A Christmas Journey

The petrol station is busy with office workers filling their cars and van drivers pumping in just enough fuel to get them through tomorrow. It is already dark, and the sulfurous lights cast a dull glow over the whole scene. Here, Christmas is cut price boxes of Quality Street and a two for one offer on Diet Coke.

The girl is wearing a brightly colored knitted hat with little plaits down either side. She weaves between the pumps, asking if anyone can give her and her companion a lift into Portsmouth.
“It’s not that far” I tell her “You could walk it.”
She shakes her head, plaits jangling, telling me they have heavy bags. She has a terribly posh voice for a hitch-hiker.

I watch her as I fill my car, mindful of warnings about criminals operating through distraction. She comes up to talk to me again, asking where in Portsmouth the yachts would be. If she knew the area, the question would be laughable, but I tell her that the only yachts I can think of are at Port Solent. So she repeats her cheery round of the people with their heads down, wishing she would go away, asking them if they are going there instead.

Inside the petrol station her unkempt, dark haired companion is at the counter trying to draw something to describe what he wants to the staff. In broken English he explains he is Brazilian and has few words. I know the young man who serves me; he is a blonde and wholesome-looking Czech, who has very few more words himself. They seem to have taken to each other.

As I go back to my car I cannot help but ask the girl why she is looking for yachts.
“We’re trying to get to Cuba” she says, as if that explains everything.
I try to tell her that the yachts at Port Solent are pleasure craft, owned by people who come down from London twice a year, but she is adamant it is the right place for them to go, to find a boat on which they can work their passage.
“You’re bananas” I laugh “But I wish you luck.”

She is bananas; she is no more than a silly child with an impossible dream; but as I drive away I envy her that. Untrammelled by responsibility – or even very much in the way of realism – she is pursuing a grand design with vigour. We lose too much of that as we get older.

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