Aaaawwwww ... crap! Back on the job. First fare is three Oirish lads whom I pick up at Bondi Beach and take into the City. They look like they've stepped out of a Beano comic, all crooked teeth and lumpy hair but they're sweet, they pay and go. Next fare is another Oirish boyo, a bit of a charmer, who says he's left his wallet at home and wants me to take him back to get it. I buy his story and take him, but he doesn't buy the ride ... a runner. I won't forget his jaunty walk as he pissed off, still talking on his phone to his girlfriend about a plan to sing Christmas songs in the street for money. The rest of the night is shit and I decide that's it, I won't ever do this again. But the car's new, probably the best I've ever driven, and it has a CD player, so I front up again the next afternoon with a few of my fave CDs and have one of those dreamy nights that cabbies (small dreamers) dream of. Nice people pay me and we talk as I drive them where they want to go listening to music that I love in a car that's (small dreams), relatively anyway, lux.
I have forgotten how you only ever get the middle of stories, never the beginning, never the end. That you meet characters but do not read the script. What will happen to the petite blonde nurse who laid her pale cold hand on my hot one, resting on the gear lever, and said her ex was a wally? Her frilly umbrella reminded me of Mary Poppins' and when she got out in Stanmore to collect her five year old daughter from After School Care she said, unprompted, that she might use it to fly away ... like Mary Poppins! I wish her pure uplift when she moves to Cessnock six months from now.
What about the Kiwi joker I take to the airport to catch a flight to Melbourne so he can have his cancerous prostate removed? We have both, in another life, been at the same rugby game: 1961, Athletic Park, Wellington, when the French played the All Blacks for the very first time, in a howling southerly, and the result was 5 - 3. Kel Tremain scored the winning try feet away from where my Dad and I sat on cold benches in front of the swaying Millard Stand. The joker with the dodgy gland was six and I was nine. He, a corporate high-flyer, says he's 54, he's single, he's had the time of his life every day of his life. I haven't been sitting on the sidelines with the oranges. I've been out in the middle, mixing it up with the big boys. His talk is all bravado and he does not seem to know that, with each sentence, he is constructing an obituary.
Or the dreadlocked, out-of-girl I pick up outside a pub in Charing Cross. I don't like men, she enunciates carefully through foam-flecked lips. They want to touch my body and I don't like that. Take me somewhere where there's dancing. I'll give you money. Dancing? In Bronte near midnight on a Monday? I take her up to the Bondi Junction shops and try to let her out there. She won't go. I do a uee and make the same offer on the other side of the street. No, she says. This is a horrible place. My shift is ending, I should do more but I'm weary and there's another cab parked in front waiting for a fare. Perhaps ... ? Otherwise, the police station. You awful man, she shrieks. I'll never speak to you again! I don't ask for the fare but, later, find a $2 coin on the back seat and the longest, thickest false fingernail I've ever seen lying broken on the floor.
Outside the Colonial Centre, 52 Martin Place (tho' we're actually in Phillip Street) I get talking to another cabbie. His name is Zaheer and he is a poet. I've briefly met a friend of his, the writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif, recently at the Auckland Festival. Their wives are from the same part of Pakistan. Zaheer writes in Urdu and Punjabi, he also speaks Arabic and is learning Persian. Publishes in magazines in India and Pakistan. An inheritor of an old tradition. Mindful of that too. He is resisting pressure from friends to make a collection, he feels he isn't established enough yet.
This turns out not to be because he is doubtful of his writing but because he has to work his way out of a financial crisis ... he was detained by Australian immigration authorities a few years ago and sent to a detention centre (Villawood). Then he was deported, and it took him two more years to get another visa into Australia. He ascribes this calamity to the dodgy advice of a migration agent, which I can well believe. The upshot is, he has a major debt to pay - I think the sum was $15,000. How you do that on a cabbie's meagre wage? Nor do I discover exactly who he owes it too. However, another legacy of the Howard government's malignant reign is that so-called asylum seekers must pay the costs of their own detention, so perhaps that's the reason. There's a bill before Parliament right now that seeks to overturn that Kafkaesque rule.
Zaheer's poetry has not yet been translated into English, probably because he has not found anyone to do it for him. Poetry in Urdu and Punjabi is, I gather, highly formalised so it probably isn't an easy task. I am telling Zaheer that there must by a university in Australia where the languages are taught when we are interrupted by a very tall, extremely elegant, young black Englishman in a suit exiting the building and coming towards my cab. I neglect to get Zaheer's address, or to give him mine. I trust that we will meet each other again some other day. He is a modest man, unassuming, without bitterness and also without fear. He tells me a line of a poem he is yet to write, about two rivers in his country, one a river of lovers, the other of poets. Their confluence. Small dreams, bigger than the world.