‘How ya doing? My name’s Gerry and I’ll be your driver tonight.’
‘Hi Gerry.’ I smile thinly. Just a few hours away from home, where people aren’t friendly, where talking to strangers is downright odd. I can’t wait; a week here’s been too much. I’m looking forward to an empty flat, solitude.
‘What time’s your flight?’
‘Eight forty five.’
‘International flight, huh. Where’ya from?’
‘Scotland.’ Oh God, I’m so tired. Let him not want to talk. Please.
‘Scotland huh? I’ve got Scotch blood and Irish and Greek too. Look, here’s my name.’
He points to a sign which reads, ‘Your driver is Gerry McManious. Optional gratuities are not included in your fare and are very appreciated.’
‘Where d’ya think that name’s from then?’
‘Maybe it’s Irish,’ I venture.
‘Ya think?’ He sounds disappointed. ‘But I’ve got Scotch and Greek blood too. I think it’s Scotch and Irish and Greek.’
‘Maybe.’ I’m sounding polite yet uninterested.
I’m sitting directly behind him. I look out of the window. I’m his only fare this trip. The other passenger hasn’t turned up. We’re waiting for him and I’m beginning to wonder why I booked such an early pick up if I’m going to end up late at the airport anyhow. ‘We’ll just wait another ten minutes,’ says Gerry. ‘So. Left the husband and fourteen children at home then?’
‘That’s right.’ I fiddle with the ring I always wear on business trips, pick at my nailpolish.
He adjusts the rear view mirror so he can use it to look directly into my eyes. I continue to stare out of the window.
‘Here on business are ya?’
‘Yes. For a convention.’ Damn. Just volunteered too much information.
He picks up on it and he’s away. ‘A convention huh?’
‘Yes.’ Like I’d be staying in this ghastly part of town for any other reason. I close my eyes, aware he’s still watching me.
‘Whaddya do then? For a job?’
‘I’m a journalist.’
‘Great! Whaddya write about then?’
I tell him. It’s clear he doesn’t understand.
‘I used to be in computing,’ he says sadly. ‘But I need to refresh my training. I like driving though. So whaddya think about Obama then?’
So we talk about Obama. I have to open my eyes. He’s driving now and watching the road, not me. He tells me Obama jokes. I’m expecting racism but surprisingly, gratifyingly, there’s none. One or two are quite funny. I’ve heard them before. Suddenly, he says, ‘I’m glad ya want to talk. I can tell when passengers want to talk. If they don’t, I just let them be. I had two Irish women in the van recently and they talked. They were nice. I asked them if they were in the IRA.’
I can’t help myself. ‘God almighty, Gerry. Weren’t they offended?’
‘I don’t know. D’ya think they would be?’
So I explain the history of the Irish situation, what’s happening now. Then, to clarify, I have to explain what the difference between the UK, Britain and England is.
‘Well thanks!’ He harrumphs. ‘Never was much good at history.’
He’s quiet for a few miles. I suspect he’s offended but I don’t much care. I doze, relieved.
Suddenly, he says, ‘Wish I was like Bill Clinton.’ I open my eyes and find that he’s looking at me in the mirror again. Where did that come from?
‘Can’t get a date, you see,’ he adds.
‘Really.’ Well that’s great, now he’s coming on to me. He’s still staring and I feel uncomfortable. Not scared, just uncomfortable. I shut my eyes again and try to block him out but he’s not to be stopped now. I hear about his marriage which ended 18 years ago and how he hasn’t had a lady friend since and how lonely he is.
‘Look at me,’ he says. ‘What’s so wrong with me?’
So I do look at him, for the first time. Short grey hair, either dressed or greasy, and a fat neck. Shortsleeved white shirt, fat, hairless arms. He says he’s forty but looks ten years older.
Urgh, go to the gym, I think. ‘You look fine,’ I say, getting involved, despite myself. ‘Maybe it’s the way you go about it. How do you meet women?’
Of course. This is becoming quite diverting. ‘What does your ad say?’
‘Good man wants to meet Christian woman for sincere relationship. Don’t waste my time if your intentions aren’t genuine.’ He reels it off without faltering. ‘It’s good isn’t it? I copied it from another guy’s ad.’
I hesitate and then think, well what the hell. ‘It’s not awfully specific, is it? It doesn’t really tell me anything about you or your interests. What sort of interests do you have?’
‘The normal stuff,’ he says dismissively. ‘It gets answers.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘Well like the other night. I met this woman who answered my ad. We had a great time. Then she didn’t get back to me.’
‘Did she say she would?’
‘She didn’t say she wouldn’t.’
I know what that feels like, I think, and I start to feel quite sorry for him.
‘Did you call her?’
‘Yes I certainly did,’ he sounds aggrieved. ‘And she didn’t answer any of my calls.’
Any of his calls? ‘How many times did you call her?’
‘Six, seven, I don’t know.’
‘You know I think if she didn’t call back first or second time, she probably wasn’t going to.’
‘Well then she should have said when she saw me.’
‘Maybe she was scared of rejecting you. People don’t like rejecting people,’ I suggest. Maybe she was just scared of you, something inside me adds. ‘Maybe she met someone else in between times. You can’t tell.’
‘Can’t see how,’ he grumbles. ‘I called her soon as I got back.’
‘How long did you give her to get back to you?’
‘Hour or so.’
‘Then you called her again?’
Poor Gerry, I think. You don’t know how this works.
‘Can I make a suggestion?’ I say, sympathy growing. ‘Only call twice and leave a couple of days between calls. Then drop it. Otherwise you appear desperate and frankly that’s not attractive.’
‘Well, she should have said.’
Changing the subject seems wise. ‘Perhaps you could meet someone through your church,’ I venture.
‘Ya know, maybe you’re right,’ he says. ‘I’ll try what you suggest.’ He’s looking at me again. ‘Actually, I’d most like to date women I drive,’ he says.
I feel myself beginning to sweat against the plastic seat. It can’t be long to the airport now. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve done the right thing for womanhood, helping this man to appear normal.
He’s still looking. He hasn’t smiled once, the whole drive. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ I say gently. ‘Let’s take me as an example,’ I say, louder. ‘I would feel very uncomfortable if someone who was driving me started to hit on me. It would be completely inappropriate in such a work setting.’
‘I don’t hit on people,’ he says stiffly. ‘I’d just like to ask them for a date.’
I actually find myself apologising. And then the airport appears. The traffic thickens and Gerry turns his attention to the road.
My trousers are saturated with sweat and I feel them sticking to me as I get out at the terminal. He stands there.
‘Well good luck,’ I say, with sympathy and relief. ‘I know you’ll find someone.’ And I shake his hand, meaning it right at that moment. Then he looks at me. Up and down, slowly, lasciviously, intently, lingering below the waist. I have this image of him licking me, head to toe, staring all the time. I feel quite sick.
‘It’s just that all the good ones are married, passing through and from Scotland,’ he says, still staring. I want to grab my suitcase, run to his van hire desk and complain. I feel like wiping my hand. But I still feel sorry for him. So instead I just hand him his tip, over 20%, pick up my suitcase and walk to check-in. When I get to the end of the queue, I turn round. He’s still there, counting his tip.