The Birthday Wish

The morning passed in a disorganised blur. After some fairly rudimentary sweeping, cleaning and throwing away of half-used jars of jam and packs of crumb-infested butter, Emma began the painstaking task of fitting all their belongings and their holiday souvenirs into the two big, but not big enough bike panniers. That morning Peter had returned from a croissant-buying trip to the Saturday market with a surprise birthday gift, and now she was having to rearrange the packing configuration to accommodate an unusually-shaped, Ricard-emblazoned, glass water carafe.

“You wanna be careful how you pack them panniers!” commented Joe, in his stolid black-country accent. “You need to make sure they balance”. He spoke with the patronising authority of a man who had been packing a Goldwing’s capacious hard-luggage for many years of continental travel. Little did he realise that, before they began their outbound trip, Emma’s obsessiveness had compelled her to stand on the bathroom scales holding each of the packed panniers in turn, and to repack them until they weighed within 200 grams of each other. She was taking too long now, trying to decide how to reorganize the original arrangement to take account of the extras they had acquired along the way, and the rapidly approaching deadline was making her irritable.

She always hated this bit of a holiday. The packing beforehand had been an evocative pleasure, redolent with the heady euphoria of anticipation. But this hurried packing of dirty clothes, half-used bottles of sun cream and pointless souvenirs reeked of anticlimax, of the dreary return to the commonplace. And this time, even more than usual, Emma was dreading the inexorable return to work the following Tuesday.

By ten fifty they had said their final au revoirs to the apartment owner, retrieved and divvied up the damage deposit, and were standing awkwardly, helmets in hand, sweating in their bike gear in the burgeoning heat and wishing each other safe trips home. Joe and Shelly were heading north, for a leisurely three day detour on their way to catch their ferry at Calais. She and Peter were heading back to Bilbao to catch the cruise ferry to Portsmouth the following afternoon. They needed to do quite a good distance before finding an overnight stop within a morning’s travel of the port.

Peter looked at his watch. “Anyone fancy a last drink at the café before we leave?”

Shelly looked sharply at Joe, who tugged uncomfortably at the crotch in his tight-fitting leathers and consulted his own watch. “Nah, best not. Best be on us way.”