On the morning of the day I am due to fly westward, I wake up late – late being a few minutes before 9.00 am – on a day on which I have an 11.35 am flight to catch with neither a packed bag nor sorted transport for comfort. When I finally pull myself out of my bed, I call a cab for 9.30 am, and beginning tossing clothes, books and my laptop into the grab bag I use for these quick across-the-pond jaunts.
The decision to head westward – though made on a whim – had been the culmination of a few weeks of agonising and endless analysis to the point of paralysis; weighing the pros and the cons of heading across the pond yet again this year. One day, early in November, one of the lads had called me up from across the pond to announce that he was finally ditching the unfettered freedoms of chronic bachelorhood for the not inconsiderable
constraints responsibilities of married life.
The surprise was not that he’d finally seen reason, but that it had taken him so long. The rumour mills of the old boys network insisted – without proof of course – that the sharp words from his mother had finally borne fruit, aided by rumoured frolics in the dark, bowls of steaming pepper soup and more than a few tantrums from his girlfriend of seven years and some, a bruising dynamo of a woman whose abilities belied her 5-2 frame. She was appropriately named Patience.
The driver of the cab that gets assigned to me is at least sixty by my reckoning, with a receding hairline almost white in its entirety. When I finally lug my bag downstairs to where he is waiting, I have to rap his window twice before I get his attention which is fully occupied by staring into the distance whilst tossing biscuit crumbs into his open mouth. I confirm my name and my destination to him as we pull out of the parking lot onto the side road and on towards the airport. There is a light drizzle, some wind and light traffic as we drive. Unusually for an older cab driver – I find that they tend to be more friendly and gregarious than most – our conversation takes a while to kick off so we cycle through the usual suspects; moaning about the weather, the latest lousy football score for the local football team, and an unusual one – council taxes.
As we crawl past the impressive stone facade of St Machars, he asks what church I attend. Unsure if the name might ring a bell, I mention the street it is on. Recognition flickers in his eyes as he confirms he does know it.
Your priest is always sharply dressed, he says. I’ve taken him from the airport a few times. He’s a good bloke too, very spiritual. I nod in agreement. If we are talking about the same person, I am yet to see him dressed in anything beyond a freshly pressed shirt, a tie, well pressed pants and shoes shined to the max. He also is one of those rabidly (in a good way) spiritual blokes who wear their faith on their sleeves – I suspect he might have tried to do some preaching to the cabbie.
We are making the final turn towards the airport, with a head of traffic building when I ask him what church he attends. He points in the direction of a side road out of town towards the next small farming outpost.
Out that way, he says. About three miles. He explains it’s a church that serves the small farming community out there, and that his parents and their parents, as are those of the bulk of the forty or so people who attend it, are all buried in the cemetery that adjoins the church. He adds that the Vicar who has served for nearly thirty-six years is retiring, to be replaced by a thirty something year old, single female priest. Change, even one as benign as this, doesn’t strike me as one that will come easy to a church that appears steeped in tradition. He agrees, but adds that the female priest has filled the role intermittently over the past few years and is quite liked around those parts.
I glance at my watch – it is just past 10.15 am and what looked like a small head of traffic is revealed to be a long line snaking all the way back to the drop off point at the airport. Worry sneaks into my mind about making the check-in, but he oblivious of my discomfort goes on to talk very excitedly about a new stained glass window to be commissioned that weekend. He’d gotten the installer to give him a sneak preview, a fact he seems particularly keen to share.
I smile at his enthusiasm, chipping in with adequately placed oohs-and-aahs as he goes on about just how gorgeous it is. After a few more minutes, the long lines snaking towards us clear up, and we finally make it into the airport.
When he hands me my change from my fare, I hang on to it for a few seconds and on yet another whim hand back the loose change. He hesitates but I insist, adding that if I were not travelling, I would have very much liked to witness the unveiling of the new window at his church. He smiles, nods and accepts the coins.. His enthusiasm has bitten me so much that oblivious to the biting wind and cold, I catch myself whistling some obscure tune under my breath to myself as I drag my box into the terminal building.