By Sharon Brady-Smith © 2017
The old town hall clock was chiming 3am, the start of the witching hour, when the rain which had threatened all evening started to fall in torrents. Each huge droplet bounced a full foot from the cobbles, causing a second-tier cascade of lesser force at ground level. I shivered in the frigid wind and huddled deeper into my coat beneath the insufficient shelter of my umbrella.
It was late, or early, depending on how you viewed it. But I was done for the night. There were no more punters to be ‘had’ after 3am during the week. I hoped I’d made enough to satisfy him, but it was time to go home, shower and sleep before he came for his cut.
I stepped continually from side-to-side. Half of the movement to keep warm and the other to alleviate the burning in the balls of my feet. I still wasn’t use to wearing heels all night.
I began to wonder yet again whether I should just walk and save the money, when the cab pulled up to the curb. Mostly, the taxi rank is serviced by City Cab, because that is the biggest firm around here. There are other firms though and even a few independent drivers so I didn’t pay much attention to the cab other than to note it was grey rather than black, but it could have been neon pink with yellow stripes and I wouldn’t have cared.
“Bonchurch Avenue please.” I said as I climbed in, closing my umbrella and scooting along the back seat, until I was behind the driver. “The corner near the Empire “
The driver didn’t acknowledge my request, but the cab pulled smoothly away as I settled in my seat and fastened my safety belt. The door lock mechanism clicked. It seemed louder than usual, perhaps because the engine and tyre noise were less. I looked up to check the meter was at zero, and screamed. There was nobody in the driver’s seat.
Despite having heard the door lock and the fact that the taxi was moving, I still pulled the handle and was surprised that I couldn’t get out. I banged on the driver’s partition and screamed at the non-existent driver to let me out. The taxi moved faster.
Using the handle of my umbrella, I tried to break the side window. The umbrella handle shattered, but the toughened glass did not. A shard of broken plastic stabbed deep into my palm. I screamed again. Blood welled from the site of the injury as tears welled in the corners of my eyes. Whether the tears were from pain or fear I could not honestly say.
The world sped passed the windows. I had been in the taxi for less than five minutes, collected from the city centre, but already I did not recognise the scenery outside. The sky had cleared and lightened, but the taxi hurtled at dangerous speed through countryside. Fields flashed past on either side, the vehicle never seemed to turn. It seemed to travel to fast to be able to. I looked through the front window. The road ran on endlessly before me, into the dawn. We passed no other vehicles and nothing came in the opposite direction.
Suddenly the road narrowed, hedgerows closed in on either side, forming an arch above and plunging the taxi into a darkness on either side, with the faint dawn in the distance and headlight beams illuminating the immediate road. The vehicle did not slow. The view from the side windows was black. I looked out of the back window, and wished I hadn’t. Behind me wasn’t simply darkness, but the night sky complete with stars.
After we’d been travelling an hour by the reckoning of my watch, I felt my panic and fear lessening. I still trembled with adrenaline, but it is impossible to maintain terror without immediate threat.
I pulled the shard of plastic from my palm and applied a tissue and pressure to stop the bleeding. Another hour passed. The wound had mostly clotted and was bored and tired. It was 5am, I had been awake for almost a whole day.
At least the meter isn’t running. I thought as I succumbed to sleep.
I woke to sunlight in my eyes, the smell of ozone and the sound of sea gulls. I remembered the noise they made from summer holidays with my grandma, before … before she had died, and my life had ended. I had gone to live with my mother and the endless string of ‘uncles’. I lay across the back seat of a car, and for a moment I wondered where I was. Then I remembered the taxi and the ride. The car was still now.
I sat up and looked out of the window. The sky was a perfect blue with just a few cotton wool clouds. The taxi was the only car in the very centre of a small car park. There was a high fence on three sides of the car park but on the final side was a view of the sea. I must have been on a hill as it was below and in the corner of the car park stood a single storey, white stucco building that screamed toilets.
There was a loud click. The door locking mechanism had released. Without waiting for further invitation, I flung open the door, gathered my things and climbed out. As I closed the door to the taxi, the engine started and it drove away, leaving me who knows where.
I walked to the edge of the carpark, crossed the road and stood at the edge of a cliff, looking down on the sea. I’d been to this place before. I knew that if I followed the path it would lead down to a beach and the other direction was the village centre.
“Morning Hazel.” A woman’s voice called. The voice was from my dreams. I turned, and there she stood. My grandma, who was dead these last 10 years. “Welcome home child.”
She opened her arms and I ran to embrace her.