The number plate on the house was faded, but the bins had been spray-painted with a garish red that proudly proclaimed the house to be number 49. The bins were themselves overflowing; although the green label warned they were for recycled material only, there was the unmistakable waft of rotting food in the air.
He had arrived a few minutes early, so he turned off his lights but left the radio on. The name on the side of the car said Paddy’s Cabs, but he wasn’t named Paddy. He didn’t know who the original man was, only that every single patron greeted him as Paddy, and so he had stopped correcting them and learned to endure.
The phone call had come in just ten minutes earlier. He had been in the area, dropping off an old dear and her shopping. He had been glad of the excuse, glad to pick up the ringing phone and to end the painful conversation with the old woman, who had been only delighted to tell him about her grandchildren, pension and feet.
The voice had been female, twisted with an accent that he could not place. Somewhere green with sheep galore, he guessed.
‘Paddy’s cabs, what can I do you for?’
‘A lift. Yeah. I need to…
‘Where’re you off to?’
‘Out. Just… out. She’s… not here to bring me. And I always go out on a Thursday. I think…
‘Here listen, d’you want a taxi or not?’
‘Number 49, Old Grantham Road. Forty-nine, four-nine. The house with the red door. There’s a dog, a dog outside. He’ll bark, but he’s a good boy, really. And-
‘Grand. I’ll be there in five.’
Paddy watched a man round a corner at the top of the road. He had two sticks and a bag slung between them, heavy enough to throw off his balance but not large enough to pull him towards the ground. He wore a grey peaked cap like the farmers in the postcards, but his face was Dublin through and through. The driver briefly wondered what exactly made a Dublin face, but he decided it was something around the chin; a firmer set of the teeth.
It had begun to rain. Not heavily, but as if the sky hadn’t fully decided to commit to the action, and was loosing drops in erratic bursts. A couple of kids ran screaming up the street, hands over heads and bared bellies flashing pale, squealing at each other to run faster, to get out of the rain.
Paddy scratched at his head, a shower of flakes dusting his shoulders. He rubbed his head against the back of the seat, trying to ease the itching. The dandruff was a trial. He would try the new tea tree oil stuff tonight. Usually, he wore a hat to hide the scaly, balding patches on his head, but the warmth of the day had made the sweat cling to his scalp and the wool had made the prickling unbearable. Breda had tried her various oils and creams on him, but the itch never quite went away.
He reached across and wiped the mist from the passenger side window. The steps up to 49 were cracked, and he took a professional eye to them. His own had been swallowed by a series of ramps. Breda had recently taken to her chair, and he would have had no peace until all the steps in the house had been converted into softly sloping ramps. Motor neuron disease; the thousand day death, as they called it. She couldn’t swallow or speak so well any more, but she could glare like a demon. The ramps were all his own work, because a proper job would have cost a fortune. And a fortune he did not have. He checked his change pouch. One fifty, two tens and another twenty in change. He’d need to stop off somewhere and break that fifty.
Where was this woman? He checked the time - five to the hour - and looked up at the large front window. The veil-like curtains twitched, and he could see a face blinking heavily at him. He raised a hand to wave and the face disappeared. Now she’d be on her way.
Three buses in a row rolled by. None for an hour, then three at once, that was always the way. He usually got some good takings at bus stops along the major routes; frantic business men and women hailing him and telling him to step on it, like they were in some bloody movie, and the world would end if they got to the office ten minutes late. Well, maybe it would end. He always got them there on time, so he wouldn’t know. A thousand days. What were they on now? Three hundred? Four?
He drummed his fingers on the wheel and turned the radio on for the news. Some eejit was on, dancing around apologising for the pay cuts but never quite getting there. A stabbing in Finglas. A crash in Mayo. Unrest in the Middle East; one of those dusty brown countries from the telly.
He tried the number the call had come off earlier. It rang twice, then disconnected. Someone was up there, alright, and someone knew he was waiting. He’d give them five more minutes, and he’d be fucked if he’d wait any longer. He called home, but there was no answer there either. He wasn’t surprised, Breda rarely answered the phone these days if she could avoid it. She was too embarrassed, she said, scared that her hands or voice would betray her weakness to someone on the other end, and then she would truly be an invalid.
He wondered suddenly if he was alone, if everyone else on the planet had disappeared, Breda, the woman in 49, the children running screaming in the rain. If they had all melted away and left him waiting, indeterminably, for his turn.