"ANYBODY KNOW how far up the road it is?" I asked, lighting a cigarette.
Joseph bummed the cig, took a drag, and answered, "It’s pretty far. There’s a whole unsealed section into the Canaan Downs we haven’t even hit yet.”
We stood on the side of the narrow and snaky highway that climbed the Takaka hill, maybe three quarters of the way up, surrounded on all sides by verdant greenery. Ahead a stationary and long line of gleaming, Gathering-bound vehicles curled away out of sight.
Behind more vehicles pulled up, and our taxi driver - having returned for us, good as his word - had already long since disappeared back down the highway.
“Well this is just great,” said Sam. “Why would they tell you to catch a taxi if it's going to be like this? What are we supposed to do now? Walk everything in?”
“Nah,” Tim replied with a slow smile. He seemed to be enjoying himself. (He always seemed to be enjoying himself.) “I reckon we join the queue.”
He wasn’t joking, and when no better idea came, we decided to do exactly that. With Tim in the ‘driver's seat’ we arranged all of our gear into the shape of a car and sat down on the warm bitumen to wait. When the queue moved so did we, having great fun making loud car noises and dragging our gear forward a few feet at a time.
The day was crisp and clear and it was all rather pleasant sitting there, but eventually, I suppose, we would have grown bored and attempted to walk our gear in.
A dire fate.
We were saved.
The family in the campervan behind. A couple, maybe in their forties, funky, evident in their effortlessly cool hats and beaded bracelets, with two sons in their early teens.
The type of couple, funky, you secretly wished were your parents taking you to an electronica festival as a kid. They had watched our antics with bemused expressions for the past half hour and now the father called Tim over. "Do you guys want a lift?" he asked out the driver's window.
"Ah, man, that would be so great, if it's not too much hassle. Do you think we can fit?"
"I think we can try." He turned to his two sons in the back. "Chris, Matt, can you make some room and open the door? We're going to have guests."
Bubbling with gratitude, we moved quickly to take them up on their offer, the two sons watching us invade with an air of astonishment. I wondered if they knew how cool their parents were. I was tempted to tell them.
When we had finished, we'd filled their camper to overflowing: Joseph, Sam, Tim and I either sitting on our backpacks or standing, and using the overhead cupboards to balance during the infrequent times the campervan actually lurched forward.
Our benefactors were from Wellington - the father a journalist, the mother a schoolteacher - and we passed the next hours in pleasant conversation, Joseph and Tim schmoozing as they was so good at doing.
Between times, we ducked outside to smoke cones and to speculate on the time it would take our friends coming later, and feeling glad it wasn't us. On the second or third time of re-entering the camper, I noticed the two sons sneaking glances my way and whispering.
The father noticed too, and the next time it happened, he had a quiet word. After, with a laugh, he said, "Don't worry, they were just wondering if you were maybe some kind of wrestler."
Sam, sipping on a water bottle nearby, nearly choked.
Of course, the son's confusion that day had more to do with the fashion I was rocking than the guns I was packing. For in the year since I'd crossed into the dance scene my style had changed, blossomed, the plaid flannel long since retired.
Perched on my luggage that day, I was arrayed in a puffy silver jacket, reflective silver jeans, and (a new styling recently acquired) glittery nail polish . . . silver.
I was rather proud of how far I'd come and how funky I now was, even if it did mean occasionally being mistaken for a wrestler, or a few awkward moments in transition - such as when my father walked in on me applying the nail polish three days before.
Dad had stopped, muttered 'God fuck me' (his favourite swear expression, it never having occurred to him what it was he was asking God to do), done an about turn, and left. Dad’s evident strategy being: ask no questions, hear no lies (or unpalatable truths), though my answer would have been: Dad, it's cool, really meaning: Dad, it's freedom.
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