The Night (SeenThrough The Eyes of a London Taxi Driver)Written by Roger Marriott
I’ve seen a lot, but there is so much more to see. It is like opening an overfilled cupboard door where everything comes flying out at you whether you want that particular item or not.
Everyone, from beautiful stand up human beings to the dysfunctional and downright strange just stick their hands up and jump in like I have known them all of their lives. We head off into the night for some quality time, the silent mobile phone watchers, or the variant that literally spews their verbal guts out to this untrained psychiatrist.
All around us London moves, reverberates, lives and consumes its players. I am a mobile oasis, moving from village to village via a network of Streets, Roads, Lanes, Squares, Places and Alleys that are etched with love, blood and scars onto my visual cortex as naturally as I can recount my ABC’s or five times table.
It is madness, and I dream of it as if I am on another Knowledge of London appearance at the Public Carriage office. I recall a route that I took on last nights shift, chiding myself that I could have shaved thirty seconds off of the arrival time by using Wimpole Street instead of Marylebone Lane. I’m refining all the time.
Rivers of colour, amber, green, and red cascade down the front of my rain splattered windscreen. This colossal city beyond the glass stretches out in all directions with endless possibilities. Turn left and I’ll get a Lawyer going to Dulwich Village. Right and it’s a Russian prostitute to meet a client at the Casino on the Edgware Road.
At present I’m shifting a young Arab guy, dressed head to foot in Super Dry from a period house in Regents Park to McDonalds. The Taxi is filled with Middle Eastern music from his latest gadget and the thick perfume that he has obviously bathed in. ‘There is a closer McDonalds in Baker Street or Edgware Road’. I say. ‘I like Knightsbridge’. He replies.
He makes me wait with the meter running while he grabs his value meal and I smile at the irony before taking him back. The fare is thirty-two pounds when we return. He pays by pressing his Apple watch up against the credit card machine and I’m off as soon as the second beep has hit the airwaves.
I’m heading into theatre land. At ten pm The Strand and Aldwych are like a demolition derby with thousands of people tipping out of theatres onto the streets. Coaches block lanes, Cabbies jostle for their next fare and Ubers speed recklessly all around us. A determined hand goes up, the rear doors open and two human beings momentarily bring the streets cacophony into the Taxi. Then the ritual begins: ‘Where to people?’
The couple think for a second and then she says ‘Queens Gate please’. Like a greyhound leaving the traps I’m off, hustling the cab down the Strand towards the sanctuary of The Mall. I can hear snippets of their conversation even through the internal mic is turned off, but all is not well in the back.
Hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I hear the man’s verbal tone regarding a minor incident that evening. I instinctively know that this is not going to be an easy ride, you just know. I flip the mic to ON and immediately I hear sobbing. My blood starts to boil and within moments I’m planning the inevitable ejection, mentally mapping the nearest police station in case it gets nasty.
I flick a quick look in the mirror to see how she’s coping but I’m met with a scene that twists my mind into a knot. He is almost foetal in position; she has her arms around him, comforting the man who has just verbally chastised her. There are tears rolling down his face, she is stroking them away, telling him that everything will be okay. My mind is spinning. Then he seems to come round, like he’s awoken from a deep sleep. ‘Davinia!’ He shouts. ‘He’s going the wrong way! This fucking Cabbie is taking us the wrong way!’.
It is beyond my capabilities to ignore the verbal onslaught and I let my words out like blood leaving a wound. ‘No Sir, we’re missing the Piccadilly crush by using The Mall and Constitution Hill’. It’s no good because now he is up against the glass, hammering it with his fists right next to my ear, screaming at me. She’s holding him back, imploring him, pleading. Bang, bang, bang. ‘Insult an officer would you!’ He shouts.
At this moment I have no understanding of what is happening inside the Taxi. I’m searching for sense but can’t find any. I am the landlord and audience of a new form of abstract performance art. She has dragged him back to his seat, assuring her distraught partner that I know where I’m going. I think of pulling into the curb and throwing them both out, but the word ‘officer’ he used resonates deep in my mind and stops me doing so.
The woman catches my eye in the rear view mirror and instinctively understands that things could get a lot worse, so she addresses me ‘I’m so sorry, please take us to the hotel’. The man seems exhausted by his efforts. ‘He’s an officer in the army and has just got back from Afghanistan. Two of his mates were killed right next to him last week. It’s what they call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
I’m stunned, and mortified for them both. They seem locked into a dangerous living hell together. We stop outside the hotel and I watch him stagger out of the Taxi without a word and head towards the gleaming facade, shattered.
After a couple of minutes alone and a few deep breaths I’ve gathered myself.I flip the ‘For Hire’ light on and head back into W1.