So I’m sitting there at the table under the window at lunch time eating a meal – pasta with buk choy in garlic as an accompaniment – and I look up and there across the road see a human torso with legs but no arms or head. Wearing blue jeans and a blue top, his back to me, he’s standing so close to the wall of the building opposite that it seems as though he is making love to it. Wha . . . ? He resembles an alien only partially downloaded into a human body and wildly misconstrued: I’ve heard of objectum-sexuals but fucking bricks?
Course such things can’t be and I only have to move my head very slightly to the left or the right for his noggin to reappear from behind the branch of the gum tree that’s obscuring it. As for those pink stumps of arms protruding from the blue sleeves of his shirt, they’re actually a rear view of his elbows; and he’s not screwing the bricks but scraping them with some tool or other. Ah well. I’m the one that’s misconstrued, though perhaps not wildly.
This is the fulcrum of my day; after this it tips the other way. I have failed again to enter the sacred portals of World Travel but that’s ok because it means I can hand the whole thing over to someone at the Uni; she’s so efficient that I have the quote in front of me before the day is out. I’ve talked to my agent, a good conversation, and we’re both clear and of like mind as to the way to proceed with the various options before us. I’ve decided on which days I’d like to be in Wellington in July and sent that email off; and attended to various other minor online tasks.
Yesterday Bob looked a lot happier than he did last week; he told me proudly that he has two new cars and when I asked him how many that makes in total, he said 40; which is odd because I know he only has about ten. Turns out he’s gone into partnership with two other fellows and the expanded number represents their combined forces. He doesn’t say who they are or else I miss it; but I suspect I know already: there’s Jimmy who runs his cabs from the servo up the road, where Teachers Carwash is; and there’s Mike who runs his (or used to) out of the carpark at the Ashfield RSL, where after your shift was over you used to have to secrete the car keys in a drainpipe . . . I’ve driven for both of these guys on occasion.
I’m driving one of the new cars today and I’m picking up in Summer Hill. Bob texts me the address, in Henson Street, so at the appointed hour I walk over . . . a novelty this, walking to work. Henson Street always makes me think of Bill, the artist, and, oddly enough, I was just looking at one of his highly priced, disturbing images earlier this morning – it was in an email from a gallery whose mailing list, unaccountably, I’ve ended up on. The address is at the other end, near Old Canterbury Road, a rundown block of blond brick units. I have a chat with an old continental gent walking a small dog – Still alive! he says lugubriously – and then I’m sitting on a low wall alternately gazing at a squashed pomegranate on the footpath and making notes on my mobile phone when a small dapper chap in a cardigan comes out and asks if I’m trying to call Bob? Huh? Did Bob send you? Oh, yeah, yeah, he did.
This is the owner of the cab I’ll be driving today and his improbable name is Greg. I don’t know exactly how these Chinese guys choose their western names but most of them seem to get it right: Bob, with his big head, missing teeth, trackies and trainers, is definitely a Bob. Sam, the other dispatcher who works out of my Haberfield base – yep. Jimmy is a Jimmy and Mike is a Mike but there’s no way this guy is a Greg. Nor does he look like he’s ever driven a cab; I reckon he’s an investor, someone who’s bought in to the business and nothing in the fussy way he shows me over the car changes my view of that.
It’s in good nick, only 20,000 on the clock, but I reckon it’s been in an accident because it’s clumsy to steer – as if the front end has been buckled; and when, later in the night, taking an IT guy called Philip de Jesus out to Granville, I get on the M4 and open it up, sure enough there’s a small but persistent wobble in the steering. Nothing I can’t handle though. The shift is weird, a patchy night as the Maori guy in the servo says to me. I have two hours – 4.30 – 5.30 pm; 9 – 10 pm – where almost nothing happens; but, for the rest, it’s steady.
After filling up I call in at the Summer Hill Hotel (the bottle shop stays open until midnight) to buy a stubby of Coopers Red. Just as I’m about to go in the door, a couple appears, from where I do not know, and I let them in first. They are, I notice, wearing pyjamas. Flannelette jamas, both of them. They buy three longnecks of VB and, presumably, take them home to bed. I say to the woman serving: Do you get a lot of customers in pyjamas? and she lights up and says: Not enough! We need more . . .
On my way to return the car to Henson Street I pass them walking along all twined together; then walk home myself through the deserted streets drinking beer . . . it’s beautiful to be alone and free like this and I can almost convince myself that this town belongs to me as much as I belong to it. Almost . . .