I stand out on the street in the 6am quiet. My lower back rests on the pointed wall that boarders my tiny, graveled garden. Through the pastel mist of morning light I watch the sheep in their field opposite making small movements. Some shake their black heads as though they’re waking themselves up, some stretch their necks to reach a few tantalizing blades of grass, one ripples the muscles along its back in response to an annoying itch.
Now I turn to look down the road. It climbs, steep and grey, towards town. Down dips, up hills, and juts left and right around Z bends which are banked on either side with stone walls, fencing off more fields. To my right, immediately next door to my house, is the graveyard where the quietest neighbours I’ve ever had reside. That’s all that’s here; the sheep, the graveyard and me. The sheep, the graveyard and me.
Far off I hear a low rumble. A tractor, maybe. But as the sound builds I realise it’s heading for me. Moments later a grey taxi skirts the hill, up past the graveyard and slows to a stop at my feet. The door opens with a click and with it I invent a million possibilities of who I might be today.
You see, for all the bends and dips and hills that make up the long road to town, there isn’t one single stretch of pavement. “Who’d need such a thing?” a man from the council with glasses and a love of egg sandwiches might have asked. And who indeed? The sheep don’t need a pavement. The dead certainly do not need a pavement. “Surely, anyone in their right mind who decided to live smack bang in the centre of nowhere would be able to drive?” The man from the council, who’s job it is to decide where pavements go, might ask again. And he’d be right. Except in this case he is wrong.
So here I am, every morning, waiting with the sheep and the dead for my taxi. Every morning the taxi arrives and the drivers ask me a variation of these three questions:
Where are you going?
What are you doing there?
Why did you choose to live in the wilderness when you cannot drive?
At first I told the truth. I’m not naturally dishonest. But the truth began to embarrass me. My job felt boring, my inability to drive made me groan inwardly each time a driver commented on it, my life felt small.
So I began to embellish.
“I actually have my driving test in two weeks,” I blurted defensively once. The cabby wished me luck, “I won’t be seeing you again then!” He called cheerfully as I paid and got out. Then it became, “the car’s in the garage.” I liked that one, taxi drivers were always interested in that and I made up all sorts of mechanical ailments to satisfy their need for more information. “My boyfriend works away and needs the car,” became another favourite and made me feel important as it tripped effortlessly off my tongue.
I never manufactured these tales, I didn’t think about how they would make me come across. I wasn’t trying to create a persona. They truly just came out, ready formed, with lives and narratives of their own. They were instant reactions, like screaming “ow,” when you bang your elbow.
“Ow, that question makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“Ow, I can’t drive. Still.”
“Ow, no I don’t have a proper job.”
“Ow, you’re inadvertently making me question my own self worth.”
Once, I clambered out of a taxi after an extremely detailed account of a weekend in Kendal that had never occurred. I claimed I drove there (which I can’t do) and I went with my husband (who does not exist – though I do have a long term boyfriend and at the time felt narratively that ‘husband’ suited the lie better). At the end of this encounter I actually wondered if I was, in fact, a psychopath.
“Why do I always lie to taxi drivers?” I asked myself. Baffled. Easily as baffled as you are reading this.
But it was only taxi drivers, I assured myself. It wasn’t as though I was lying to people who actually knew me. I wasn’t living a lie, not outside of a car, anyway.
I was avoiding small talk, something that cut my introverted soul like a rusty knife. A fifteen minute taxi ride is not long enough to do your life justice, and it’s also not the arena to attempt it. I don’t have time to explain to my driver why I have such a shitty job at the moment, or why I live deep in the countryside away from people – and nor does he want me to! For me, giving the short version, the version without explanation feels like laying myself out to judgement. Truth told, I know the cabby does not care about my shitty job, my isolated life, my fundamental inability to drive. They’re just trying to make their job less awkward, they’re trying to put me at ease.
But I’m not at ease with a truthful account of my current life spouted from the back seat of a taxi every morning, to be judged or ignored. it’s like having a long hard look at my naked reflection every morning and the lighting is bad and I haven’t shaved in forever. Whether the cabby cares or not, I do.
So I’m going to continue to lie to taxi drivers and I refuse to feel guilty about it.