Something About Mary

A short story

There was only one way I could hope to get through. I hailed a taxi. It looked like one of those old-style London cabs but dark blue. Ancient more like, and with rust creeping up from its base; hardly looked road-worthy. But still, the word taxi displayed boldly. No time to wait for another, had to get there when they were due to meet. There were two of them inside: a middle-aged man driving and a young woman adjacent, which was why I was surprised it stopped. Started to step away to hail another when the driver, got out. Opened the door, regarded me with a scrutiny I though unnecessary. Maybe it was the rucksack I’d offloaded from my shoulder. It was not unusually bulky but heavy, which may have roused suspicion. I got in and said, ‘I wasn’t sure you were taking fares.’ ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘Never turn down a potential fare. So where to?’ ‘The city. I’m in a hurry.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah. Important meeting.’ The girl looked at her uncle. ‘Let me take this one.’ ‘You sure?’ was all he said. ‘I’m sure,’ was all she answered. She got out and walked round to the driver’s seat while her uncle got in the passenger’s. The girl was dressed modestly, in as much as she wore a headscarf and a loose smock-like dress down to her ankles, typical of the local women. It was better not draw attention in this district, but driving a taxi was bound to attract some lingering stares. In the city no one really cared. By the same token I knew it best to dress in western fashion as they do in the city.

She engaged the ignition. The car lurched off with a squeal of tyres. And she drove fast, seriously fast. I was holding on to the side bar. ‘This is my niece, by the way.’ he said, seemingly unruffled by the way the car was weaving through the chaotic traffic. ‘I’ve been showing her the ropes; teaching her how to handle this beast – responsibly. Though, as you can see, she may look like an angel but she drives like a demon.’ He chuckled. ‘Good for you I guess, wanting to get to your … meeting. But I’ve been trying to teach that out of her. Always trying to live life in the fast lane, aren’t you Mary?’ She didn’t respond. Mary. Must be a Christian, despite her skin being nearly as dark as mine. The man continued, ‘Her parents are worried that if she doesn’t find a good man soon she’ll end up doing something silly.’ The girl turned her head sharply, momentarily. ‘Silly?’ She almost spat the word out. ‘Well, what woman becomes a cab driver in this country?’ ‘This woman.’ ‘But there are all kinds of predatory men out there. Men without morals. What if you pick one of those up – I mean a passenger.’ Yes, I thought. There are certainly plenty of men without morals, most of them in the city. ‘I can look after myself, thanks.’ ‘Oh yeah, the self defence lessons. Sure, you’ll be fine then,’ his voice with more than a hint of sarcasm. They drove on in silence for a while, until the man said, ‘So. You a businessman then? Going to make an important deal?’ ‘Something like that.’ ‘Look, it’s not my business. But you don’t really look the part.’ ‘Is that so,’ I said. I had on a light blue shirt, my smartest, with black jeans and matching polished shoes – borrowed. ‘I’m just saying – there might be a problem at the checkpoint.’ ‘Yeah,’ the girl added. ‘If they see anyone suspicious-looking

they’ll want to search the car. Or at least they will take a photo of your face with one of their smart cameras, match it with any on file.’ ‘I’ll risk it,’ I said. But I then thought of that net forum meeting where we all discussed it, where they elected me as the youngest – the one without responsibilities. What if there had been a spy in our midst, someone who could use my member’s data and cross-reference it with a photo? The false security of anonymity. ‘Wouldn’t advise it,’ the man said. ‘I’ve got my reputation to think of. Don’t want to be seen with a suspected---’ He then coughed awkwardly. Now it seemed like cards on the table time. ‘You will drive me there,’ I told him. ‘You really don’t want to refuse.’ ‘Sounds like a threat to me. Or is it my niece you are threatening?’ ‘I don’t care who is driving.’ The man looked to his niece. ‘Mary. Stop the car.’ And she did, screeching it to a halt. So I didn’t hesitate in getting out the gun. ‘Didn’t want to have to do this,’ I said. ‘I will not be a part of what ever it is you are planning.’ He exited the cab. ‘Mary. Get out.’ ‘No,’ I demanded. ‘You will drive to the city. Don’t make me use this.’ ‘People like you are nothing but cowards,’ the man said, his voice slightly muffled from speaking through the front door. ‘You want it all over quickly. You start using that, how far do you think you’ll get? Or should I say, how long do think – in jail?’ ‘I will not be thwarted from my mission,’ I insisted. ‘Besides, if my number’s up I’ll use the device. They’re all employees of a stooge government.’ The girl turned round to face me. ‘Let my uncle go and I’ll take you through.’ Her uncle gave out a loud despairing sigh. ‘You crazy girl. You’d think I’d let you go alone with that---’ He broke off and shook his

head. ‘Either me or it would be someone else,’ Mary said. ‘Then let it be someone else,’ the man said. I looked at my watch. ‘I really don’t have time for this.’ ‘I’ll drive you there,’ the girl said. The man exhaled loudly, then he just walked off. I suspected what he might do, so I told him, ‘Any police come after me and I take Mary hostage. Is that clear?’ ‘Yes. You’ve made yourself clear.’ I let him walk away but I wasn’t convinced. ‘Listen,’ the girl said. ‘I have an idea.’ She got out, walked round to his end. When she opened the far side door I instinctively held up my gun. ‘Please,’ she said firmly, ‘There’s really no need for that. Now take off your jeans.’ ‘Excuse me!’ I said, only partly shocked, as I’d already suspected this young woman might be a bit of a floozy. However, I refused to be derailed by the promise of sex despite my body already urging me otherwise. I understand temptation, of course, and how it leads to corruption of the spirit. ‘We swap clothes,’ she said. ‘You dress as a woman, keep your head down.’ She didn’t even wait for a response, removing her headscarf to reveal long raven hair. And then turned her back to me and said, ‘Unzip me--’ in rather a too come hither voice. I was finding it difficult to analyse the merits of her suggestion; I just found myself going along with it, doing as she instructed. She hiked her dress over her head while crouching down under the roof of the cab, revealing considerably less than modest underwear. Floozy indeed, I thought. A body designed to corrupt young men such as myself (although – where I come from – it is rumoured that the most modestly dressed young women on the outside prefer to wear the most outrageously provocative underwear). I tried not think about it, her tender

nakedness beneath those tiny slips of cloth. Now I had to look away. I thought I heard her suppress a laugh at that moment. As she pulled my jeans over her hips. I pulled her dress over my head, feeling like a manipulated fool. Still, the logic in her suggestion was becoming increasingly apparent. She even advised me to ditch the gun, as they’d be scanning for that. When we reached the checkpoint I bowed my head, looked away, demurely, hoping the headscarf would show me to be modest and not want to be seen. The guard seemed to be taking his time, asking for her driving licence. That gave me a moment of panic, as she seem to hesitate, maybe she was considering revealing the true nature of her passenger. But no, after he asked some seemingly irrelevant questions about her job, we were allowed through. As she drove on I attached the device around my waist. I told her to drop me off on the outskirts of town. When she stopped she asked, ‘Don’t you want your clothes back?’ I’d been so caught up in my planning I’d forgotten I was still dressed as a woman. Again I found myself looking at her body, no longer aware of how inappropriate my gaze must have been. As I was about to get out she stopped me, holding my shoulders in a grip so firm it stunned me totally still. Her brown eyes wide and intense. ‘I think deep down you are a good man. I can feel it, feel that there is humanity in you. So why do it? Why deprive all those innocent people of life, and their children---?’ ‘Their children,’ I told her, ‘will grow up learning nothing but lies, some utopian myth hiding the reality of what really happened.’ ‘What about you?’ she said. ‘Missing out on so many wonderful things in life, all for some ideology that will only become more isolated because of what people association with it.’ ‘Please let me go now,’ I said, not sounding like someone who easily had the strength to push her out the way ... unless there was something in those self-defence lessons.

She relented. I paid her the fare plus a generous tip, figuring I wouldn’t have much use for money after today. But as I walked out she said, ‘I could warn them, you know. They’d arrest you. Then you’d languish in a cell for the rest of your life.’ ‘And you would do that?’ I asked her. ‘Know that I’d be in hell-onearth.’ ‘To save those people. Of course.’ ‘But they’d never get near me – the police, or anyone with a weapon. I’d do it before they had the chance. You know I could.’ ‘Don’t throw it all away,’ were the last words I heard her say – as I walked away. Fortunately there was hardly an security in the bookstore, one of the few still remaining. The waist-pack was well hidden under my shirt but a cursory frisk would reveal it. If I was correct the reading and book signing would take place within the next half hour. The author was known in our community, hated for his decadent opinions and the way he seemed clothe them in words designed to appeal to our community. We would not be taken in by such spuriousness we decided. The old man was also a fool for thinking he could reach out; that by eschewing protection from people like me it would in itself be a statement of conciliation. So I walked into the store, bought a copy of his sociological treatise, and stood in line. One by one his eager fans, sycophantically gushed of their appreciation, to then receive his perfunctory signature. Then it was my turn. I plonked the book down before him. He looked at me curiously; perhaps it was my lack of words – a number of things no doubt that gave me away, not least that my hands began to shake. So now the time to act, to pull that cord. But something stopped me at that crucial moment. Was it the way he seemed to know I was not

another fan? In the strange silence that seemed to stretch as if time itself stood still I moved my hand over the cord. But then I saw her, as if I was back in that cab. Crazy-driving, provocative, beautiful Mary; her intense beseeching stare. And then: ‘Is everything okay?’ the old man asked. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I replied, and took my signed copy of his book and walked off. The moment had passed. I left the bookstore and hurried away into the crowds. Would Mary really inform the authorities? There didn’t seem to be anyone tracking me. I looked around carefully but in the most casual way possible before turning into an alley where there were large plastic bins. Removed the device and pulled out the wires, rendering it useless, then placed it in a shop carrier bag before finally dumping it in the bin. So that was it. Over. I wandered around for nearly an hour before taking a bus to the border. I even got through the checkpoint with hardly a suspicious glance. Mary had not informed the authorities. Did she know I would never go through with it? Or was it something she had done to me? For years I have thought about Mary, but also what might have been had I never met her: horrific deaths no doubt, whether I’d even reached the target rather than at the threat of capture. I even tried to track her down through known registered taxi drivers. No one had heard of her. Nor have I ever seen another vehicle like that rusty old cab. Oh, and I did read the book. Only now do I accept there may have been some merit to it, something that might actually get through to the hard core ... if they took the time to read it, or if someone read it to them. Just maybe.