The Birthday Wish

“I think I’d rather stay on this road. It’s more interesting, and I don’t think it’ll make much time difference in the end.”

Emma agreed, distractedly surveying the nearby verges, looking for a suitable hiding place in which to relieve her quick-filling bladder. Finding none, she concluded that she wasn’t too desperate yet, and could wait a bit before pressing Peter to find a suitable toilet stop.

Peter refolded the map and stuffed it into the bulging tank-bag, and Emma carefully slid her wet boot between Peter and the top-box, to slide back on to the bike. She tapped Peter on the shoulder to let him know she was ready to go. Peter kicked up the side-stand, took a long look back down the empty road, and pulled out, smoothly notching up through the gears, as the heavy bike accelerated, gaining speed surprisingly quickly for such an apparently cumbersome machine.

Twenty five kilometres further on, they rode past the big blue signs that beckoned them on to the motorway. The road they were on crossed over it twice, and Emma looked down at the straight lines of holiday traffic that they had shunned, smug in the knowledge that they had made the right choice.

The weather was improving again, and the roads were beginning to dry out, with only some patchy dampness, and the occasional large puddle remaining. With only a hundred and twenty kilometres to go to their overnight destination, Emma’s spirits lifted. They could even stop sooner, if they wanted to. Tarbes was only about seventy kilometres away. They could be there within the hour. Her mind raced on ahead, and she was already there in the small but comfortable hotel room, taking off her hot, sticky bike jeans, unpacking her wash bag and heading into the refreshing shower.

Emma’s mind wandered on. On through the pleasant evening in another unknown town, eating at a pretty restaurant overlooking the river, watching the sun set behind the mountains. But her errant mind refused to tarry there within that warm, assuaging image of happy solace.

She thought about the journey the next morning. The inevitable stress of travel towards a timetabled deadline, that wouldn’t pass until they were safe at the port, and checked-in, ready to board the ship that would take them home.

Home to her children, who she suddenly missed with a stabbing ferocity. Home to the grey but familiar world of her everyday life. Home to the work she dreaded.

With a sinking in her heart, Emma’s awareness returned abruptly to the present. They were on yet another roundabout, circling the centre to reach the last exit. She leaned in line with Peter, looking over his left shoulder at the unusually lush grass growing on the well-tended island.