THE TAXI DRIVER
By J. Henry Foster
I happen to be a taxi driver and naturally I pick up some unusual and interesting clients. Anyway, I'd had a good day, taken a few bob, so I called the control and told them to clock me off. With the perks of the job I can use the taxi when I'm not working, so instead of going back to the yard, I made my way home.
My journey on this particular night was through the old Blackwall tunnel, which goes under the river Thames. It was raining cats and dogs and as I passed the tunnel entrance, I notice two things, the time was five minutes to midnight and I was the only car in the tunnel. Now I'm not the type of bloke that gets claustrophobic, but I did feel sort of clammy. It was strange being in that long glistening tile covered pipe and I was anxious to get through as quickly as possible, especially away from those glaring yellowish fluorescent roof lights that made everything so eerie.
Suddenly, as I rounded that bend deep down in the bottom I had the surprise of my life because I saw someone hitch hiking, and that's something that you never see in the tunnel, mainly because its prohibited. However, as soon as I got closer I could see that it was a young man; he was wearing a brown leather bomber jacket, was about seventeen years old and had rusty coloured trousers, which were soaked through. Around his neck he wore a West Ham United Football supports scarf and was carrying a red crash helmet, he was limping quite badly. Now it is rarely that I stop for non-paying guests but it was obvious that this lad was in trouble, so I pulled up.
He sat next to me in the front seat and we started chatting. He told me that he had developed a problem with his motorbike just after leaving his girl friends house and asked if it was possible that I could help him to get home, which was on the other side of the city. I told him that I was really not for hire and that I had clocked off, however I knew the area well where he lived and as it wasn't all that far away from my place so I said "well make it a couple of pounds for the petrol". He was a chatty sort of guy and kept talking about his mother being worried and that his parents were getting on and were not on the telephone.
Eventually we arrived at his house that was the last one in a cul-de-sac, one of those houses with steep steps up to the front door built in the mid nineties I think. Well we stopped, and then he said would I wait a couple of minutes whilst he went inside to get his money. Well, he got out of the cab, ran across the pavement, up the stairs to the front door, took the keys from his pocket then entered and closed the door. I noticed the fanlight over the top of the door light up. I switched off my engine, as I did not want to awaken the neighbours because by now it was about a quarter to one on the morning.
Well I waited and waited, then I thought `Oh well let it go, its only a couple of quid' but then I saw the light above the door go out, that changed my mind. What a liberty I thought, the little sods gone up to bed and its me that has been taken for a ride. Well I went up the steps and gave just a little knock, thinking that at least I can put a word in his ear about manners, but nothing happened. Of course I was now getting a bit put out, so I knocked real hard.
Suddenly the light went on again and I heard a voice on the other side of the door say, "Who is it?"
This was a man's voice, so I said "It's the taxi driver-I'm still waiting for that boy to pay". Eventually he opened the door and there stood an elderly man in a dressing gown. I was just in the middle of explaining when a lady came down the stairs; she was also in a dressing gown and wanted to know what it was all about.
"There's no boy that lives here", said the lady. Well, I knew damn well that I was in no mood to be conned so I started to tell the whole story. When I got to the description of the boy and how I knew that he was definitely in the house and how he had put the hall light on they asked me to come in. Once more I told them what the boy looked like and how soft-spoken he was.
The old couple looked as though they were shocked and the old man said, "Would you come along with me, please". We went along a narrow hallway to a door at the far end; he opened the door and put the light on. It was a small bedroom and obviously a boy's because it was covered with posters and boyish things. "This is my boys bedroom", said the old man. "Can you see him here?"
I looked around the room and suddenly my eye caught the sight of a photograph on the side table, it lay in the centre of various football trophies, I looked closely. "That's him!" - that's the boy!" I said." I told you I brought him here".
The ashen-faced gentleman touched my arm. "My son is dead", he said with tears welling in his eyes "he was killed on his motorcycle at midnight, three years ago today, on his way home through Blackwall tunnel.