It is a glorious Sunday morning in May. Lockdown restrictions had eased and people were happy. I pulled into the driveway of the house where I thought my rider was waiting. I paused a moment and then sent the message “I’ve arrived”. A few moments later I saw at a distance a tall man and a much shorter woman walking in my direction, wearing matching leather bush hats.
The hats looked like this:
They came up to my car and the man opened the back door in order to get in. He rolled down the window and I rolled down the passenger side front window. Hello, they said.
As they were walking towards me I tried to figure it out – the woman seemed really affectionate to the man but it didn’t seem like a last call gone wildly awry. At about 20 feet she hugged him from the side – around his waist. He extricated himself as he got closer to the car, but she kept throwing her arms around his waist. ‘Is it his mum?’ I wondered to myself. He gave his hat back to the woman.
After he got in the back seat, the woman was standing outside the car. All the windows were open, and she finally leaned down and into the car. Her eyes met mine and I said “hello” “YOU” she said “I KNOW you”. “Really?” I said “I’m sorry, I can’t remember”
“I know, you were on TV, that’s it” She said.
“Yep” I replied.
“You are in trouble with the law!” she said.
“Nope” I said “Just gave an opinion on something”
“But you have a lot of money” she countered.
“Nope” I laughed. “No way, I drive for Uber”
She looked at my rider and said “Watch out for this one – she is definitely someone to watch out for.”
I looked closely at her, she had very puffy cheeks and her face was lined. It looked like some of her teeth were loose. She had golden brown hair and brown eyes, and her skin looked like she had spent a lot of time outdoors. I wondered if she was living rough. She wore the spidery map of her difficult life on her face. There was a strong smell of beer around the car, even with the windows open. She kept telling me in so many ways, how much of a good guy my rider is. I’m look for a good time to exit when the rider in the back pipes up nicely “Mary we have to go – she’s busy and has people waiting for her”
We pull away slowly as Mary continued waving and and saying goodbye.
It’s Sunday morning, the morning after a big night.
I look in the rear-view, and say “Big night last night?”
He was blond, blue-eyed, bearded – about thirty maybe – in short, a Pakeha jeebus.
“Still going” he said
“We went to a party and the police came because they were certain that we would be flouting the level two rules – but we were all seated, no dancing and properly socially distanced. They tried to find something wrong, but couldn’t”
“Huh” I said, “It’s like they were convinced that you would be breaking the law somehow”. I smiled “Did you wiggle in your chairs instead of dancing?”
He laughed and said “Yeah, something like that”
He mentioned his work – he was self-employed and had a very professional job. We chitchatted for a few minutes and then we passed a house. He said “That’s where I stayed last night – at my friend’s house. Mary’s partner Joe was in the back shed huffing petrol around 6 am and I went out to talk with him. He invited me over to his house to meet his partner, so I went.”
“You what?” I said, swivelling my neck to peer into the back seat. “What?” I never turn my head – this is a big deal – I usually only ever make eye contact through the rear-view mirror. We were stopped at a light. I made eye contact with him, and something in my chest contracted. I felt a narrowing of my focus, as if I were looking down a long tube at one single thing that I had never seen before. There was nothing more important in the world than hearing his story. I shut off new trips in the app in case it ran long.
“I found Joe out in the back, and he started to tell me of his shocking childhood. The abuse, physical and sexual, starting on drugs at six years old – huffing and then other stuff. He insisted that we go over to meet his partner Mary and to drink some beers. Mary told some of her abuse history as well.” he said. “We hung out all morning drinking and telling stories.”
The whole time he is telling this story he is maintaining eye contact, with these really innocent blue eyes. Speaking as though this is normal behaviour. As if anyone would take the time to listen. To witness. Or care.
He said “No one had ever really asked to hear their stories before. They were almost crying.”
We were nearly to his drop off. My chest still hurt. I said “Thank you” He said “Thank you”
I pulled around the corner, stopped the car and let my pent-up tears out. No wonder Mary was hugging him so hard.
I know, I know, I know – it was MDMA. I know.
But it’s Sunday morning and I’ve heard the sermon.
*Pakeha is a white, European, New Zealander