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By Rachel M.J

By Rachel M.JPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 14 min read
Top Story - December 2021
Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

I'm waiting for a taxi at 7pm - I finished work late. There was a problem with the copy machine, and I had to climb to the 7th floor to find another. No elevator... I'm treating my body like a temple. The blisters on my feet are killing me for it, so I slip off my heels, and stand barefoot in the rain.

The city lights are blurry under the downpour, and Sydney looks like a water-coloured painting. I reach my hand out as a taxi passes me by. It's been two, maybe three drivers that have sped past without a side-glance, so I shuffle closer to the streets edge. A man stumbles from the building behind me, carrying too many bags and boxes in one arm, as he pops open an umbrella with the other.

I wave my hand as a Taxi approaches. It slows, and water splashes onto my bare legs, just hitting the skirt of my dress. As I reach out to grab the door, the man behind me drops his briefcase, causing it to open. Papers skim across the pavement and land in a sodden heap. He fumbles for them, and I sigh.

"You take it," I say, referring to the taxi. "You need it more than I."

His breathing is laboured, and he has to squint through the rain to make out my silhouette. A bus passes by, blaring its horn, "are you sure?" he shouts.

I don't want to say yes, but I do.

He stuffs the wet papers into his coat pocket as he grabs for the taxi door. Then he stops as if catching himself in thought, and turns to face me.

My grip fumbles on the heel straps that were dangling from my fingers, and I almost drop them on the pavement; I know this man.

"We can carpool?" he suggests and he smiles - not in a way that denotes familiarity, but friendliness - a stranger returning kindness to another. The droplets of rainwater sticking to his eyelashes are blurring his vision.

I stumble, "I... uh... I'm going to the city," I say in a voice that is not quite my own.

"Me too" he returns, holding the door.

I sit in the back, adjacent the driver, and watch in my peripheral as the man rushes to the passenger door. I should really get the door for him; he's fumbling with his briefcase again, but I stay frozen in my seat. I tell the driver my address, and keep my gaze forward as the door slams closed, and the man slips in beside me.

He shakes the cold from his shoulders and breathes hot air into his hands. I wait patiently as he places his boxes and bags by his feet. Once he's settled I start turning to him, but his focus shifts to the papers in his pocket. He fishes them out and tries to straighten them against his leg. He dabs them against his coat, which is pointless because it's soaked all the way through.

"Here," I offer, taking the papers from him.

He offers me a hopeful glance and watches as I pull a cotton scarf from my handbag. I wait for the moment of recognition. He should know it, he's seen me wear it many times before.

"Oh, thank you," he breathes. There's no nostalgia in the way that he sighs, only relief that his documents might be salvageable. I snap my gaze to him and frown in disbelief.

"Are you kidding me?" I say.

"Wh-what?" He looks horrified, as if he knows he's done something wrong but has no way of knowing what it was. I stare back at him, not allowing the disbelief to slip in surrender of a more polite expression, but his bewilderment doesn't fade. I look away.

"Nothing," I say, passing the papers back, and stuffing my scarf into my bag. "That's as good as they're going to get." He starts to say thank-you, but catches himself, and nods instead.

Enraged at his audacity, I fumble through my purse and zip open my makeup bag. It was just a scarf... I probably wouldn't remember his favourite tie if I saw it. I preoccupy myself by sifting through it until the taxi stops at a traffic light. I apply my eyeshadow with uncharacteristic focus and try my best not to meet his eye.

"Going somewhere?" He asks me.

I think about snapping at him - chastising him for being so flippant - but I get another idea. "On a date," I tell him. It's not true.

He nods, "lucky guy," and I almost can't believe what I'm hearing. I chuckle dryly.


The silence in the cab is stagnant, and the driver is taking surreptitious glances at us from the middle mirror. After sitting at the next red light in silence, I concede... "You?" I ask, in as blunt a tone as I can muster.

"To a friends," he says, and I think it's a lie. I nod.

"Which one?" I ask.

He considers this, as if it's a strange question. "Larry," he says, and I know it's a lie because I've never heard that name.

I play along anyway, "a new friend of yours?"

"How did you know?" he asks.

I scoff, "Larry? C'mon, no one actually knows anyone called Larry."

He laughs, "well I just so happen to know a Larry, and before you ask, he's a real downer."

I laugh too, despite myself, and as he's grinning I take a private moment to study his face. Lines have formed where there used to be none - subtle crows feet are at the corner of his eyes, and he's finally allowed more than a shadow of facial-hair to grow on his chin. He looks mature.

I divert my gaze.

"What?" He asks.

I shake my head, "nothing...". I reach back into my makeup bag and touch a lipstick to the corner of my mouth. "You just..."

He waits.

"I like the facial hair," I admit. I draw the lipstick on, watching for his reaction from the corner of my eye.

His shock is palpable. "Are you flirting with me?" He says it like he's scandalised, but his grin is wide and unfulterring. "On your way to a date too..." he continues, shaking his head, "tsk."

I giggle, "it was just an observation."

As we drive over the harbour bridge, I watch the beams hurtling by my window. The sheets of rain are playing tricks with the lights, making the beams look like lines down an old photograph. I feel calm.

"Where do you work?" He asks me.

I reply without taking my eyes off the bridge, "same place."

He doesn't say anything.

"You?" I ask, when I realise he's not planning to.


So he finally graduated. "Nice," I say. He takes in my smile, and then my eyes. He looks quizzical, at first, and then something else. Receptive... cocky. My stomach flips.

"Stop that," I demand.

He adverts his gaze, and a light rouge splashes across his cheeks. He stares out his own window, adamantly. A few minutes pass before he finally decides to speak again. The words are heavy, as if he considered the phrasing in great detail, "I can't tell if you're flirting with me, or if you hate me."

I laugh. "Can't it be both?"

He looks perplexed. "I suppose it can... but what reasons would you have to do either?"

I stifle another laugh - one that feels more likely to lead to an outburst than a friendly chuckle - and brush my fingers to his knee. "As if you need an explanation," I say, aghast.

He chuckles.


The taxi driver looks between us like he's trying to dissect the plot of a Shakespearean play. His eyes linger too long on me, and I don't like it. I hold my compact mirror up to obscure my face, fixing my lipstick that doesn't need fixing. After fumbling with my hands and finding nothing else to do with them I flip the mirror closed, and watch the rain beat down on the window.

I never knew how to feel about my reflection in car windows.

I liked it, and I didn't like that. The girl in the window didn't look like me, with her smooth skin and defined cheekbones.

It was just a trick of the light.

There's an outfit that I prepared lying at the bottom of my handbag; a sequined dress that's heavier than it is practical. I run my thumb across the cool sequins. I wish that I had changed into it earlier - before I descended the stairs - and before I had stood barefoot in the rain.

"Can you read that?"

I look over, and the man is holding his hand-drawn plans on the wet paper for me to see. He never let me look at his sketches before. I drink them in. They're not better than I expected, but from what I can tell from the blurred images, they're fine.

"Yes," I whisper, and I sound more breathy than intended. I clear my throat. "I like them."

"You're just saying that," he says, but he looks again at the sketches as if he's seeing them from a new set of eyes.

'No really," I say, perking up. "I'm glad you're showing me."

"Thanks," he says, looking shy. He folds the papers, gently, and slips them into a box by his feet. He pauses for a moment, and he looks sheepish; his brief cockiness dissolved in his vulnerability. "... I know you're on your way to a date but -"

I hold my breath.

"Maybe I could get your number... for if it doesn't work out?"

I can't help myself from grinning. I open my palm, silently, while shaking my head, and he laughs - a gesture for the both of us - as he places his phone in my hand. I type in my numbers.

He studies the screen when I pass it back, and the blue light makes his eyes shine bright. He looks genuinely excited when he looks up at me under his lashes, and asks,

"and your name?"


I feel as though the breath has been sucked out of me.

My mouth shutters, and closes. My jaw feels like it's mechanical, like I'm trying to find a shape to match the words swimming circles in my head. He looks shocked.

"I'm sorry-" he says, "sorry... I shouldn't have-"

"-No, no, no..." I hold up my palm. I must have misunderstood... read his body language wrong, or something. I square my shoulders. I want to read him properly this time; to understand him. "What did you ask me?"

"...only if it doesn't work out-"

"Not that," I say, cutting him off. "The other part."

Don't say it... Don't say it.

He looks confused, and his eyes are shifting in nervous starts as he attempts to pinpoint the moment it went wrong. He's trying to find the right words, and I'm growing impatient. "You asked me my name," I state.

"Y-yes..." He says, furrowing his brow.

My stomach drops. That tone... his face... he's not teasing me. He's serious.

My legs stiffen, and I pull myself towards the taxi door, as close as physically possible. I don't want to see him. I don't want to feel him. I can't even stand to breathe the same air as him. I can hear him gaping - shifting on his seat like he's growing eager and meek and shrinking beneath the palpability of my rage.

I want to scream.

But I don't.

I take deep breaths. Ones that visibly make my chest rise and fall. He doesn't remember me. I feel like laughing, like cackling so that the nervous energy bubbling in my throat has somewhere to go.

But I don't. I reach into my handbag and feel the sequins of my evening dress under my fingertips.

Without a moment to consider how it might look, I open my coat and let it fall to my waist.

I begin to unbutton my blouse, and I can feel the tension in the car prickling at my skin. I slip the blouse from my body. He doesn't look at me, he stares straight ahead, but it looks pained, as if his life depends on not taking his eyes off of the headrest directly in front of him. Without taking my eyes off of him, I pull the sequined dress over my head, tug it over my chest, and sift it to my thighs.

I realise - at this point - that he must think I'm crazy.

He's shaking his knee now. Stimming, because he's nervous, and the thought of him feeling vulnerable in this moment angers me. It infuriates me.

The driver pulls my attention forward by clearing his throat, and I get the distinct feeling that he's checking the temperature of the room. "We're almost there, Miss," he says, voice laden in uncertainty.

"Thank God." I snap.

"-Look, I'm really-" the man has finally taken his eyes off the headrest. He's staring at me in complete earnest. He's going to say he's sorry, but I don't want to hear it.

"Save it," I say.

He slumps back into his chair, and I can see his features shifting; he's not earnest anymore, but exasperated. It's obvious in the way his mouth twitches. I pretend not to notice.

The blisters on my heels still sting, but I slip my feet into the shoes anyway.


I buckle them as tight as they will go, and fold the blouse that's been laying in my lap.

Don't look at him.

I shimmy my coat back over my shoulders.

As the taxi rounds a quiet street I begin to feel every second. They're slow, like the clocks hand is ticking through molasses, and every moment spent in silence feels like a concerted effort. I pretend it doesn't bother me - like I could use the time to finish preparing for my date. I fish out a travel-sized perfume vial from my handbag as we pull up to my street.

It's residential... he must think I'm on my way to a booty call. I'm not - but the thought that he might think so makes me anxious. And angry.

Don't let him see.

I smirk, so that the nerves don't find their way onto my face.

I unscrew the top of my perfume bottle with a satisfying pop, and the delicate scent of lavender and honey wafts from the bottle. The rain has stopped falling now. Using the window as a mirror, I find the spot to spray the perfume on my neck.

"Thank you," I say to the driver, as we pull to a stop.

I open the door and have to extend my leg past the stream of water that's rushing down the sidewalk. I haul myself out of the taxi. The air is cold, and as I dab my wrist at the perfume still wet on my neck I'm met with a gust of wind, that blows my hair loose from where it was buried under my coat.

I pluck my handbag from the passenger seat. As I reach inside I notice that the man's expression has shifted again, although I can't quite define what it is that I'm seeing.

Amazement - shock... fear?

Before I have time to process the change, I'm standing upright again, and pushing the taxi door closed with a flick of my wrist.

I see the man's eyes follow me through the passenger window. He leans in closer, as if to take me in in my entirety. As the taxi begins to pull away, he shifts with it, changing to view me from the rear window. He's blinking, as if waking up from a decade-long slumber.

Not fear...

I catch my breath.


He reaches his hand to the window, fingertips soft against the glass as if he’s touching my skin. He’s… wistful. A thousand memories seem to shoot like stars behind his eyes, colouring his features amazed, and pained.

I can't make sense of this sudden shift.

I hold a hand to my neck, where the perfume has dried. In all these years I don’t think I ever changed it… As I take in the scent, delicate but distinct, his hand falls from the window...

And he's gone - features warped by the city lights reflected in the fogging window,

and I'm alone.

Short Story

About the Creator

Rachel M.J

Magical realist

I like to write about things behaving how they shouldn't ~

Instagram: Rachel M.J

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Comments (3)

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  • Matthew Bathamabout a year ago

    This gripped me from the outset. So simple but complex and compelling at the same time. Love the ending.

  • Nice storytelling ‼️🫶🏾‼️

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