Across the world, taxi drivers provide a great service: ferrying people to and from airports and hospitals, driving people home after parties so that they can drink a glass of wine or three without worrying about being over the limit, helping – as I have witnessed – old ladies back to their homes after a shopping expedition (and even ensuring the food gets put into the fridge and freezer before they leave). They put up with anti-social hours, reduction in sperm count (so I’m told – it’s all that sitting), and quite a lot of verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse from inebriated passengers.
But there have been a number of articles in the paper recently pointing out the sinister role some taxi drivers have played in serious crime including sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. I was not fully aware of this when I wrote my YA novel, GIRL FRIENDS. In the novel I wanted to convey something shady, sinister, and foreign, with links between nearby towns. Two seedy taxi firms seemed to fit the bill as illustrated by this excerpt about one of them:
Grace takes us away from the main shopping area and down a side road into a more run down part of the town. It’s not late but, with the darkness and a couple of shuttered shops, it looks deserted and I start to feel even more nervous. Grace’s step quickens. “Hurry up,” she hisses at me, “nearly there.” She points to a lit up building towards the end of the lane—it looks like a take away of some sort, but I can’t make out the writing above the shop. “But I’m not hungry…” I start to say. “Idiot,” she responds. “I know you’re not, this is where we’re meeting up.”
I see, as we get closer, that it isn’t a pizza take-away any more, but has been taken over by a taxi business. The name across the painted out window is foreign and I don’t have time to take it in. “Grace, I can’t, this isn’t my scene at all,” I almost whimper. But by this time, she is already going through the door and I feel I can’t leave her now. Besides, I don’t know this part of town, and don’t want to go back on my own. Perhaps we can just have a brief chat with whoever this new boyfriend is, and then head back. The home must have given her a deadline for returning and it can’t be that late on a school day, surely?
Grace pushes the door open, and greets the woman behind the counter. “Hi Bev.” Bev looks as if she is in her forties—much older than my mum anyway. She is short, fat and greasy looking, with lank, dyed-blonde hair with dark and grey roots showing at the scalp, and huge eyelashes. Even with the short time I have to take her in I can see that these are false. I feel I should be pleased there is a woman on the premises, but the sight of Bev does not exactly re-assure me. She looks up as Grace strides in and smiles at her. But it’s not a friendly smile, more of a leer. No, I definitely don’t like the look of this Bev person.
“Hallo darling,” she greets Grace with a bored drawl. “Brought your little friend, I see.” She adds, looking me up and down with ill–concealed contempt. Bev’s accent is thick and foreign. It’s not an accent I recognize—but I’m hopeless at accents, even British ones. She is sitting at a short counter with two phones in front of her. The rest of the small office is bare apart from a couple of tatty chairs and a battered sofa. She has a heater on full blast behind the counter and the air smells stale and stuffy.
Despite this, I shiver. What on earth has this place got to do with Grace and any date she has set up? Perhaps we are going there by taxi? I turn to question Grace, but she has gone round the counter and is standing next to Bev. Bev looks up at her and smiles again. Again I feel her smile is false and unfriendly, rather than warm and genuine. This time she winks too, one large heavily made up upper eyelash bearing down, then rising again, with difficulty, from the caked lash below. I shiver again.
“They’re in the back,” she says after a short pause. “They’re waiting for you.” Grace nods to her, then turns and gestures for me to follow her. Nothing bad has happened so far, but all my instincts are telling me this is not where I want, or ought, to be. But I don’t want to be on my own either, or to leave Grace at this stage—even if it is her doing that I am here in the first place.
GIRL FRIENDS is narrated by 15 year old Courtney. If you want to find out whether her instincts are sound, and Grace is indeed heading for big trouble, you may like to purchase my book from Amazon.