('On-line' text of)
- A HITCH-HIKER'S TALE'
An account of hitch-hiking from England to Europe,
North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan & India in 1970
by Paul Mason
© Paul Mason 2006, 2015
THE LION AND THE UNICORN
Cautiously, I broach the topic of my plan to hitchhike to India.
My girlfriend Yolanda listens with visible eagerness as I explain my intentions. I discover that she too has harboured an interest and desire to visit the East, and now, recognising the possibility of fulfilling this wish, she readily agrees to join me.
Pooling our resources we assess that we can scrape about a hundred pounds. This sum is fine for a short holiday but is it really enough to take the two of us to India?
Yolanda sits thoughtful for a few moments.
‘Have you got a passport then?’ she suddenly challenges, fixing me with her large deep brown eyes.
‘No, I’ve not needed one before,’ I reply surprised, then add. ‘Do I really have to have one then?’
‘Of course you do, you idiot! You couldn’t get through all those borders without one,’ she points out, frowning.
‘I’m sure I could!’ I retort petulantly.
But I know that ater her schooling Yolanda left Italy and worked in France as an au pair, since which time she has ventured back and forth between Italy, France and England. So, when she speaks of travelling abroad, she speaks from experience, I therefore decide not to argue the point.
So the next stop seems to be to obtain the necessary forms from the post office, after which I return home and set about completing them. Numerous though the questions are, most of them I can answer without much difficulty, but I have to research the questions I am unsure of. But measuring my height proves no easy matter, as even after repeated attempts to determine the answer by means of a tape measure, I meet with little success. Resorting to the time-honoured convention of marking the wall with a pencil, the task becomes easier and I duly record the result, namely, five feet, ten inches (though I feel sure I must be taller). Scrutinising my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I am able to reveal the colour of my hair and eyes, as being brown (well I have to be sure!) and green respectively. Photographs are also required, so I need to make a trip into town.
Making use of a Photo-Me cubicle on Earls Court underground station, I position myself according to the instructions and press the two-shilling bits into the slot. The flashlight blasts away mercilessly; leaving me momentarily blinded. I then wait outside the booth awhile, and some minutes later retrieve the somewhat clammy prize from within the chrome grilled delivery chute.
The pictures are simply awful, particularly as they bear very little resemblance to the image I have of myself. My long sharp face appears gaunt, positively haggard, but what I find really disquieting is the look in my eyes - I am faced with an expression of fragile openness and anxiety. Something tells me I am really not the man I was (and I’m barely 18 years old)!
But at least my hair has recovered from the brutal cutting it received some six months before, though it is still considerably shorter than it was, it frames my face comfortably, loose fuzzy curls sprouting out healthily, adding to my height and placing me over six feet. A flicker of a smile involuntarily tightens my lips. Should I write on the passport form in the section marked height, ‘With hair; six foot two?
Getting the pictures countersigned by an authority figure, who has furthermore known me some years, proves to be the next stumbling block.
‘That’s impossible,’ I moan. ‘How can they expect everybody to know a judge, or a solicitor for that matter?’
‘Why not get the vicar to do it for you?’ comes my mum’s sage suggestion.
‘But I don’t even know him,’ I reply uncertainly.
‘Never mind. He knows you, and he often asks after you - Jurgen Simonson is his name.’
‘He doesn’t sound very English. What’s he like?’
‘It’ll be all right. He’d love to see you. Now you know where the vicarage is, don’t you?’
‘Sure, I used to deliver papers up that way. Top of Luttrell Avenue, on the right.’
I arrive at the vicarage feeling somewhat resentful. Why should the lack of a signature prevent me from going wherever I please? It’s almost as if I am seeking his approval.
The reverend comes to the door, greets me warmly and ushers me inside. After bidding me take a seat in his study, he asks the purpose of my visit and readily accedes to my request, settling down to endorse the papers and sign the backs of the photographs.
Formalities over, we exchange pleasantries and enjoy a good old English cup of tea, thoughtfully provided by his housekeeper. Languishing in the comfort of an easy chair, a distinct mood of calm and serenity pervades in the room. This together with the tea makes me feel really quite at ease, and we chat a long while. I finish my tea and go to get up, indicating my intention to leave.
The vicar rises too, wishes me well on my journey, and vigorously shakes me by the hand.
I walk towards home quite briskly, feeling refreshed by the visit and as I walk home I ponder on just where this foreign trip of mine is going to take me.
All the relevant bits and bobs to do with my passport form (including my birth certificate, which I discover amongst our family papers) are now dispatched to the Passport Office. With little to do now other than wait and fret, I set myself to gather necessary traveling items like the sleeping bags and a rucksack. Commonsense suggests that it is best to ask around first before deciding to buy new. Trekking to High Street Kensington one day, we make our way to a friend of ours who lives hereabouts, French Michelle.
I haven’t seen Michelle for a while and it’s nice to share some time with her. I’ve always liked Michelle a lot, ever since we first met on the same fateful evening as I first encountered Yolanda.
I recall that my good friend Dario and I had gone to ‘Le Bataclan’ discoteque, located in a vast windowless basement, somewhere near Oxford Street, in London’s West End. I think this nightspot was one of Dario’s haunts, and there I encountered this very attractive young woman, and we had talked some. I met Michelle there too; I think they were out together. The two young women looked so very similar, at times it was difficult to tell them apart, with their long blond hair, pretty faces and good clothes sense.
On the surface I suppose our meeting must have appeared normal enough, but at another level, within me, I sensed something extraordinary was taking place. It was as though I was suddenly capable of some sort of inner vision that enabled me to see the young woman and myself drifting towards each other and meeting as spiritual entities, as spirit bodies. It was as if time had stopped still or was at least irrelevant. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, nothing to do but to face the feeling that I had encountered some cosmic entity wandering through the universe, right into me, blocking my way! I had no choices to make, I realised I must submit, that fate had delivered this astonishing experience. I watched that meeting in a state of awed shock and disquiet, I had never encountered any like sensations in my life! I was at once enchanted and yet silently devastated too –my personal space had been challenged and my nervous system felt extremely jarred.
But the intense experience of our meeting gradually became dissipated as the evening wore on, as we stood around and socialised with Dario, and with Yolanda’s friend Michelle.
Curiously, I don’t recall ever discussing with Yolanda those moments, when we both met, though even though the experience had seered itself into my conciousness for all time. But, after that first encounter, I made no attempt to get close to Yolanda, even though we would sometimes meet at Dario’s home. Then, some months later, one sunny afternoon, a mutual fondness blossomed between us. At that point Yolanda gave me a ring - one crafted in silver with little circles of gold hammered into it. Curiously, Yolanda cautioned me not to wear the ring, so it was to be some sort of token, to remember her by. She was leaving London that day, so, since I did not have pen and paper, I scratched my address and telephone number on the foilbacked card of an empty Benson and Hedges cigarette packet.
Yolanda wrote to me and we shared our thoughts with each other frequently. At one point she told me she planned to return to London one day. She didn’t put a date on it, but it was nice to know we would meet again, in the not too distant future.
Sometime, in the latter part of 1969, Dario’s mother purchased a large black sofa for him, a sofa that doubled as a large bed. There was talk of Yolanda returning to London and it seemed they believed that on her return, Yolanda and Dario would be sleeping together. It really wasn’t my business, I was just happy to receive the Espresso Poste letters from Yolanda.
How could I have known Yolanda would return on Wednesday 31st December 1969, and come with Dario to see me at my home? How could I know that Dario would invite me back to celebrate the New Year? How could I know that, from New Year’s Day 1970, Thursday 1st January, my carefree teenage years as a free single male, my time as an independent person, would end? How could I know that henceforth I would be cutting adrift from everything and everyone I knew, and taking to the road, like a tramp, a beatnik, a hippy wanderer, with Yolanda at my side, apparently my soul partner?
Today I find Michelle in high spirits.
‘Paul, how are you Man? What’s all this about going with Yolanda to India? It sounds great!! I’m sorry Paul I haven’t got a pack, a bag. What do you call it Man? But I’ve got some sleeping bags, you’re welcome to them, Man, I don’t need them.’ Michelle slips off to find the sleeping bags and soon returns with them, apologising; ‘Sorry they’re not better, loov, but ... there you go, Man.’ The way she pronounces the word ‘love’ as ‘loov’ is a delight. I can’t restrain my laughter; she really cracks me up.
‘That’s fine Michelle, don’t get hung up about it, they’re groovy. We’ll get a rucksack somewhere, don’t worry. By the way they’re sometimes called knapsacks. Have you heard the song? "...How I love to go a wandering with a knapsack on my back".’
‘Oh cool it!’ Yolanda admonishes me, impatient to catch up with her friend.
A pressure to re-appraise the sense and validity of hitchhiking to India asserts itself within me, for I am still affected by pendulum-like swings of mood. Michelle’s support for the idea of enterng to India is very welcome. Her healthy interestedness, along with a general improvement in the weather (with welcome spells of sunshine) does much to better my mood; I begin to see our journey differently, as something even vaguely trendy!
I travel by myself to a camping enter in central London, in Leicester Square, where I am tempted to buy a small tent. I decide against the tent – it would be too much to carry – but I emerge with a rucksack, bluey grey in colour with space for a fair amount of stuff, and with two separate pockets, clasps and straps. The bag though not overly spacious is reasonably affordable and will do the job.
After many days waiting for news about my passport, at last I get a telephone call:- ‘Hello? Mr. Mason? Paul Mason? Yes? Petty France here. Your passport is ready Sir. Would you like to come in and collect it? Yes? Well come to reception and they will deal with you’.
I discover I like being addressed as ‘Sir’!
The Passport Offices are in Petty France, near St. James’s Park Station, and having arrived there I endure the formality of a long wait before being shown into an office where I face a string of questions concerning which countries I intend to visit. But I am loath to reveal myself to be anything other than a run-of-the-mill tourist getting ready for a Continental break, and therefore omit any mention of my hope to eventually travel to India. At length I am handed my passport and the official wishes me a good holiday.
Safely onboard the tube train homewards, I study the passport, with its black leatherwork cover from which issues an odour similar to that found in antique shops. At the top of the front cover in a lozenge shaped window, my name, ‘MR. P. MASON’ written in blue fountain pen ink on fresh white paper, with the number ‘355468’ appearing in a similar window at the bottom. Embossed in gold leaf between name and number are the images of a lion and a unicorn holding twixt paw and hoof a shield wrapped in ribbon, on which words are printed in gold; ‘HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, DIEU ET MON DROIT’ – the words are in French - and this a British passport! Top and tailing the emblem are the words: ‘BRITISH PASSPORT UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND’.
Adhered to one of the inner pages I find the smallest form, of the seeming mass that I had filled in, which reveals my most personal details; ‘MUSICIAN’, born ‘LONDON’, 5ft 10ins’ tall with ‘Green’ hair and ‘Brown’ eyes.
No! But, I read it again, this time correctly. Brown hair, green eyes… Okay!
On the back of the front cover in old-fashioned copperplate handwriting and printed on what looked like a high denomination banknote, the message:
Principal Secretary of State
for Foreign Affairs
Requests and requires
in the Name of Her Majesty
all those who it may concern
to allow the bearer to pass freely
without let or hindrance,
and to afford the bearer
such assistance and protection
as may be necessary.
I smile to myself.
‘Let’s hope that everyone reads this or I will be in trouble!’
Recognising that there is nothing holding us back from leaving for India; Yolanda now begins to show her first signs of doubt, earnestly seeking reassurance that I really want to travel. She has been working part-time in a shop near Trafalgar Square, which sells souvenirs and jewellery, and must now give notice to her employer, and to the landlord of her digs in Earl’s Court, where she has been living in a space the size of a cupboard, in a house situated on the corner of Nevern Road and the busy Cromwell Road.
The days drag by as Yolanda works out her notice, during which time an uneasy stillness descends on the basement flat where I live. I have nothing to express my pent-up feelings anymore; my guitars along with my amplifier and my effects pedals are all now gone - sold to raise money for the journey.
Sitting in my bedroom, day after day, I have so much time to reflect, far too much time, in fact I am getting quite fed up. So, I do some redecorating, to complete the half-finished repainting of my bedroom, the walls of which had been covered in doodles, messages, and a cartoon story neatly executed by a friend. The ceiling was most in need of attention being in a dreadful state, as many moons ago I drew smoke pictures on it with a lighted candle. There too are the splattered remains of flies I had swatted, each one circled in pencil. I remember my father having been very disapproving about this.
I made a rather half-hearted attempt to re-decorate the room the previous year. My father and I had visited a shop in Hammersmith, West London.
‘Have you any purple paint?’ I enquired.
The old gent in a brown coat gave me a ‘knowing’ look. ‘No. Just the colours on the chart over there,’ he answered, pointing. But I found no purple there, no snazzy colours at all in fact.
‘What about other shops, would they have purple?’ I persisted.
‘Doubt it,’ he grunted, ‘Never seen it myself that is.’ So I settled on buying cans of sky blue and dark blue, the darker being for the woodwork with the lighter colour for the walls.
Back in my father’s estate car, I discussed the purchase; he too gave me a ‘knowing’ look and raised his eyebrows. ‘He’s probably right. They know their job, Paul. That’s a very good shop. If they haven’t got any, you probably won’t get that colour paint anywhere else.’
I had tackled any decorating before and I was determined not to overdo it. Since no one could see behind the dark brown oak bureau (a relic from my schooldays), or behind the various cupboards and shelves, I asked myself; ‘Why should I get fussed about them?’ So I hadn’t, contenting myself merely to paint around them, around the pictures and posters too.
Nowadays the walls of my room look naked without the brightly coloured psychedelic posters that I rashly gave away. And worse is that where they were hung, the former lemon yellow colour decor stands revealed. There is my abstract painting too, entitled ‘Train Drivers Cufflink’ in bright red oilpaint on the wall beside the window, painted whilst listening to Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Stone Free’, having left the record to repeat endlessly on my mono record player. But no, I can’t bring myself to decorate over my painting!
The light is fading; and the weather has become suddenly overcast. I turn on both my table lamps, the one made of dark brown hardwood and shaped as a wild bear, and the other, the effort I made in woodwork class at school, but the lights do little to dispel the gloom.
Why should I be hanging about the house having a gloomy afternoon? At my age I should be at my prime - staying out all night, tripping the light fantastic, footloose and fancy-free. But, having been that already, I wonder to myself; ‘What’s in store for me in the future?’
I never really gave much thought to growing up, although, as a child, I had puzzled over a Kellogg’s cornflake packet on which presented a stereotypical image of a normal family outside their dream house. The man was casually dressed, suave and well groomed, and there was his ‘Cindy doll’ wife and their two children getting into their new car. It just about summed up the aspirations of the many ordinary people, I guess. What’s the point in growing up if all it can promise is the chance to earn money, get married and live out a cornflake box fantasy life?
I really didn’t relish the idea of being a ‘grown up’ and I reckon my mother realised this for she more than once addressed me as Peter Pan; I certainly didn’t want to lose the fun of being a child.
Now here I am, engaged to get married. Actually, as a child, the thought of my parents seeing me getting married used to fill me with acute embarrassment. Yolanda never met my father; he died in hospital shortly before her return to England. What with her being foreign and a bit of a glamourpuss, perhaps she would have been a bit much for him. I’m not sure.
I light an incense stick, position it in a holder, and watch for a while the spiralling plume of smoke.The wooden shelves by my bed, I painted in the same two-tone blue emulsion paints as the rest of the room, a combination similar to that of the Wedgwood china cheese dish in the front room. I ponder over the assortment of treasures on my shelves, studying my collection of nick-knacks. The silver boot hook, the antique china cream pot I had salvaged from some nearby roadworks and those miniature statues my uncle had given me.
‘I wonder where they’re from?’ I puzzle, as I pick up the Indian-looking bronze image of a seated figure with what looks like a child beside it. I am minded of the little wooden box covered with Indian postage stamps my father’s coin collection is kept in and wonder if my uncle had been to India.
Right now I just want to DO something, but I didn’t know quite what. In former times I would have given vent to my feelings on the fretboards of my instruments, but now I cannot. I turn instead to my depleted record collection, which once spanned the breadth of the fireplace and now numbers barely a dozen. The choice is between Syd Barrett’s ‘Golden Hair’ and Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Peach Tree Blues’, songs which have become abiding companions of late. I choose the latter and find the track with practised alacrity, casually dropping the worn stylus into the vinyl groove. The rich and deeply soulful tones of Sonny Boy once more break out full throttle and re-awaken me to their beauty; ‘Oh look at that honey ooh ooh eee, way over down by the pe-eeach-a tree’.
The temptation to join in, again possesses me, I utter the words with impassioned force keeping time by slapping my knees. ‘Oh look at that honey ooh ooh eee, way over down by the pe-eeach-a tree’ …
And that harmonica ...wow!
A thought strikes me, and I quickly resolve that the time has come to tell my mother that I am going to try my luck on the road. It isn’t easy, but I break the news to her and I feel better for that. She endures my attempts to explain with a concerned patience that fails to conceal her disappointment. I feel as though I am betraying her in some way, it feels awful. But I steel myself against the emotions I feel; I can’t let this chance to travel, to try and to sort myself out slip through my fingers.
The day eventually arrives when Yolanda has slept for the last time in that excuse for a room she has been renting. I accompany her up the ill-lit stairway to collect her suitcases, the roar of the traffic outside causes us to shout to one another as we scoop the last of her belongings into a paper carrier bag. Perhaps to rid ourselves of the depressing effects of the place, and perhaps just for the hell of it, we hail a black cab to take us back to Putney - blow the expense.
The idea is that Yolanda will stay overnight at my place and we will leave together in the morning. I do hope that my mother doesn’t mind her stopping over. But I figure that since the two of us will be on the road together day and night, what difference will one extra night make here?
This evening, after supper is finished with, we start to pack. We are very decided to take the minimum of bulk.
I begin collecting what I will need plucking socks and underwear from my chest of drawers. We choose a couple of of Yolanda’s towels too.
‘I won’t bother with any spare jeans or extra shoes,’ I decide.
‘Well I’ll take some spare things, they won’t take up much room,’ counters Yolanda, placing a couple of blouses and a dress on the pile. Realising that the weather might sometimes get a bit parky, I think to add a woolen sweater, hand knitted by my mother.
‘Well, we’re almost finished then,’ I announce.
‘I don’t believe it!’ Yolanda replies. ‘Surely we need more than that, there’s the toilet things and my make-up yet.’
Having added these items I scour my brain for anything more to take. Those years in the Wolf Cubs have left their mark. Our motto ‘Be Prepared’ rings in my ears. ‘I’ll take a penknife too, it could come in useful.’
‘Yes, and a needle and cotton,’ suggests Yolanda.
‘A biro, some paper too and where’s your passport?’ I ask. ‘We’d better get them together as well.’
After rummaging around in her suitcase Yolanda hands me her passport. Naturally curious I flick it open.
‘Wow! You look really different here, it doesn’t look like you at all,’ I laugh, Yolanda returns me an embarrassed, soulful look. I ask her; ‘What does ‘Casalinga’ mean?’
‘Housewife,’ she replies, her face reddening.
This puts me in mind of a declaration Yolanda made to me; ‘I don’t want to be like every other Italian woman, tied to the kitchen sink. My life will be different from that’, but here her declared occupation - ‘Housewife’.
‘Shall we take something to read?’ I ask, ‘I thought of the Bible.’
‘Oh yes, I’ll take this book,’ she replies taking a green hardback book from her suitcase whereupon she looks at me expectantly. It is ‘The Voice of Isis’, she has shown it to me before. I had browsed the pages of this book a couple of years before at a friend’s flat in Wigmore Street, the site of many a scene in it’s day. Opening it again I notice a picture of a sunset on the sea’s horizon that she has drawn in coloured pencils. She wrote to me concerning this, she had drawn it whilst on holiday in France, with Michelle. This book is no ordinary book, it seeks to direct the reader along ‘The Path’ and contains numerous references to Egyptian beliefs. Yolanda sometimes quotes it attempting to add weight to her stated beliefs. On the subject of stimulants, it is categorical in its condemnation, stating that those who use them ‘can never achieve the Goal in this lifetime’. Personally, I believe the book to have been written by a couple of oddballs, though I keep my opinion to myself since Yolanda obviously derives solace from its pages and I believe that is important.
Another book Yolanda has taken to reading of late emanates from the ‘Hare Krishna’ people. It is a commentary on a work Bhagavad Gita. But I don’t take to this sect as when I had been going through the worst days of my crisis some weeks before I had taken to sitting in Hyde Park in an effort to clear my head. On one such occasion a band of them approached, chanting their dirgelike hymn. Finding a group of tourists seated on a nearby bench they set about appraising this captive audience of their beliefs, brandishing their brightly coloured magazines zealously aloft. I myself was very much in need of spiritual comfort and direction, so I observed their antics with rapt attention. Long they badgered passers by and after having gained the coins they eagerly sought, formed a column and resumed their cymbal crashing, head shaking and general hullabaloo. Though they glanced at me as they me passed by, but evidently I was not a unworthy target for their attentions, perhaps I did not look wealthy enough?
Yolanda makes no sign of wishing to take the Hare Krishna book which is a relief, for if for no other reason than it weighs a ton.
Preparations for our travel finished, we clean our teeth and bid my mum good night, then settle down. Yolanda is to sleep in my single bed with its veneered wooden headboard etched with a former girlfriend’s message; ‘Don’t cross out my name, Harriet!’
Tonight my resting-place is the floor.
Though formerly a sound sleeper, I no longer relish the thought of going to bed as I have begun to harbour an unhealthy dread of the night. Long I lie there in the gloom reviewing the events of the day, my chest tight, my breathing active. Everyone is in bed now, probably fast asleep. Yolanda sighs deeply and turns over.
‘See you in the morning ‘Landa. Night night.’
‘Uh what? Oh yeah. Night night Paulikin.’
I must have fallen asleep and slept for quite a few hours because when I open my eyes it is daylight. Suddenly I realise I have been lying on the floor. Oh yes, I remember. I gave my bed to Yolanda.
Yolanda opens her eyes and peers at me dozily.
‘Oh hi ya,’ she murmurs.
‘Would you like a cup of tea, some breakfast?’ I ask.
‘Oh I’ll get up,’ she responds.
When we have freshened up and had breakfast I pack a few last things; tooth brushes, hairbrushes and a couple of handkerchiefs. There is one problem though, how are we to carry the sleeping bags?
‘What we need is a strap,’ I suggest.
Unable to find one I rummage through the chest of drawers.
‘I could use these,’ I say holding up a bunch of neck ties. Yolanda eyes me in apparent disbelief. ‘Oh, they’ll do, if I tie them together,’ I tell her, trying to convince myself.
We then have a brief and whispered Pow-Wow.
Are we really going to go, still? Go this very day?
‘No time like the present,’ I think out aloud, but then ask, ‘Would you like to leave it a while then?’
‘No, today’s fine by me. Have you told your mother yet?
‘Yes, but not that we’re leaving today. But she must have noticed us packing. I’ll go and tell her now.’
I find my mum and tell her we are intending to travel today.
‘Whereabouts are you going?’ my mother asks, her expression is grave. She tilts her face a little, as if looking over an invisible pair of glasses, ‘Do you still want to go to India?’
‘That’s right and we hope to go to lots of other places too. Around Europe, Morocco, even the Holy Land.’
I gaze at her ashen expression and at her greying hair, noting for the first time that her beautiful copper curls are losing their engaging colour.
‘Lunch will be ready soon, you’ll want some before you go?’
‘Thanks. Yeah, we’ll leave after lunch.’
I find my brother Raymond in the front room (he is staying whilst on his summer break from studies at university during which he is working as a bus conductor). We exchange pleasantries.
Raymond is older than me, about one and a half years older. Perhaps it is this slight difference of age that encourages him to view to play out a role of being a better-informed person. Certainly, he is more sensible than me, possibly a prime reason I turned out to be the rebel, reveling in meeting people and finding my own way. It is as if Raymond has bypassed many experiences associated with being a teenager, so despite the difference in our years, I feel I have more experience of life.
‘So,’ he says, ‘Mum tells me you’re off to India.’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘Do you know people there then?’
‘Yolanda’s got a few addresses. Yes.’
This is true to a point though they are not people that either of us has met yet, but contacts that have been suggested. But, as it happens, we have already decided not to take the addresses with us, though I feel no need to tell him that.
‘How much money have you got?’ he enquires, ‘You’ll need at least a hundred and twenty quid each for the fare.’
So, it seems he might have been aware of my intentions all along!
‘I don’t need that much,’ I answer.
‘Yes you do, that’s how much the airfare is! Have you got enough for it?’ he demands, with just a hint of anger arising in his voice.
‘Well that’s as much as you know,’ I respond, slightly unsettled by his manner. ‘Actually, we’re going to hitch-hike, you twit.’
‘That’s a bit dodgy isn’t it? That could be really dangerous!’
My brother looks genuinely concerned. He’s a good lad, in spite of our differences, and all our ups and downs. I reckon his heart is in the right place, though right now he is trying to make me feel foolish and I won’t have it.
‘Look, I’ve hitchhiked hundreds of miles. I’ve been all over the place, with Henderson, on my own, all over the place!’
‘A bit different though, going to foreign countries,’ he retorts, ever the ‘last word Harry’.
‘Not really!’ I say, though wondering all the while.
At this moment my mother enters the room. I sense that she has been hovering about whilst my brother and I have been talking. I am very glad of the interruption for in truth Raymond’s attitude has begun to piss me off.
Over lunch, conversation is very limited, mostly down to asking for the condiments and vying with each other in giving thanks to mum for cooking the food.
At length, the meal over, Yolanda and I return to my bedroom, and out of earshot of my family I let out a sigh of relief, ‘Phew that was heavy! Come on let’s go, there’ll be no better time to leave.’
Fastening the straps of my rucksack, I then hoist it over my shoulder and swing it onto my back, before surveying my room very slowly and thoughtfully.
‘Have we got everything then?’ I ask, ‘Do you want to carry the sleeping bags?’
‘I think so. No, you take the bags, and I’ll carry the backpack.’
‘If you really want to,’ I say distractedly, still wondering if there is anything I have forgotten to bring.
Yolanda and I walk from the bedroom down the hallway where I shout out, ‘We’re off everybody. Bye-ee!’
Mum and Raymond emerge, and make their farewells. My mother and I hug and give each other a kiss, before I make my way to the front door.
I have to deal with a great welling up of emotion inside. I ask myself ‘Will I ever see my mother again?’ She who has brought me up and given her me such tireless devotion. Would this be the last opportunity for me to tell her how much I love her, how much she means to me? I can’t bear the thought. Struggling hard not to show it, I weep inside.
Making my last gestures and words of farewell, my throat suddenly feels dry, and I find I can speak only with difficulty.
‘Bye, Mum. Bye Raymond. I’ll write to you when I get the chance.’
‘God bless,’ my mother says, ‘God bless you both.’
‘See you in time for tea!’ my brother calls out.
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