The clouds hung low over the earth and I struggled to remember what the sky colour was. It had become an undulation of white and grey, shadowing the sun and darkening the nights. The calendar had ticked into Spring and apart from a slight warming of the air, it was difficult to tell winter had gone to other latitudes. I had resigned myself to a long wet spring, hoping summer would be worth the wait. Until, one day, unannounced, the clouds parted and the sun began to bathe the earth in its warmth. May had arrived.
I hoped on the bike and pedalled to the Cycle Touring Festival, I lazed in the garden after work switching my black uniform for summer clothes, I rode into Lincolnshire to reach a sunny work festival in Yorkshire before coming back home with a head full of microadventures plans. June was going to be a month spent outdoors.
I was sound asleep when the phone rang. It was work. I hesitated before picking up, but I did. It had been a long week since coming back from the festival and it was possible my colleague needed some genuine help. Instead of the familiar voice of my co-worker, it was the stressed out voice of my manager than reached my ears. Nobody had showed up in the shop that morning. Left with no solution, I had a quick shower and cycled the fastest I’d ever done to work. Phone calls after phone calls only lead to my colleague voicemail. The day went by and my worry grew. Nobody knew where he was or why he wasn’t picking up his phone, until 9pm when my manager texted. My co-worker had resigned, leaving me the sole employee of a shop about to enter its busiest period of the year. I felt all my energy drain out of my body as my microadventures plan slid away from my grasp. There was nothing for it. I would have to work almost every shift until we could find some help.
Day after day, I harassed the recruitment agency who kept sending unsuitable candidates. I was left with no choice, I had to hire the least worse person so I could get a day off at least. A day of intense training took place before I was able to crash into bed. I had not had a proper day off for two weeks. I turned off my phone that day, resolute that I would not be dragged into work.
More frenzied phone calls with the agency followed. I had a holiday coming up for the end of the month and no plans to cancel it. I spent my days sifting through CVs, while trying to run a shop and train useless staff at not messing everything up. Until, three days before my flight, the agency called. They had found the perfect candidate, or so they said. I went through the formalities of the interview, knowing beforehand that if the person could talk and presented well, they would be hired. They were. Not only could she talk, presented well, but she had lots of desirable experiences and a strong work ethic. I knew then the agency had finally found someone reliable.
Three days of full-on training followed until 5pm rang on that Sunday. I rode back home, each pedal stroke pushing me away from work and shedding every thought of the shop behind. I was on holiday. At home, I packed my bag, checked-in my flight, and slept like the blessed.
The following morning could not pass fast enough but finally it was time to get to the airport. I emptied my bag for security, chatted with them about recorder music and licorice while they scanned my items repeatedly. Eventually, they found I carried no deadly weapon and let through. The plane journey was uneventful and I lost myself in ambient music, dozing off to sleep every now and again.
We flew over the clouds, over France, over the Alps, and finally we looped around Nice before descending over the sea to the airport. There was not a trace of clouds in the sky. The heat struck me as I took a step out of the plane. The thermometer was a lot higher than what I was accustomed to but I embraced it. The warmth was all-encompassing, like a hug from the arms of the sun, and after months of dreary grey and cold, I could not moan about it.
My friend was waiting just outside the security gates. We had not seen one another for three years. I could not believe this amount of time had elapsed. She is my muse and inspiration. Ideas and creativity flow inside of me like a raging torrent every time we meet. It is easy to live with her around, chatting endlessly into the night, walking miles after miles in cities, and eating all the good food. Life is better when we’re close.
We drove to her apartment and I met the new addition to her family, Hawaii, a beautiful gentle English cocker spaniel. I dropped my bag, emptied its content, and forgot about the world in Bristol. We talked, we walked, I met her friends, we made plans to go to the mountains and to the beach. Life was easy. We could just follow it wherever it lead us. Work that had been so difficult and tiresome seemed to be a distant memory as time stretched to the rhythm of my body.
A week passed and it was time to go back to the UK. I did not want to leave, not so quickly, but time was not my own any longer. My boarding pass dictated I had to sit in a plane that day. We said rapid goodbyes, better than lengthy embraces, and I fell asleep in the plane. Drifting into sleep was much easier than having to think about leaving my friend behind.
Late, we landed in Bristol, the clouds had parted and it was like I had brought back the embrace of the sun with me, a trace of my friend. My partner was waiting in the car park, ready for our holidays. We drove home, my head full of Nice, the mountains, and the seaside. I threw my clothes in the washing machine, hung them up, and packed them again the following morning. It was time to head to Devon.
The sun seemed to settle in the sky as we drove south and west. The drive was uneventful, a straight line down to the coast. Needing a break from the road, we parked by the seaside, ordered fish and chips, and settled on a sandy beach. It was all a bit cliché but we didn’t care. The food was good, the sand was comfortable, and the sun soft on our skins. I dipped my feet in the sea, the temperature so much colder than in Nice but I didn’t mind. I crouched, getting more of my body in the water and began to swim. A part of my brain was going berserk, imagining every shadow on the sand to be a monster, every wave to be part of a hand ready to cling around my body and drag it into unknown depth. I resisted the urge to scramble out of the sea and kept on swimming. One stroke at a time, I silenced my brain. I swam a length, another, another, another, and I began to enjoy the caress of the sea.
Later that evening, we made it to our accommodation. Both too tired to do anything, we had a quiet dinner inside and an early night. The following days we explore the South Devon coast, dividing our time between hikes and sea swimming. The chant of the waves was our constant companion, one that I sometimes greeted with a song or two from my recorder. Time stretched on again as we forgot the hands of the clock and lived to our rhythm.
Eventually time caught on and it was time to head home. I had forgotten about the troubles at work, my ex-co-worker a distant memory of another time. The sun, the seas, the mountains had taken away my stress and worries. Ten days had elapsed but I felt like a month had gone by. I was ready to face whatever had happened in the shop in my absence. But nothing had happened. Everything had rolled smoothly and the shop was not a disaster. I slid back into my role, my shoulders relaxed, my smile fresh and genuine. Life was good.