When I’m Eighty Three by Mike Cavanagh
Late in the afternoon and I’d spent most of the day lugging my backpack, travelling out of Wellington, New Zealand, having only got 150kms north. I’d all but resigned myself to having to camp out for the night when a Morris Minor passed me then pulled over.
‘Pap! Pap!’ went its little horn.
I ran up and opened the rear passenger door to be greeted by a mountain of suitcases.
“Sorry.” Said the driver. “Hope you don’t mind nursing that pack of yours on your lap?”
So I closed the back door, and hopped into the front seat.
“Hi, I’m Mick.” I said.
“Hello, Mick. My name’s Michael too, and what a fine name it is, isn’t it?” the driver grinned at me as he said this. His hair under his hat was grey and his face wrinkled, but his eyes gleamed, like a kid’s in a candy store.
I smiled back involuntarily. “Yes, isn’t it.”
“Good. Good.” Michael said, and away we trundled.
“So where are you off to Michael?” he continued.
“Just hitching around. I’ve met some really interesting people and I love the landscapes here.”
Michael laughed. “Ah, interesting people, yes, you do find them here.”
“What about you, Michael?” I asked. “Where are you heading off to with all this stuff?”
“Ah well, my wife, Patricia, and I have always been restless souls. We’ve been living in a little place called Waihola on the south island. A pleasant little town, half an hour south of Dunedin.”
That was over one thousand kilometres away. He must have been driving for two days.
“We wanted a change, as pleasant as life in Waihola is.” He continued. “So we’ve decided to up sticks. We like the look of the country in the Northlands (the region north of Auckland) so I’m heading up there. If I like it, I’ll get a place and go back and pick up Patricia and the rest of our things.”
“So, Patricia is waiting in Waihola for you to find and buy a place, then you’ll go back and you’ll both go live in Northlands?”
Yes, I know he’d just quite clearly told me this, but…. Heavens he was at least in his mid-seventies, he was driving a Morris Minor, he had no place sorted to move into, and… and … well, wow, you just don’t do that when you’re his age! Well, evidently you do.
“Yes, that is the plan, Michael.” He paused. I paused, shaking my head, imperceptibly I thought.
“We live but once, Michael.” He said, as if interpreting my body language.
“Indeed.” It was all I could say.
We drove through the night, chatting about the places Michael had been. Seems he’d met Patricia after the war and they’d travelled across Europe. She was a nurse and he was a builder, and they stopped where-ever they felt like and helped people out as they could. Then they lived in France for a while, then England, then Scotland, where they stayed for almost a decade before the travel bug bit them again. So on to South America, Bolivia, Ecuador, then to South Africa, Rhodesia (as it was then known), then to Australia, living in Perth for a while, then Adelaide, before heading across to New Zealand nine years ago and settling in Waihola.
We talked until we fell into an easy silence and I drifted off to sleep, propped up on the front seat behind my pack.
I awoke to the sky now a grey veil ahead of us, with the low, far edges tinged with warm orange as the rising sun threatened to arrive again and bring all that every day brought. Michael looked over to me.
“I hope you slept well, Michael?’
I yawned on cue.
“Mmmff!” Stretching. “Yes. Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about, Michael.”
The sun was nearing its appearance at the horizon to our right. The low cloud looked to be moving away, as if opening a clear band of sky for the sun to make its entrance. I heard the little ‘ticker-ticker’ of the Morris’s indicator at the same time as Michael spoke.
“I’ll be dropping you off here, Michael. You’ll need to keep heading along this highway and hopefully you’ll be in Auckland in plenty of time for breakfast. I’m turning off here to head off to Northland.”
“OK.” I felt like I should say more, but still sleepy I couldn’t get my head around what or how.
“Look at that.” Michael said, as he stopped the car. He turned the engine off, got out and walked to the front of the car. I grabbed hold of my pack, and hopped out to join him.
In silence we watched the rising of this day’s sun. Bold in it’s warming glow, the clouds fleeing before it, washed now in gold and burnished orange as if enflamed. Shimmering at the last as its heat enlivened the air between us and it, the sun broke free into the sky, and beamed its warmth and light onto our faces.
Michael turned to me.
“A beautiful day. I’m glad to have met you, Michael.”
“You too, Michael.” His eyes held mine, genuine warmth of their own to match that of the sun on our faces.
“I don’t think we will met again, so I wish you well on your life travels, Michael.” he said.
“And you on yours.” It was all I could think of, yet it felt right.
Michael turned to get back into the Morris.
“Ah, Michael?” I called to him. “How old are you?”
“Eighty three tomorrow, Michael, eighty three tomorrow.” He laughed again, and I couldn’t help but join in.
With no further ado he got into the Morris and drove off, with a
‘Pap! Pap!’ to see me on my way.
Sounds like Noddy’s car, I thought, then laughed. Yes, Michael is what Noddy would be like if he was eighty three.
Hope I am too.
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