“Yes, Muhammad is very reliable, hardly a sick day to his name in two years. His strengths as a salesman you ask?” I cast an eye over the young man sitting beside me holding a Nokia 3310 to my ear with his right hand, a crisp wad of fifties gripped tightly in the other. His wide, brown-eyes staring at me with a vulnerability he was not accustomed to, or comfortable feeling.
“I’d say his strengths as a salesman are in his ability to persuade, often against the odds, to achieve a result. It really is a shame for our company to lose him but we knew the day would come when he would want to move on to a bigger challenge. I’m sorry David, we will have to leave it there, I’m just stepping into a meeting. Ok, thank you, bye.”
Muhammad hung up the phone, put his face in his hands, then let out a breath he must have been holding the entire two-minute phone conversation. “Bro, that was fucken hectic! Here, the cash is yours,” he said, holding out the stack of fifty-dollar notes.
How did we get here? With me, an Uber Driver, providing a job reference for a total stranger while driving through the streets of South-Western Sydney for a cash payment of $250. And no, I didn’t take the money.
Beep.Beep.Beep. Muhammad – Wynard – 2 minutes
“I’m on the corner of Hunter and George. Are you close bro?” asked my next passenger for the day in a deep but friendly voice.
“I think I can see you mate, are you wearing the blue shirt?”
“That’s me cuz, alright, bye,” he said, hanging up the phone and turning around before giving me a thumbs up as I pulled over to the curb.
Muhammad, or Mo, as he likes to be called, is the most confident passenger I have encountered in my short career as an Uber driver. He sauntered over to my car when I arrived, flashing a wicked smile at a young woman who crossed his path. She returned his smile with a laugh and a flick of her hair.
Big Mo is well over six feet tall with broad shoulders and arms like tree trunks. The buttons on his blue-collared shirt looked like they were going to pop at any moment and reveal the chiseled physique of a veteran gym-junkie. He is young, in his mid-twenties, with dark, handsome features and one of those beards I could never hope to grow; short, but consistent, not sparse and patchy like my attempts during the colder months.
He sat down beside me and reached over to shake my hand; a gesture I found strangely disarming.
“Bro, just out to Condell Park please. I already entered the address in the Uber app.”
“No worries at all. Good day so far Muhammad?” I asked, taking a left-hand turn down George St.
“Call me Mo! Man, to be honest, it has been probably the best day of my life. Besides this haircut!” Mo ran his hands over his shaved head which was only slightly longer than his beard.
“I got a fresh cut for a job interview I just went for. It’s the first job interview I have ever gone for and I’m twenty-five. How messed up is that?”
“Not at all mate,” I replied. “It sounds like you’ve had a good day so you must have done pretty well in your first ever interview.”
Mo nodded his head as he stared out the window.
“I killed it man. Every answer I gave the manager loved. It was for a sales job and I studied my arse off. I learned everything about the product they sell. I even researched their competitors.”
Mo’s words were so positive. His body language and tone were not. I kept waiting for him to utter that pesky joining word of indecision. The word that takes good, strong intention and dilutes it. I want to grow a beard like Mo’s, BUT I don’t have the genetics.
“Mate, it sounds like you’re in with a good chance ay!” I said, more asked.
“Yeah I don’t know man. Everything went so well, but I need one good reference and that’s a problem.”
For the first time since Mo entered my car his trademark confidence left him. He rested his face in his hands and let his massive shoulders slump forward.
“Can I tell you something bro?” he asked, sitting up a little straighter.
“Yeah mate, what is it?”
Mo took a deep breath, paused, then said:
“Up until now, I haven’t exactly earned money through legitimate means. That’s why I’ve never gone for a job interview before. Since I was sixteen I’ve been a salesman of a different kind, but I wanna change that. I don’t believe in what I’m doing anymore. I don’t believe in the guys I hang around and I don’t feel good about making money the way I do. Not to make excuses, but where I grew up, you had to be in a gang or you’d get your arse kicked. I just never managed to get out. Most of my mates are in jail or they’re dead. This job is my shot to start a new life. I felt good today in the interview. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve felt good about myself.”
Mo let out a deep sigh when he finished talking. I was a little lost for words but tried to keep the conversation going.
“That’s tough Mo. Whose number did you give them for the reference?” I asked as I pulled onto the M5.
Mo reached into his right pocket and pulled out his iPhone. He then reached into his other pocket and pulled out a phone I hadn’t seen in at least ten years. The indestructible Nokia 3310. He held up the Nokia and pointed it in the air.
“I gave them the number for this phone. I’ve got about ten of them at home. I told the guy in the interview my old sales manager’s name is Greg Davies. I made up a story that I worked as a car salesman for the past two years.”
Just as Mo opened his mouth to continue peaking he was interrupted by a sound I also hadn’t heard in more than ten years. The unmistakable ringtone of the old Nokia 3310. Mo frantically looked down at the number calling him before saying, “Ah fuck!”
In a split second, Mo decided he could find a way out of this. He looked over at me and held the phone out in front of him.
“Listen bro,” he said with his head lowered. There it was, that look of vulnerability. It fit him about as well as the blue-collared shirt bursting at the seams.
The phone kept ringing.
My eyes widened as I realised what he was asking me to do.
“Ah mate, I couldn’t! I wouldn’t know what to say,” I sheepishly replied.
“Bro, none of my mates will sound professional enough to pull it off. Please. I’m begging you.”
The phone rang once more with that iconic ringtone.
Mo hurriedly held out his wallet and pulled out a wad of fifty-dollar notes. “Here, that’s $250. Please, I need this!”
Then he did it. He answered the phone and held it to my ear.
I took a breath, then said:
“Hello, Greg speaking……..”
I didn’t accept the money. I did accept Mo’s offer to buy me lunch at a kebab shop in Condell Park called Watsup Brother Kebabs. We ran into a few of Mo’s old friends who sat down and ate with us. They couldn’t stop laughing at and rubbing Mo’s shaved head. They all had fierce haircuts like Mohican Indians. Mullets and rats tales galore, all shaved at the sides. I left them as they vigorously debated who makes the best kebabs in Sydney. TC Brothers in Bankstown, or Watsup Brother in Condell Park.
“Definitely five stars!” Mo yelled out as I passed through the glass doors.
I never found out if Mo got the job but I hope he did. I can’t relate to his life or the environment he grew up in. What I can relate to is his desire for a second chance… and I think he will make the most of it.