papua New Guinean, aged 52. This is a true story.