My Saviour Rode Off In The Back Of A Black Cab

I was a fool to have underestimated the impact a new job would have upon me. None of this was foreseen, and that is why I am a fool. It is really not a shame for me to call myself a fool, because it is true. Amid all the messages of former colleagues assuring me that I would excel wherever I was, that if I could survive there then I could survive anywhere, it was easy for me to overlook the psychological effect this change would have on my fragile state of mind. It was an odd moment when I realised that my last job – for right or wrong – had been the single constant in my life for the last fourteen years. I chuckled at the epiphany. How much has changed between twenty-one candles and thirty-five – the places I have lived, the friends I have made and lost, the music I listened to, the women I fell in love with, how I have changed as a human being – and yet work remained the same. Daily did I trek to the same office to compact the same patch of carpet, to work for the same boss around, mostly, the same people. It might even be said that, personally, and in this instance, the realisation was akin to that when mankind learned the sun does not revolve around the earth but quite the opposite. My upheaval from that office in the first week of July threw me into a turmoil in which I am still overwhelmed. ‘Give it three months,’ my friend says when I conservatively voiced my troubles.

It is a relief my boss, Beck, and I get along well; I have not made any other friends there, but each lunchtime he says—‘Let’s go get a drink.’ And we do. On Wednesday we set out looking for somewhere different to drink. We passed an art installation in a vacant shop and I grinned to myself that he spent so long admiring and inquisitively remarking on the exhibitions, cupped hands supporting his gaze against the glass. We wound up in a rooftop bar overlooking St Paul’s; there was a grey crown of heavy clouds atop the cathedral’s skull and around us couples talking quietly. We were led to a sofa by a lady with a clipboard; I told him it was strange—‘This ain’t a fucking date,’ I said, and sat on a nearby stool. We looked at each other, started to chuckle and said simultaneously—‘Shall we go somewhere else?’ And we walked through the streets and the backstreets quickly, with the sort of happy hurry one has on a night-out with friends. All the same, we ended our lunch break in the pub next to our office, where it was dead and cold like a mausoleum, and they knew our names.
In the evening a lot of the people in the office went for a drink. For the first couple of hours I was satisfied to observe, measuring those around me, until I began to engage in conversation. I was introduced to the woman who used to have my job; Beck said—‘This is the person you replaced.’ She laughed politely. ‘Well,’ I nodded, ‘you dress better.’ I drank and drank and then I left. There were no bad feelings in me when I boarded the train. When I awoke, I had missed my stop and was in a place called Stowmarket. At the end of the line I will be in Norwich, I thought, and from there I will be able to catch a cab home. For the rest of the journey, my phone at zero, no scenery within the night, I tried to gather myself. At Norwich there was nothing. Outside of the station and they locked the doors behind me, great tearing noises that broke the half-one in two. It was cold. What I had hoped would be a waiting taxi rank was empty and not a noise to be heard other than the odd solitary car in the distance, up or down one of the city’s hillsides. A cigarette twirled in circles, trying to figure out what to do. There was a man with a backpack who sat on the floor beside the station door; there was a young couple in love and their lips moved, their lips kissed and it was a photograph in black and white. The last time I was here was different: I said good-bye and I kissed and it was a colour photograph. Daydreaming in the dark when a cab pulled up and I rushed forward as the young couple loaded their belongings into the boot. Everything was silent. Everything could be heard. ‘Excuse me,’ says I, trying to sound polite through chattering teeth—‘How often do cabs come around here?’ ‘You have to book,’ said the driver. ‘Book.’ ‘I wish I could,’ I said—‘But I don’t have any battery.’ ‘OK,’ he said, and got in his cab. The young lady said something to her partner then approached me—‘Here, you can use my phone.’ I was amazed, in a state of shock at this stranger to another stranger. I booked my ride and thanked her as profusely as I could while she hurried back to the open door. My saviour rode off in the back of a black cab. Half an hour later, I was warming up and the friendly driver made conversation with me from behind a plastic screen. The B-road countryside was unfurled in brief sweeps of white then rolled up again under the rear tyres. The leaves and the branches came through like static to our moving satellite. It felt like days since I had left the bar. It was only my mother at home alone and I worried about her; I must get home as soon as I can. ‘You mind pulling over so I can pee?’ He got to a lay-by and I went into the hedgerow by the side of the road to relieve myself. As I listened to the stream in grass, I looked at the car, its red lights illuminating my side, engine going. What stops him from pulling away? I have already paid the hundred-and-twenty pound. Maybe soon the motor would shift and he would disappear, the last dregs of red running down my ankles, but no, he stayed for me to finally sigh with relief on his warm back seats.

The earth is still and it is sad. It has all around it the most magnificent of colours and the possibility to turn on a sixpence. The train goes by fields of wheat. The wheat is ripe and ready for harvesting. Golden heads wobble in the same breeze that dries my hair. Somedays the wheat is no more but wide lines of alternate shades of yellow. A great sense of wonder can be taken from regarding huge fields of ripe wheat, all at one height, clambering for the same sun, luscious shapes, bulbous, swollen, like eyelashes at the tip of a stiff stalk. Think of the fruit in your palm. Think of a blackbird, at the sound of passing train, leaping from its depths, concealed now sunstretched out with its wings in marvellous span. At the mists lingering over the marshes, I am torn to think of Her. Every morning is Her reminder, and one has only to love and be broken by its loss to forgive this miserable world its sins! I think of Her. It was only this time last year – then and now separated only by insignificance – that we would share our mornings, our respective rises. Now as I look to the rosebellied clouds and orange star that erects behind the town five miles over, I understand I never wasted a moment in Her presence nor took a moment for granted, and I turn from the rushing window with upset eyes over a moist mask to carry on the article I hold in my shaking hands.
‘Have you met…?’ Beck says. There are many people he has not yet introduced me to, so he will often ask out of nowhere—‘Have you met…?’ And I will say no, and we might continue with our work. A woman at the other end of the office arose. She was distant but all black hair. ‘She’s gorgeous,’ he told me. ‘French Algerian. Such a strong accent.’ ‘Dios mio,’ I said, and patted my heart. ‘Yeah, I could listen to her speak for years. She fell in love with one of the structural guys. Left her husband.’ ‘Fuck me,’ says I, ‘this place has too much drama.’ Later on, after logging off a prolonged meeting, he asked me—‘Fancy a drink?’ And I did, but I did not. It is disappointing of me, perhaps, but I wished, more than anything, to go home and eat dinner at a regular time and shower at a regular time and watch TV with my parents at a regular time and write at a regular time and go to bed at a regular time. I saw no sense in dressing it up and said—‘Nah, not tonight, man.’ I left, and maybe I was remorseful that I was not down the pub with him, lest he think I was not fond of him, but there was a chance, with time to come, that he would understand me and my motives. As I got to the lift doors, they closed at my nose, and within I saw, at first, the French Algerian woman. I waited. Fourth to G. When I got down to the streets, I began my walk to the station. Farther along, I saw her and the structural engineer. They were holding hands and seemed very happy. I hung back, slowing my pace that I might watch them. We were going in the same direction. Her black hair rolled in the wind. One could see that they were talking and laughing. Only taxis coming in the opposite direction could see them smiling. Down London Wall I watched them. O, to be in love! To be like that and to be happy. I hung at their heels, enough away to be deaf, close enough to see. As they took the underpass, I went around the buildings and quickened. When I came out the other side, I saw them and looked, unabashed, a brief glimpse of eye contact and it is likely they recognised me as that new man in the office. It did not matter; as I looked at them and they upon me, I lowered my stare. They were behind me and I was ahead of them. They held hands, but now their conversation could be heard, indistinguishable words, yes, but they were keen words and they were the lyrics of love that are wrought across barrels of affection. Now I took up my speed again and turned into Finsbury Circus, beneath the great trees and the rain that had once more begun to fall.