Taxi School

I was past fifty and on my own again; and, as before, it was instantly as if it had always been this way. Back at taxi school for the third time in three decades. Hating it. I already knew how to drive a cab, there are some things you never forget, but stupidly let my licence lapse and in the interim the legal requirements changed, not in essence, just access, and what formerly took two weeks now occupied two months and cost a couple of thousand, not a few hundred, dollars. We convened daily in a large room above the Post Office on King Street, Newtown; unclear what it had been used for previously but perhaps training: there were framed maps on the walls that recalled my time as a Mail Officer back in the 1980s. A melancholy reflection but not without its satisfactions. Australia Post failed to make me Permanent (a life-long employee) or I succeeded in eluding that particular form of servitude; only to adopt another, this one, that I was apparently going to share with a group of Sri Lankans, Bangla-Deshis, Pakistanis, several Turks and some Arabic men whose country of origin was unclear. Also one Chinese woman, probably from Malaya or Singapore; and quite a few Chinese men who were certainly from the mainland. No other Anglos. The school was a family business, he was Australian, she was Greek and the kids . . . well, I guess they were Australian too. Greek Australian. Andrew was a tall bluff fellow who’d done a lot of driving and had a line in transgressive humour that never amused me but went gang-busters with the Banglas, Lankans, etc . . . he said out loud, ironically, things that racists say and that was enough to make him admired among the migrants for his honesty, compassion and sense of fun; though the laughter sounded a little forced to me. And after all he was our examiner and probably also felt a responsibility to prepare us for the rough and tumble of life on the street. His wife – Helen? Sophie? – was small, dark and intense and, a couple of times, I saw the steely underlay to her person that guaranteed the viability, in a financial sense, of the business: you didn’t get in the door unless you could pay and you didn’t get out without paying; or not if you wanted the licence. There was a son who drove intermittently and taught in the other school in Lidcombe. Tall and plausible like his dad, perfectly bald; I’m still waiting for the night he picks me up in his cab and I find out who he really is. A daughter who worked the desk and was generous to a fault. Her eyes would fill with tears and then the mother, who missed nothing, would bustle across and sort the situation out quick smart. You could also sometimes see on her face the fear that this would be the rest of her life: behind the desk in Taxi School. I was staying with a gay couple I knew down in Bishopsgate Street, sleeping in the bed of the younger one, T, which meant he had to sleep with his boyfriend, R, which he didn’t like, not the sleeping with him but the necessity to do so, the lack of choice in the matter; there was tension. I remember R commenting on the way I inhaled the Kreteks I smoked then – as if your life depends upon it he said but it wasn’t my life it was my death; also that I used to leave the rows of seated men and one woman, randomly, and go to the window and look out across King Street to the Irish bar across the road where I would, when class ended for the day, go to drink a glass, sometimes two, of Kilkenny Ale before walking back to where I was so uneasily staying. And that’s about all I recall of that period, which only lasted a week or so. Except this: somewhere on my walks from the school, one evening, I glimpsed beyond the curve of the street as it made its way down the hill the possibility of another life, one made up not of servitude or frustration or the dullness of repetition; one in which a succession of shining moments bridged the abyss of time so that I strode, as it were, the very air on my way to that other shore: where toil ends, where night begins, where to sleep is to dream you are awake and walking back up that same shining bridge into another day. A picture of what can’t be which, nevertheless, once seen, will always be remembered.

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