Friday, June 29, 2007

A Broken Nail

It was rush hour. Five to six. Was empty, stuck in traffic, outside the American Express building in Liverpool Street when she caught my eye and began to negotiate pavement and gutter and roadway so she could catch my cab. The lights changed as she was opening the door and she seemed a bit flustered, what with her bag and her umbrella and her fashionable coat. Then something happened, I didn't know what, she exclaimed in dismay and opened the door again, looking down ... Broke a fingernail, she said, holding up her hands. They were small and brown and the nails were very long, all except the one on the middle finger of her left hand, which had gone. She wore many expensive looking rings but the settings were unostentatious, as graceful as herself. I imagined her palms, rough, pink, perhaps a little cracked, though I couldn't see them. I like the touch of rough womens' hands, I don't know why. Are they your own? I asked. Cheeky, but I felt at ease with her: she was amused and amusing and so why not? Of course, she said. I wouldn't wear false ones. She was looking at her hands, murmuring: Take two or three weeks to grow back ... if I could have found it I might have glued it back on. I said something to the effect that scrappling in the gutter for a fingernail is not a good look and we moved on. She was going to The Establishment on George Street, was late, hence her rush, hence the broken nail. I started telling her about the smart and funny girls from ACP I'd just dropped off in Surry Hills, their minute dissection of the appearance of a work mate who wore false eyelashes this long ... individually applied. She gave a brief shudder and said she preferred to be as she was. There's something about perfect beauty that's soulless, she said. I like my crooked nose. I looked at her nose, in profile, it didn't seem crooked to me. Her face was as attractive as her hands, quick eyes, a slightly sardonic curve of the lips that she'd reddened so they set off her dark skin. I mentioned the Persian carpet makers who deliberately weave a mistake into the pattern because perfection offends the gods. She laughed. Yes, and when we try too hard we make mistakes anyway. I should be more zen. We were halfway up Elizabeth Street now. It was gone six o'clock, the hour of her date. Que sera, sera, I said and started to discuss the best route from here on. Hmmm, she said. Good thinking, 99. That meant she'd watched the same TV in her youth as I did, we must have been more or less of an age. You don't have a phone in your shoe, do you? I asked. No, she said, just as well, because I might put the stiletto through my cheek when I was answering it. In this delightful banter the brief minutes passed and soon we were pulling up outside The Establishment, a luxe and well patronised corporate drinking hole. It was just ten past six. Oh, she said, I can be fashionably late. We did the business, she paid, natch, with an Amex card and said yes, she would like the receipt. Then came a moment of silence. I was waiting for her to get out but she didn't move. The moment lengthened, we were as if stilled, sitting in a cone of silence. What was going on, did she not want to go? And then she said: Are you going to give me the receipt? I'd printed it out but neglected to tear it off; so entranced perhaps. Did you think I was waiting because of your lovely company? she asked, making it at once a compliment and a rebuke. No, I said, I just thought you were composing yourself so that you didn't break another nail, getting out. And then we laughed and off she went to join whatever lucky person she was meeting.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

people like us

Took a Chinese woman down to Earlwood, she got in the back seat outside the Criterion in Park Street then, at the corner of George, said she wanted to sit in the front. Well, do, I said, so she did, before the lights changed and we were on our way. She was tired, she worked in stockbroking, had spent the day translating figures from one currency to another, one screen to another. We didn't talk much, though front seat travel generally means an inclination towards conversation. I liked the way she smelt, which isn't always the case with front seat passengers: a light perfume beneath which her own body scent lingered.

Afterwards I wandered up through Undercliffe to Marrickville and there, at a bus stop, in the murky evening light, were two obviously half cut disreputables roistering. There was a vacant cab in front of me, which they didn't hail, so I was a bit surprised when one of them stuck out a hand for me. A moment's decision: to stop or not to stop? Trouble or no trouble? Should I ... hit the anchors. They took ages to actually get into the cab, one in the front, one in the back. The one in the front had a khaki beanie pulled down over his ears, the dirt of decades etched into the skin of his face, only two or three front teeth left in his mouth. Fellow in back was older, almost dapper by comparison.

They're going to the Coopers Arms in King Street, Newtown. To get pissed, which meant, in their estimation, they aren't yet. That tells you something, because I think they're properly shickered. How long ya been driving a cab? asks Beanie. I think, and in the moment of thought, he answers for me. Too bloody long, eh? he says and sniggers. Guy in back says: Never catch me driving a bloody cab, too bloody dangerous ... Beanie: Ever been jumped? I look at him, he laughs. Don't worry, he says, we're not gonna jump ya. I say: I know you're not.

Fact is, I haven't ever been jumped though I might have come close to it a couple of times. It's hard to judge the seriousness of a threat that isn't made good. I never thought these guys were going to try anything, on the other hand, they were the kind that could easily have turned nasty if the wrong thing had been said. Now Beanie's unravelling a long cab-riding story that is designed to show his bona fides. He'd once caught a taxi from Sale in country Victoria to Melbourne. The fare was eight hundred dollars, and he offered to double it with a tip. His folks gave the cabbie a sit down meal, either before leaving Sale or upon arrival in Melbourne, I can't work out which. Cabbie refused the tip at first but Beanie forced it on him. Musta cost me three grand, that trip, he muses.

Meanwhile Dapper, sitting in the back, is keeping up a running commentary, which basically consists of contradicta: everything Beanie says, he disputes. If Beanie says he's generous, Dapper says he's mean. If Beanie pretends to wisdom, Dapper says he's thick as pigshit. If Beanie says ... this is done without malice, indeed, with high good humour, so he's chuckling widely between the insults. I'm fifty seven, he says at one point, apropos of nothing at all. He's forty three. See? See? Perhaps he meant together they made a hundred. Beanie ignores him. He's still talking about jumping cabbies, looking toothlessly sideways at me and grinning. Don't worry, mate, I won't jump ya, I'm gonna tip ya. Dapper says: He's a miserable bastard, he won't tip ya.

There's twelve dollars on the meter when we pull up outside the Coopers Arms. Beanie scrabbles in his pockets for a bit, he's got quite a lot of cash loose in there. He comes up with a ten and a five. Thereyagomate, toldyaI'dtipya. He shakes my hand. Dapper leans over from the back seat, he shakes my hand as well. Helluva job you got, mate, he says, I'd never drive a bloody cab, have to put up with people like us ...