Leaving England by Robert Fear
The ferry edged its way from the berth and headed for the harbour entrance. In the early evening light the clouds lifted, and the sun appeared on the horizon for a few minutes. Through the descending gloom I could make out the famous white cliffs of Dover as we left the shores of England.
The seas were choppy, and the wind icy as we headed across the channel. I put on a jumper and buttoned up my denim jacket. Determined to stay on deck, I enjoyed the feel of the wind that blew against my face and through my hair. A surge of elation swept over me as I realised that my dream was coming true.
I did not hear her approach as I had become absorbed in my own thoughts. It took a few seconds to realise she had spoken.
‘Hi, how are you doing, where are you heading?’
She was taller than me and several years older. Long blond hair wrapped itself around her shoulders and her pale blue eyes glistened as she looked at me.
I averted my gaze for a moment before smiling back,
‘Hi, sorry, I didn’t realise you were there. I’m travelling to Barcelona by coach and then getting a ferry across to Ibiza.’
‘What are you planning to do there?’
‘I’m hoping to work for the season in a place called Es Cana.’
‘Is this the first time you’ve worked abroad?’
‘Yes, I’ve just finished work at a bank in London. Where are you heading? Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’
‘Everyone one calls me Micky, but my real name is Michelle. I’m off to Barcelona. We’re on the same bus. I saw you earlier on and thought, as you are on your own, you’d appreciate company. I’m an English teacher returning to the school where I work, after an Easter break back at home in Bristol.’
Micky edged closer as if to get extra protection against the biting wind.
‘And what’s your name?’
‘Most people call me Fred.’
‘Is that a nickname then?’
‘Yes, I got it at school and it’s stuck since then. My mates call me Fred though my real name is Robert.’
Her eyes widened,
‘You seem more like Fred than Robert.’
I smiled back and asked her,
‘How long have you worked in Barcelona then?’
‘Just under a year. I finished Teacher Training College in 1976, not long after Franco died in November 1975. Spain was a country that had always interested me. When I saw an advertisement in the paper for a teaching position there, I jumped at the chance and applied straight away. After an interview in London I got the job.’
‘Are you enjoying it?’
‘On the whole, yes. Spain is changing fast after forty years of dictatorship, but people’s attitudes will take longer to change. Life for a female is still difficult. I am lucky they take care of me while at the school but things can be awkward outside sometimes.’
‘Do you ever regret doing it?’
‘No, not at all. Travel gives you a new outlook on life. You’ll discover that for yourself this summer. That is as long as you don’t weaken and I don’t think you will Fred.’
‘Thanks Micky, that’s nice of you.’
The loud sound of the ship’s siren broke the atmosphere for a moment. The ferry had arrived at the port of Calais.
Micky gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and winked at me,
‘I’ll see you back on the bus, take care.’
‘Yes, great to meet you, see you later.’
What a lovely surprise, I thought as I smoked a quick cigarette before my return to the coach.
We were among the first to disembark the ferry. Customs and passport control were swift as two officers boarded and gave our passports a cursory glance. Things had become much easier since the UK joined the Common Market (later the European Union) in 1973.
After a brief stop on the outskirts of Calais, to pick up another couple of passengers, we sped off into the night. As there were still free seats, Micky joined me at the back of the bus.
It felt good to have company. We chatted away for ages as the bus headed south through rural France. Then the coach entered the first toll booth and joined the motorway network. Midnight passed, and we cuddled up to keep warm.
Thoughts of my girlfriend Julia faded as I put my arm around Micky and became aroused by her closeness.
The night passed as we snoozed and snuggled. There were several stops at service stations, one where we changed drivers. Other passengers took a refreshment break. We were so relaxed and comfortable that we stayed on the bus.
As the sun rose, we arrived at a small French village for our next break. This time we joined the other passengers and sat outside a small restaurant in the early morning sunshine. There was a refreshing breeze as Micky and I enjoyed our breakfast of black coffee and croissants.
It was mid-morning when we arrived at the French/Spanish border post of La Junquera. Spain was not a member of the Common Market yet and border controls were strict. We had to disembark to get our passports checked and stamped.
My Ibiza dream was getting closer. I was excited.