"ANYBODY KNOW how far up the road?" I asked, lighting a cigarette.
Joseph bummed the cig, took a drag, and said, "It’s pretty far. There’s a whole unsealed section we haven’t even hit yet.”
We stood on the side of the narrow, 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 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,” muttered Sam, shading his eyes with a freckled hand. “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,” Joseph said. He seemed to be enjoying himself. (He always seemed to be enjoying himself.) “I reckon we join the queue.”
When no better idea came, we decided to do exactly that. With Joe in the ‘driver's seat’ we arranged all of our luggage into the shape of a car and sat down on the warm bitumen to wait.
Safely ensconced in our motor - a triumph, perhaps - we argued across the front seats and the back, unwound our windows and leaned on our horn, and as a general point of principle tried to perform a chinese fire drill every five minutes or so.
And when the queue moved so did we, having great fun making loud car noises and dragging everything on 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 hike our gear in.
A dire fate.
But we were saved.
The family in the campervan behind. A couple, maybe in their forties, evidently funky in their effortlessly tilted fedoras, with two sons in their early teens.
They were cool. They were hep. They were the type of behatted and funky couple you secretly wished were your parents taking you to an electronica festival as a kid.
For the past half hour they had watched our antics with bemused expressions and now the father called Joseph over. "You guys need a lift?" he asked.
"Ah, man, that would be so great, if it's not too much hassle?"
"Not at all." He turned to his two sons in the back. "Chris, Matt, make some room. We're going to have guests."
Warbling with our gratitude we moved quickly to take them up on their offer, the two sons watching us invade with an air of astonishment. When we'd finished, we had filled their camper to overflowing: the lads and I either sitting on our backpacks or standing, and using the built-in cupboards to balance during the infrequent times we actually lurched ahead.
Light burst in, Placebo sprang from the stereo. A friend in need's a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better . . .
They were Wellingtonians - the father a journalist, the mother a schoolteacher - and we passed the next few hours in pleasant conversation, Joseph and Tim schmoozing as they was so good at doing.
In-between times we ducked outside to smoke cones and survey the queue and speculate on home much longer it would take our friends coming later, feeling glad it wasn't us. On re-entering the camper the third or fourth time I noticed the two sons sneaking glances my way and whispering.
The father noticed too and had a quiet word. After, he said with a laugh, "Don't worry, they were just wondering if you were maybe some kind of professional wrestler."
Sam, sipping on his water bottle, nearly choked.
Did I look like a wrestler? I tried to picture it from their point of view. Me sitting there on my luggage in my puffy silver jacket, DayGlo orange T-shirt, silver Ohm necklace, reflective silver jeans, chequered sneakers, multiple rings, and, a new styling recently acquired, my nails painted with polish - silver, of course. Not a plaid flannel panel in sight.
No, it was the guns, almost certainly my guns.
But it didn’t matter. I was too proud of how far I'd come and how funky I now was. I could be mistaken for a spandexed hero of roid-rage, or, for the cause, suffer the occasional awkward moment 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 he was asking God to do, done an about turn and fled. Dad’s obvious strategy being: ask no questions, hear no lies, though my answer would have been: Dad, it's cool, really meaning: Dad, it's freedom . . .
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