Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Story

Luke is 47 or 48. He doesn't remember which. Either that or he just doesn't know. I don't think it makes much difference to him. In certain light, he looks quite youthful - more 30's than 40's. He has smooth, weathered skin that hides his love for cigarettes well

He's never settled down, always moving from one job to another, one town to the next, never staying for longer than about two years at a time. He went to University in his thirties and then went back to working as he did before - gardening, labouring, tree surgery. Six years ago he decided to go and see some friends he had in Madrid and try and make a life for himself in Spain. He drove down in a beaten-up old car he had, with two hundred pounds in his pocket. He didn't stay in Madrid long and went South, looking for work amongst the English communities that had congregated there. He got some work, bought a caravan and lived on some land with a commune of Brits, all of whom were either escaping something or putting something off. Luke didn't feel that way though, he felt at home for the first time in years. He got two cats - Bertie and Onka - and for the first time in his life he felt something like settled.

Luke, Bertie and Onka were like a little family. He had been alone for so long it didn't take Luke any time at all to become very attached to them. They were like his brother and sister, his best friends. But things weren't all rosy in Spain. Luke made just about enough money for the three of them to live, then the car started breaking down, then the tools he used to work with needed replacing - it was just one thing after another - one step forwrd, two steps back - and he started to accumulate a large amount of debt. After a while he decided to cut his losses and return to England. He could live rent-free on his parents land, in his caravan, and work as much as he could, repay his debts and save some money.

So the three of them set off for a ferry in the North. About 40 miles South of Madrid they stopped in a motorway services for the night. They're not ideal for stopping at but they didn't normally charge you and you could get back on the road straight away the following morning. In the middle of the night Luke was woken by Bertie and Onka fighting. He reached for his torch, which had its own little hook above his bed, but for some reason it wasn't there. He started to get up but by then they had stopped, so he settled down to sleep again.

In the morning, Luke woke and put the kettle on for coffee and started to fill the cat's bowls. Onka rubbed around his legs, as normal. 'Bertie!' he called, expecting him to come skipping out from his sleeping place between the cupboards. Bertie didn't come out. Panic rose in Luke's chest. 'Bertie!' he called again, his voice anxious now. He looked around the small caravan - at the cushion the cats sometimes slept on together, at the place on the sofa where they often sat with him, then at the makeshift cat flap he had put in the door, with its piece of wire to hold it shut. The wire was hanging loose. Bertie was gone.

Luke stayed at the services for 5 days, walking around, calling Bertie's name, asking people if they'd seen him. He climbed over the back wall, walked the fields and farm tracks. Still no Bertie. He couldn't stay there forever and on the sixth day he wrenched himself away, distraught. Chances were, Bertie was either long gone or flat on the road somewhere, but he didn't know. It's the not knowing that kills you.

His plan in England worked and after three years he had paid off all his debts and saved a lot of money. His application for residency in New Zealand was accepted, Onka had her jabs and passport, and they were due to fly out in 6 weeks time. He got lucky with two weeks of cash work and was suddenly flush. He thought of what to do with it and his mind led him back to three years ago and a promise he had made to himself, to Onka, to Bertie. If he ever had the chance he would come back and look for him.

Luke packed a rucsac and a tent, flew to Madrid, hired a car and started driving South. The place had changed but he still recognised some things, especially when he got on the road South. He knew he was getting nearer and his heart started beating faster, his hands becoming slippery on the steering wheel. His heart was in his throat as he approached the services, tears already welling in his eyes, excitement in his stomach. It was a long shot, he knew that. But he had to try it. He owed it to himself, to Onka, to Bertie.

The barman at the services was bemused at first but eventually remembered the strange English guy who stayed there for a week three years ago, looking for his cat. Luke started pretty much where he left off - walking, calling. He did a day at the services then headed South, on the route back to where he and the cats had lived together for three years. He stopped in villages, walked every street and every farm track, calling Bertie. He inspected every litter of kittens for traces of Bertie's genes, questioned every cat owner, and pretty much anyone he met. Every movement in the shadows, every cry or wail from a cat at night was a potential Bertie. He immersed himself in it, it drove him mad, but he knew he had to do it.

He went back to the commune where he had lived. All the same people were still there but, strangely, all but one of the couples had swapped partners with each other. That was the way with these places. They had a party that lasted until 7am. A big, angry woman who remembered Luke from years ago, and didn't like him then, punched him in the face and knocked him to the floor. He was too drunk to remember it properly, or for it to hurt too much.

There was no Bertie though and Luke headed back towards Madrid, stopping in the same villages, walking the same tracks, calling the same name.

He flies home tomorrow morning. He's stopped calling now, stopped looking. He's looking forward to seeing Onka again, to starting his new life in New Zealand. At least the journey back to England will be straight forward, with no quarantine to deal with.


  • At 12:18 am, Blogger P.Dub said…

    where me fuckin' happy ending?

  • At 6:35 am, Blogger Roger said…

    Here it is - Onka got run over by the 27 bus the day Luke left to look for Bertie.

  • At 11:45 pm, Blogger P.Dub said…


  • At 9:47 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I don't know how many hours a day you are cycling but just one or two more here and there could mean you could do it all by bike.
    I had amazing times cycling through Spain and France and would recommend just turning those pedals.
    good luck,
    george ( jibi from cycling+)

  • At 12:14 pm, Blogger Mike said…

    Roger - you're very mean.

    Percy - can I be your agent?

    I'm thinking Russel Crowe - in A Beautiful Mind mode - as our troubled hero and maybe Penelope Cruz as the spanish writer he meets and inspires with his tale of hope.

    He's mean and moody and has fallen out of love with the world. She's beautiful and sensitive, but has fallen out of love with herself.

    Only a tragi-comic search through the spanish countryside can bring them together.

    The cat and associated kittens - which ultimately turn up at their rustic wedding - are incredibly cute.

    Just an idea...

  • At 4:49 pm, Anonymous Herbie said…

    I fancy a pizza!


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