The Birthday Wish

As they headed through the northern foothills of the Pyrenees, the roads climbed higher and the clouds dropped lower. The bright sunshine gave way to a hazy greyness, and every now and then a few drops of rain splattered into her visor. At least it wasn’t so hot now, she thought, but the consolation was dwarfed by her growing discomfort. Her shoulders were really beginning to ache, and her neck was stiff from resisting the forces of acceleration and braking. The inside of her left knee felt sore from the friction of rubbing against the seam of her stiff jeans, and her right wrist was throbbing with the strain of being held in one position for too long. She tried to distract herself by thinking about something else. But the thing that kept popping into her mind was the dark that awaited her at the end of this long tunnel of a journey. She wanted to stop now, to stay here and make the dream of her holiday last a little longer. She didn’t want to go back to England and face the consequences of her ill-judged career decision.

After what felt like an eternity, they arrived in Foix. It wasn’t as pretty as she had expected, but the castle, standing dark and proud on its rocky outcrop dominating the landscape, was impressive. It loomed above the town streets, surveying the activities of the people below with an air of disdain. Emma felt small and insignificant, and as if she was being watched. They stopped at the side of a wide street, in front of a row of touristy shops, bars and restaurants. This was a busy town, exuding the anonymity that comes with size. Peter decided to take their important documents out of the top-box before heading off along the row of cafes, to find an inexpensive but friendly place to get a coffee and something to eat.

They went inside and sat opposite each other on the red padded bench seats, with their helmets next to them, in a little booth at the side of the long, high-ceilinged room. Lunch time was well over, and apart from four or five men exchanging gruff, thick-accented comments at the bar, only a few slow diners remained, finishing off their carafes of house wine and espressos. When the aproned waiter approached to take their order, Peter asked whether it was too late to get some food. “Pas de problème, Monsieur,” the waiter smiled broadly, producing a battered menu from his back pocket with a dramatic flourish. Relieved, Peter consulted the menu quickly and suggested that they share a pizza. “Fine by me,” said Emma, equally relieved at not having to spend time deliberating and choosing from a complex list of possibilities. As the waiter disappeared into the gloom at the rear of the room with their order, Peter opened up the road map, and Emma checked her phone. There was a text message from her daughter wishing her a happy birthday and a safe journey, and saying that she, her brother and the dog were all fine. She smiled to herself, her mood lightened by the knowledge that all was well with her children. She decided not to ring them at this point, knowing that phone conversations with her children often raised more concerns than they resolved. She would wait until they were settled in a hotel at the end of the day, when she could at least reassure her son that they had completed one of their two days’ journey safely.