The Birthday Wish

When they had at last cleared the stop-start streets of the town surrounds, the wind of speed picked up to cool their leather-boiled limbs, and the rhythm of the open road was theirs once again.The flow of the ride gradually took on an automatic quality, and Emma found herself slipping into that welcome zone, where her body reacted instinctively to what her eyes and centre of gravity perceived, whilst her mind began to wander over plains of imagination as wide as the vast landscape, stretching away from them in every direction.

Peter had suggested that they should use an intercom so they could communicate during the journey, and although this would have allowed Emma the chance to tell him to slow down when she felt scared, or to let him know when she desperately needed a toilet stop, she had resisted the idea. One of the things she most loved about being on the bike was the silence.

The wind noise across her helmet melted into the muffled roar of the engine, effectively blocking out any sudden changes in her aural climate, and the fact that she knew she could not be disturbed by unsolicited conversation brought her a sense of peaceful solitude, in which she was at liberty to think her own thoughts without distraction.

Whilst a minimal part of her conscious mind kept track of the road and the weather, the route and the distances travelled, most of it was free to roam.

She drank in the otherness of the warm world around her, and imagined what it would be like to live there. To have a home of her own in this holiday land, where the big skies smiled over miles of openness, and there was space to think and breathe. She looked at the sand-yellow houses with sea-blue shutters that they passed along the way, nestled in shady caves of tall dark cypresses, between rocky hillsides and endless green vineyards, and she saw herself hanging out the bed sheets to dry in the hot southerly breeze, with her sleepy dog eyeing lizards darting across the terracotta tiled terrace. She imagined the long, slow evening walks along the dusty tracks, breathing in the smell of wild thyme and rosemary, and trying to spot the lone cicada clicking resonantly in the solitary stone pine, standing black against the outlandishly vibrant sunset. She day-dreamed of warm nights sitting on a wooden bench, drinking cheap red wine under a black velvet sky speckled with silver holes, listening to the melancholy nightingale serenading his longed-for mate.

But every joyful impulse inspired by the awesome beauty around her was counterposed by a sense of dread. Her happy imaginings were increasingly interrupted by thoughts of the long dreary year ahead. She tried to cheer herself by imagining the impending future in a series of positive scenarios. The guy she would be working with at the unit was entertaining in a sort of intense, anarchic way. He was a bit of a drama queen, with a tendency to hyperventilation and bouts of depression, but his heart was in the right place and he had a childish enthusiasm for the things he cared about that was contagious. They shared an overwhelming lack of respect for the managers of the service that employed them, and a common desire to provide a welcoming and fun place-to-be for the hurt and hateful teenagers that would resentfully end up there after they had been rejected by every other educational establishment in the city. There would be some good times, of course. But…..