‘Hey,’ he said, when Punter greeted him. ‘Has anyone called you yet?’
‘No,’ Punter replied. ‘What about?’
‘Me and Postman,’ Driver said. ‘He pushed me around this morning and crashed my car.’
‘No! Really? Are you alright?’
‘Yeah, really,’ Driver confirmed. ‘And I’m fine. But are you surprised? That surprised? The man’s not well.’
‘Oh, I agree he’s not well. But I thought he was more gutless than that. In a strange way I’m impressed.’
Driver laughed. ‘I don’t think he’d have tried it with you, Punter, but I’m smaller. I’m an easier target, so don’t give him too much credit.’
Punter chuckled in reply.
‘But anyway,’ Driver continued, ‘if he hadn’t already, surely he must have written the final chapter in his political career.’
‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you?’ Punter replied. ‘Tell me the details, though. Convince me you’re alright. And how’d he crash your car?’
Driver went through his story again. Even though it was still less than an hour old, he’d already told it to me, the police and Minnie, so at the fourth telling it had long since started to sound stale to him. And despite having been the direct victim of Postman’s pointless rage, it all seemed like someone else’s problem. It all seemed like Punter’s problem. With Postman in the lock-up, politically terminal, it seemed solved. Whereas his own problems with Minnie were not solved, no matter what they’d just said to each other.
‘Listen, Punter,’ Driver added once the Postman narrative was complete, ‘I’ve already told my journalist mate. Is that okay with you?’
‘Why him?’ Punter asked. ‘He doesn’t do this kind of stuff, does he?’
‘I just wanted to give him the story first. And I thought it was safer with him, if you know what I mean.’
‘Yeah, I do. And that’s fine. Thanks for thinking of that,’ Punter replied. ‘But it doesn’t matter anyway because from what you’ve told me it’ll be all over the media before the hour’s out. The cops will leak it if no one else does.’
‘I haven’t checked online, but I reckon it’ll go up any minute,’ Driver said. ‘I’ll check when we finish.’
‘I won’t say anything, by the way. Even if they ask me – even when they ask me – I’m not going to say a word.’
‘I didn’t mention you. Why will they call?’
‘They’ll know. Someone’ll know.’
Clearly, Punter underestimated my talent for lending a veneer of sordid mediocrity to the whole event.
Driver took a sip of his espresso which had been silently placed before him as he spoke. He signalled his approval to the barista, who’d come out from behind the counter to deliver the coffee personally, since Driver was the only customer. He kissed the tips of three fingers before opening his palm like the petals of a flower, as if to say bellissimo. Truthfully, he was thinking, it was okay, but not that good.
‘But I’ve got a question for you,’ Punter said. ‘Why were you driving anyway? I thought you gave up on Cup day?’
Driver laughed. ‘That’s exactly what Minnie said.’
‘Well, she’s got a good point.’
‘I was just trying to do a final few days. Don’t try to read anything into it, Punter, because there isn’t any hidden meaning.’
‘Don’t read anything into it? Says you!’
‘I haven’t changed my mind, Punter. I’m still giving up. In fact, with my car all banged out of shape, I’ve given up. I’m done.’
‘Ah-ha,’ Punter replied, the scepticism coating his words like honey.
Driver knew he was being hypocritical asking Punter not to read anything into it, but that didn’t stop him taking offence, or at least feigning it. ‘Hey,’ he complained, ‘I liked it better when you were my mate and you supported me.’ Driver was remembering Punter’s hoo-fucken-ray comment at the races.
‘I am supporting you.’
‘Yeah, fair enough,’ Driver replied. He waved his hand dismissively, for his own benefit since Punter clearly couldn’t see it. Because he was determined not to be angry. In the wake of his morning’s adventures he was feeling a faint sense of lightness and release. A sense of the potential for resolution, somehow. As if fate was reinforcing that now was the right time to stop.
‘I put the licence up for sale yesterday. I don’t expect anyone will buy it, with the rumours about the massive drop in value your taxi industry enquiry buddy is recommending. But it’s up for sale anyway.’
‘Good,’ Punter replied. ‘And I’m not even going to comment about your dig about the enquiry.’
‘That’s big of you,’ Driver snorted. ‘I could always keep it and get someone else to drive for me. That would at least give me an income.’
‘Don’t do that,’ Punter said. ‘You’re just giving yourself a crutch, a way back to driving if you get nervous about the change.’
‘Why are you being so cynical this morning?’
‘I’m not being cynical Driver. You need a clean break.’
Driver knew his friend was right. Even if financially it made more sense to hang onto the licence, he knew the main reason for keeping it was to give him a fall-back.
‘Do you want my advice?’ Punter offered, when Driver’s silence confirmed he’d read his friend’s motives correctly
‘I probably can’t say no, can I?’
‘Do you want my advice?’ Punter repeated, expecting an unconditionally affirmative response.
But Driver didn’t want his advice, because he knew what it was going to be. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘What’ve you got for me?’
‘Go back to law,’ Punter said. ‘Please, for your own sake, go back to law. You were good at it Driver. Very good.’
‘You’re sounding like Minnie again.’
‘Well, there’s a reason for that. She’s right most of the time, isn’t she?’
Driver still hadn’t told Punter about his discovery of Minnie and her friend sharing an intimate moment earlier in the week. He felt guilty hiding it from him when Punter had been so open about his own troubles with Stephanie. But the comparison gave Driver pause to consider something he hadn’t previously contemplated. What if he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion about Minnie? Whereas Punter knew what was going on between Steph and Postman, Driver had only seen Minnie sitting across a table in a café from this other man and, from that, assumed the worst. But maybe he was wrong? Maybe they were only meeting for coffee? For the first time? Maybe there was nothing to it, after all?
He shook his head silently. Maybe her eyes sparkle as she holds hands with all the doctors she works with, when they meet in a café across the other side of the city from the hospital?
‘Have you got an answer for me?’ Punter asked. ‘Why have you gone quiet?’
‘No reason,’ Driver replied. ‘And you’re right about Minnie, too.’ He downed the remainder of his coffee. ‘Do you know what she suggested I do now? She suggested I catch the train home this morning so I get into practice for my future commute.’
Punter laughed. ‘So she wants you to work in the city as well? She doesn’t want you to go back to the old Footscray office?’
‘Apparently not. But I’ve been out a while. It may not be that easy to step straight in again.’
‘Yes it will, Driver. They’ll be opening the door for you,’ Punter replied. ‘I’ll help. That’s something I can help with.’
‘Before we get to that, what you said on Tuesday when I announced I’d quit driving …’ Driver purposefully left his words hanging.
‘What about it?’
‘Well, I thought you were on my side about the taxi. I thought you agreed with me.’
‘I did,’ Punter said. ‘At the time.’
‘At the time?’ When did you stop?’
‘I don’t know, Driver. Years ago.’
‘What?’ Driver was genuinely stunned. ‘Years ago?’
‘Yes, years ago.’
‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ Driver challenged him. ‘If my closest friend can’t tell me that he thinks I’m wasting my time with my life, what does that say about me?’
‘Driver, you don’t know yourself if you have to ask me that.’
Punter’s voice carried no hint of accusation. No hint of frustration or surprise or disappointment. He was being sincere and Driver heard it clearly.
‘What do you mean?’ Driver asked. He picked up his coffee and looked wistfully into the empty cup.
‘I mean you’re so passionate about the things you do that your own advice is the only advice that matters. It’s not important what I think.’
‘I’d listen to you, Punter. You know I would.’
‘What about Minnie? You haven’t listened to her?’
‘Hmmm …’ The sense of lightness and release Driver had felt just a few minutes earlier had been replaced by a feeling he’d just dodged a bullet. If he’d been so alarmingly wrong about his career choices those last few years, maybe he was lucky Minnie had stayed with him at all?
‘So don’t be stupid Driver, take my help. Don’t even think of not taking my help. I’ll make some phone calls.’
‘When you’re safely re-elected.’
‘Alright, that’d be great, Punter. Thank you.’
‘It’s turned out alright, hasn’t it?’ Punter suggested.
‘For you, do you mean?’
‘And you. What have you got to be miserable about? Did Postman add another whack to your head?’
‘No.’ Driver didn’t want to say any more. He didn’t want to explain to Punter why he felt so flat.
‘Well nothing. You’re right. Everything’s turned out fine. Or it will have once I know the baby and Minnie are healthy and safe.’
But Punter knew his friend too well.
‘Driver, is there something else you’re not telling me?’
‘No, no,’ Driver replied, trying to sound untroubled. ‘Not a thing. I’m just going to be relieved when the baby is delivered safely and both she and Minnie are happy and healthy. You can understand that, can’t you?’
‘Yeah, that’s fair enough,’ Punter conceded. ‘Give my best to Minnie. Wish her luck. Give her a kiss from me.’
‘I will, Punter. I will.’ Driver said. ‘And thanks, okay?’
‘It’s important Driver. I love you and you need my help.’
‘That’s true. And I love you too.’
After they hung up, Driver sat at the small table on Degraves Street and watched suited workers swarm out of the underpass from Flinders Street Railway Station. He signalled to the barista for another coffee. It was not yet 7:30am and these men and women in their suits and business wear were almost running to get to their desks. A scant few stopped to pick up a take away. But the rest, the overwhelming majority, were in too much of a hurry to get to work and clock up some more billable hours. Just as they’d done the day before and just as they’d do the next day. The next week. The next year. Did Driver want that? Was that right for him? Did he have a choice?
He stood up from the table, walked out a couple of steps into the suited throng and just stood there looking back at his small table. People brushed by him, frowns having appeared on their brows that this man, a taxi driver by the look of him, had stepped out and planted himself directly in their path. He was like a jagged rock disrupting the incoming tide, causing them to ripple and break their progress to shore.
The barista placed Driver’s fresh espresso on the table and pulled out his chair. Driver smiled at him. It was more personal service than he thought he deserved and the coffee was better than he wanted to admit. He threaded his way back through the current and sat down again. He quietly sipped his coffee as he flicked out his phone and opened the newspaper’s mobile app to search for the online version of my story about him and Postman.
This is episode 28 of Fare Game. After this, there’s only two more. Two! Earlier posts can be found by clicking on the Archives or Categories links to the right of the page.
© Mick McCoy, 2013