The Birthday Wish

She blew the flame slow and hard, with all the longing she could muster, and finally opened her eyes to the bright world of Peter’s laughter. “Well, that must have been a good wish! I don’t think this thing will ever light again.” He shook the lighter and flicked the wheel a few times more. It wouldn’t light. “Well, we need to get some more baccy anyway….”

They sat silently a few minutes more, soaking up the sun and the impressions of the summer scene surrounding them. The clock bell in the nearby church tower struck the half hour. Peter drained his glass, and picked up the empty tobacco packet and the dead lighter from the table. “Oh well…” he began.

“Yes, alright, I know, I know…” Emma petulantly interrupted his statement of the inevitable, and stood up with a sigh, reaching round to lift her stiff bike jacket awkwardly off the chair back.

As they walked towards the tabac, Peter put his arm around Emma’s slumped shoulders. “Never mind m’dear….” he tried to console her, “…at least we’ve still got the journey back to enjoy”.

“Hmmm, I guess…” she conceded. But the journey, the ride itself, was a mixed thing for her. She loved the idea of being swept along on the back of the bike, watching the world go by, driving through undiscovered villages, and seeing panoramic vistas open up before her around each new bend in the road. But she couldn’t ever entirely relax and enjoy it. She struggled with the lack of control that passenger-hood entailed, and couldn’t help herself from looking over Peter’s shoulder and making mental judgements about how to respond to the unfolding road ahead, even though she knew she could do nothing about it.

It didn’t help that she had passed her bike test four years earlier. She had her own bike at home, a sweet little 400cc grey import, with an extremely narrow seat which meant she could easily get her feet on the ground. But the process of learning had served to increase her awareness of the possible dangers of bike riding, rather than making her feel more confident, and any long bike journey was now an uneasy combination of excitement and fear; an interesting ordeal, best enjoyed in retrospect.

She knew her children worried about her too, and thought it vaguely amusing that her teenage son was so frequently telling her to ride safely, and to text him to let him know she had arrived safely at her destination. It really should be the other way round.

She also knew her children would try to ring her mobile at some point during the day to wish her a happy birthday, and that she wouldn’t be able to answer it, while she was on the bike.

“I need to ring my kids” Emma said, as she and Peter stood aside from the door of the tabac to let a portly man with red, rheumy eyes and a black beret emerge, blinking like a mole in the glaring light. Peter looked at his watch again. “I doubt they’ll be out of bed yet. Why don’t you wait till we stop for a break in an hour or so?”