I don’t often let my hair down but on that particular night I must confess to having a few drinks too many. My life had been going off in a number of directions all at once, but somehow I had held myself together in the middle of it all for nearly a year without so much as a single blowout. So I figured I was owed one. This is not, I warn you, a very good or mature line of argument. It is, in fact, an extremely bad line of argument. It is a line of argument that can lead you to the hospital bed.
Anyway, several beers later and separated from the others because of my rather persistent, and ultimately doomed, attempts to win over an achingly attractive advertising executive staying over in Worcester for a conference for one night only (“I’ll catch you up,” I promised to my friends, lying to them, myself and, I sincerely hoped at the time, the advertising executive) I contemplated my options. The advertising executive, you see, had vanished while I was briefly in the toilet. I suppose she was professionally trained to recognize shallow spin when she heard it.
So, alone and a little drunk, I considered how best to get home. I could walk in the rain. Or I could take a cab. I’d been that very day on a speed awareness course (just one other manifestation of my rapidly fragmenting life) and during the training event the trainer had happened to describe drunk pedestrians as one of the highest risk groups. That was me, I decided. And I don’t want to be a high risk. I’ll take a cab. Play it safe. It wasn’t as if my life had been characterised by luck.
My cab driver was, I quickly established, called Amir and he was a ridiculously happy character. How could someone be so happy with their job, I wondered, especially when that job was driving drunk people around who mistakenly thought they were funny.
‘Do you not get bored of us Amir?’
‘Us?’ he shouted over his shoulder.
‘You know, drunk, loud people asking you stupid questions and thinking they’re really funny.’
‘Oh yes. Totally, totally,’ he said, accompanied by a surprisingly high-pitched laugh. ‘I hate you all! Every single one of you!’ And then he laughed again which somehow made his remarks okay.
I leaned back and rubbed my eyes and tried to stop everything around me spinning around quite so aggressively. I should have stopped drinking, I decided, about three hours ago. Or, more accurately, ten years ago. That would have prevented a lot of what my new counselor calls life fragmentation.
We pulled up outside my house and I reached for my wallet to pay him. But I had no cash.
‘Amir, I’m so sorry. I’m really so very sorry. I seem, it seems, to have run out of the money. I’ll just go inside and get some for you.’
I lived alone by that time (have I mentioned that my life was in a state of disrepair?) so it was down to me to locate some cash. I generally had the odd note or a few coins lying around. That’s just the way I was. Chaotic I suppose you could call it. Relaxed was the word I preferred to use. But as luck would have it, I couldn’t find any money in the usual places: not in the kitchen, on the bookshelves, not next to my unmade bed. Never mind, I decided, nearly falling down the stairs, we could just go to a cashpoint and I could get the money and pay him there.
‘Amir, I am so very sorry,’ I said, bending back into the back of his cab. ‘I can’t seem to find any of the money in that house of mine. Sorry about that. Could you maybe possibly take me to a cashpoint?’
Amir laughed again. ‘You must not be sorry, mister drunk man. All the while the meter is clicking away. This makes me extremely happy. Your stupidity is making me lots of money.’
I laughed as well. There was something extremely amusing about his bluntness. Was the truth always this funny?
‘Are you always this blunt?’ I asked him as we pulled away.
‘Only with stupid drunk people,’ he said, and laughed again making me laugh as well. All emotion is infectious I suppose.
At the cashpoint things went from bad to worse. There seemed to be some kind of problem with my card. Was I misremembering my personal identification number? Had my ex-wife cleaned out my account again? Had my new girlfriend found out my even newer girlfriend and gone on a massive spending spree? There were a number of hypotheses to explore. But with very little time available, I summarised them as follows: ‘Fuck,’ I concluded. ‘It’s all fucking fucked.’
Amir could tell I was unhappy when I came back to the cab.
‘Is everything going as you’d hoped?’ he asked me.
‘Not really Amir, no. Everything is not okay. Everything is very much not going as I’d hoped. In summary.’
‘I am sorry to hear that,’ Amir said, smiling broadly.
‘You don’t look that sorry, Amir.’
‘I was lying. My meter it carries on ticking, building happily upon your misery. That is the way of benign capitalism I would say. Listen,’ he said, pointing at the meter. ‘Listen to the sound of me taking your money. Marvellous!’ Again that laugh, that infectious cackle that I couldn’t stop myself catching. I was crying with laughter this time.
‘We could go to my friends I suppose?’ I said. ‘They’ll be back home by now. They won’t mind paying you and I can pay them back later.’
‘Of course,’ Amir said. ‘You are the drunk boss. You tell me where to go in your drunken words. And I will be your obedient and sober cab driver.’
We drove through Worcester, down past the station and across the river to St John’s. It was late by now and there was almost nothing on the roads. I watched a drunk stagger onto the other side of the road. That could have been me, I thought to myself. Close thing. I couldn’t remember the exact address for Paul’s house so I had to direct Amir in the final stages.
‘Turn left here,’ I said. No that wasn’t it. ‘No, up here a bit. Try up that hill…..I think it’s along a bit.’ I’d never actually been to Paul’s house in the dark, never when very drunk, and never sitting in the back, with a cab driver who was willing me to fail. Lack of support from those around you can really have an impact upon your confidence. My anger management counselor told me my self-esteem was at rock bottom partly because of a lack of a supportive ecomap around me.
‘Amir, you’re putting me off,’ I explained. ‘Because you want me to fail. You’re giving me negative energy. And it’s just really putting me off. I can’t find my friend’s house because you’re not being very supportive.’
‘I support you,’ Amir said. ‘I would like you to find some money. Why not? Money is what I live for. I love money.’
‘I love money as well,’ I agreed. He was making me turn all wistful. ‘I really do love money,’ I sighed, closing my eyes in wonder at the thought of it.
‘You can get me some money then?’ Amir said, bringing me back to the task in hand. ‘So you can pay me? It is quite a lot of money now,’ he said, pointing at the meter still ticking away.
It took my eyes a while to focus on the sum on the screen. The fare was now almost what I earned in a week.
‘When did that happen?’ I asked sitting up.
‘You fell asleep,’ Amir pointed out. ‘I did try to wake you. But you are a very determined sleeper. If you could be determined with other things in life – like making money – then maybe you would be a very successful man. As it is, you are only good at sleeping in cabs.’ He laughed his high-pitched laugh yet again. It was starting to grate.
‘I think I might be going off you,’ I said.
‘I have a plan,’ Amir said. ‘My friends. They don’t like drunk people who think they are funny. But they don’t often get the chance to kick their faces in. People complain when you kick their faces in. They make such a fuss. But you? I don’t think you’d care at all. You are already such a mess and you have no friends. Only pretend friends who you can’t find when you need them. You are completely alone in the world. Would you mind if I took you to my friends and we all just kicked your ugly face in?’ He laughed his longest laugh yet. ‘And then we could forget the money you owe me because my friends would pay me instead?’
I felt for my face with both hands. It was no longer much of a face. The real reason the advertising executive had slipped away is that I’d abandoned her to spend nearly half an hour in the toilets examining my own face. To be honest, I’d been distracted by how grotesque I looked in the mirror. I was like a gargoyle. When did this happen? Where had I gone exactly? My eyes were just slits in my face. My chin was melting in rolls into my expanding neck. My hair was evacuating. I was such a mess. And I hated what I saw; I truly hated what I saw. Perhaps a good kicking would sort me out once and for all. I could make a start with the whole making money thing, start from scratch and get myself a new face. Years later, a chat show host would ask me when I decided to turn the corner in my life and I’d tell them about this very night. The night I lost my money. And they would be dazzled. I’d show them my new nose in profile. And then they’d bring Amir on to sit next to me and he’d tell everyone his side of the story. And they would fall in love with his laugh.
‘Take me to your friends,’ I said to Amir. ‘Let the party begin.’