Boris’ Taxi

At the end of my evening shift at the children’s hospital I call the taxi company and request a cab at the Emergency Entrance.

The controller says, certainly sir. We’ll send one straight away.

I stand outside Emergency and wait, prowling about to keep warm in the cold night. Cab after cab approaches, slows, stops at the lights, and drives callously past.

Twenty minutes past straightaway a yellow cab turns into the Exit of the Emergency Department. The cab stops, a window winds down, a round face asks: You call cab?

I did.

Get in.

I get in.

Where to?

I reply.

The cabbie performs some complicated manoevers that see us emerge from the hospital via the Entry lane. The cab enters the main road where it straddles two lanes and follows a sinuous course.

While I watch the road and the reactions of fellow road users with close interest, the driver improves our acquaintance with conversation.

Hello. My name Boris.

Hello Boris.

What your name?

Howard.

Hovvarrd. Is difficult.

How long have you driven cabs, Boris?

I am new driver.

Really?

Not always I doing this work. Before cab many works.

Really?

You have childrens, Hovvarrd?

Yes, Three.

I also three. They don’t see me, will not talk me.

That’s no good. Do they say why?

They say I am drug seller.

Why do they say that, Boris?

Court sends me gaol for ten years, after seven years when I come out – I am good behaviour – I have paid my debt, I am citizen, they children don’t talk me. I am father, but they are not my children. My wife tell them your father bad, your father is drug pedal.

Is that true, Boris?

Is not true. Not now. Was drug pedal. Cocaine. I carry packages. Is good money. I am retire, I am divorce, my wife got my house, got my kids, got my money. I need vodka money so I carry package.

Now I drive cabs. Three nights I drive, have vodka money.

I study our veering path as we carve our way through traffic.

Three days you drive, how many days do you drink vodka, Boris?

Ha! Ha! You funny man, Hovvarrd. You know, I don’t must to stay in gaol so long. I choosing.

What do you mean, Boris?

Drug detective visit me in cell. Before trial. He say, Boris, we know you Mister Little, you not Mister Big. We know is Mister Big, maybe many Mister Bigs. You know name. You tell name, we do deal, we change you name, you leave gaol. We make you safe. I say no.

Why, Boris?

Mister Hovvarrd. You been Russia? You been Russia gaol?

No. Never.

I been Russia Gaol. I see what happen when prisoner co-poperate with police. Is not nice. Russia gaol is not nice, Russia police is not nice, Russia mafia very not nice. I tell Aussie police: I not know name. I not know nothing. I say to Aussie police, I like Aussie gaol.

We have, by the grace of Saint Anthony, arrived outside my home. I pay.

Thank you, Boris. It was an interesting drive.

Any time, Mister Hovvarrd. Next time you need cab, you ask for Boris. You I enjoy to drive. You very interesting conversationist.

A Lime

The doctor showed them the spine, the limbs, the minute digits. The heart in its cage, beating, beating, beating. Kidneys, liver, lungs, all manner of organs, organised and working against their day.
The watchers watched and listened and wondered. Their unborn, unknowing it was watched, moved, metabolised and grew. This watching, this lovecharged voyeurism through a window that opened only half a century ago. They saw their unborn, alone, confined, silent, breathing bathwater, drinking sewage, content withal. The watchers felt awe and hope. The man leaned over and held the woman and came away sticky with gel.
 
The doctor said, it’s the size of a lime. The man and the woman closed their palms against a mental lime. They saw with their hands how big, how small was their unborn. The woman giggled with delight.
 
They told me and I thought of the days I delivered babies – that age before ultrasound, when mother, father and doctor looked on the baby and the baby looked on them in equal discovery. Ultrasound alters human relation. Now fathering starts thirty –four weeks before the father is born into fatherhood.
 
I thought too of Judith Wright and her secret love and her poem:
Woman To Man
The eyeless labourer in the night,

the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,

builds for its resurrection day—

silent and swift and deep from sight

foresees the unimagined light.
This is no child with a child’s face;

this has no name to name it by;

yet you and I have known it well.

This is our hunter and our chase,

the third who lay in our embrace.
This is the strength that your arm knows,

the arc of flesh that is my breast,

the precise crystals of our eyes.

This is the blood’s wild tree that grows

the intricate and folded rose.
This is the maker and the made;

this is the question and reply;

the blind head butting at the dark,

the blaze of light along the blade.

Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
 

Another Toby Emergency

A scream from the back of the boat, the scream of amazed pain. Now follow loud cries as Toby’s face rises above the transom. Tears stream down his face, uncharacteristically pale. At the point of his chin a gleaming carbuncle of deepest red rises to a meniscus, then overflows. Brilliant red drops appear on the white deck, tracking Toby’s path to adult rescue.

I apply my nearly clean handkerchief to the wound. Toby darling, press this hard against the cut. Very hard.
I’m sorry, Saba. I’m sorry.
No need to be sorry, Toby – just press.
I’m sorry. I’m very sorry…

My bottle-green hanky is turning red. A quick peek underneath shows a deep and gaping gash. The wound is irregular; it will need meticulous suturing to minimize the inevitable scarring.

Before we arrived in Metung I commanded the kids: NO RUNNING ON THE BOAT, NO JUMPING ON THE BOAT.
I’m sorry, Saba, I won’t do it again.

Pablo scoops his son into his arms and we run to the car. The patient, cocooned in his father, is stowed in the back. We drive into the little town to look for the doctor’s premises: the Village Store, a hardware and fishing tackle shop, the pub, a real estate office, a few coffee shops – these account for one half of the Central Business District; a u-turn brings us to the post office, a laundromat and a petite pharmacy. The pharmacist, a lady of my years, petite like her shop, is sympathetic. She advises, Yes, there is a doctor in town… every Tuesday morning.
Hmmm. Do you have surgical glue?
I don’t think so. I’ll look…
The search doesn’t take long. No glue. We settle for some stout Steri-strips, a gross of sterile gauze squares and a gallon of Savlon.
Across the road the door to Hardware and Fishhooks is locked. It’s only four PM, Friday. The sign reads, Open 9.00-5.00, M-Thurs. Fri 9.00-1.00.
The Village Store stocks food, suncream, the dailies, the Metung Meteor. Unless it’s a condom or a painkiller I seek, no pharmaceuticals. Do you have Super-glue? (Super-Glue is identical to Surgical glue; it’s packaged in crushable phials for single use, to discourage germs.) The helpful young cashier leads me to her hardware shelf. No Super-glue but we do have Araldite.
Araldite. I’ve never glued human tissues with this product. Will I try it on my grandson? I call the Emergency Physician in Alice Springs, where ED is full of my workmates. Yeah, Araldite will hold it, same as Super-glue. But it’s thermogenic. In an emergency, better than nothing, better than Steri-strips alone. Translated, ‘Thermogenic’ means the glue will heat the skin.

Back to the car. No doctor in Metung: we’ll have to go to Lakes Entrance. Toby lies quietly, eyes widening as I approach his wound. A wince, a gasp as I peel away my hanky of dark green and dark red, exposing a valley of flesh. Briefly bloodless, the wound fills quickly. Clean white gauze is applied. Toby darling, press again, hard. Here.
The child’s eyes follow me anxiously as he anticipates the uppance that surely will come: I’m sorry, Saba. I won’t do it again.

Driving back through town I wonder about the boatyard. They repair boats there, they must glue things. The Boatwright is helpful: Sure, Howard, we should have Super-glue somewhere.
The tube is not new. They have no other but needs must…

Pablo and I remove the patient and lie him on a picnic table, Pablo cradling the child’s head. Darling, we are going to put some glue on your cut to close it up. First I’ll wash the cut with this yellow stuff. It will be quite quick.
A splash, a yelp, a bit of quick mopping and a flow of fresh blood. It is quite quick – and quite hurty.

Now I’m going to squirt some glue onto your cut, Toby. It will be quite quick.
Pablo, pinch the skin edges closed… like this.
Pablo pinches – which hurts – as I peel away the gauze – which hurts. Toby’s eyes widen in fresh surprise, he releases a single gasp, half rises, then subsides. He takes deep breaths, slow breaths, as I squirt the glue – which hurts – and Toby breathes on. Through the following three minutes, Pablo pinches the skin edges – which hurts – and Toby, calm in his self-mastery, gazes trustingly into our close faces.
A few Steristrips bridge the narrow ridge of pink that was a cleft moments before. The wound is closed, and dry, more or less regular, messy in its scatterings of dried blood. It will heal and eventually scar.
Toby kisses his torturers and thanks us: You’re the best father, Papi. I love you, Sabi…I am sorry.

Postscript that might have been a Prescript: readers of this blog might recall an earlier, very lengthy post, titled ‘Toby’s Fingers in the Bath Hole’. A year after the Fingers in the Bathplug Story, we had the Batteries in the Ears story. Toby spent an afternoon in hospital for removal of hearing aid batteries trapped in his ear canals. Once in-situ, batteries create an enveloping oedema of the canal walls, a watery swelling of the flesh that neatly encloses the little discs. Toby is not deaf (not yet) and has no need of hearing aids or their batteries. But the batteries he found were just the right size, so…

Additional Postscript: Toby’s cousin Noah described the accident: Toby tried to get from the back of the boat onto the pier but his life vest caught on this wire and he fell when he jumped.
“When he jumped”: that must have been what Toby’s “sorries” were for. Not a forbidden jump at all, this was a jump from the boat, not on it.

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