“I’ve had them all in here, you know,” the cabbie started both the meter and the engine. “The stories I could tell you – were I not the soul of discretion, of course! Talk about laugh. There was her – who’s-it with the hair. You’ll have seen her flogging shampoo. Well, she gets in and I said I couldn’t help admiring her necklace and she said what bleedin’ necklace. Like a string of pearls, it was! Oh, the things I could tell you! I should go to the papers, I should. Make me a fortune.”
The passenger in the back seat did not respond but somehow the words Just drive suggested themselves to the cab driver. The cabbie pulled a face. Message received.
They were heading out of the city, away from the bright lights and the stumbling drunks, young women tottering out of nightclubs on unfeasible heels, their war paint smudged from lip to cheek.
After a few moments, the cabbie thought he’d better ask. They stopped at a red light. The cabbie turned around.
“Where can I drop you, mate?”
The passenger, a gaunt young man in black, like a collection of twigs, was folded on the seat, a mantis about to pray. The eyes, ringed with dark shadow, looked straight ahead.
Right you are, mate. The cabbie shrugged and the green light shone.
The suburbs rolled by, slumbering and silent. The occasional dog yipped, forlorn.
The cabbie glanced at the meter. Fifty quid already and counting. This was turning out to be a nice little earner. All he had to do was just drive.
But he couldn’t resist. The country lanes were dark and lonely, lined by oppressive hedges. The cabbie longed to hear a voice, even if it was only his own.
“Of course, the country’s going to wrack and ruin. And you know who’s to blame. We shouldn’t let them in. We should close our doors. Coming over here.”
The engine sputtered and died. The taxi shuddered to a standstill. The cabbie flushed red, embarrassed and confused. “I’m sorry – this has never happened before. Not to me.”
He glanced in the rear-view mirror. The backseat was empty and the doors were still locked.
On the upholstery, three crisp twenty-pound notes.
The engine started up again. The cabbie turned around and drove home.
His passenger stalked across the fields, heading for his roost in the abandoned graveyard, hurrying to get there before the dawn. He would rather go to bed hungry than feed off a racist. They leave such a nasty taste.