The only thing better than meeting two characters in one day is meeting two characters in two days.
On the day of the first encounter, we were heading south from Lake Taupo. Wellington was the goal but we did not mean to reach it that night. Not long after leaving “Mount Doom” behind, we spied a hitchhiker standing on the roadside, yellow rain slicker draped over his black-and-red flanneled sleeve, mop of salt-and-pepper curls blowing in the wind.
We pulled over to pick him up, as we are wont to do when we see hitchhikers. He wanted to get to Wellington and decided to come along with us a ways, even though I told him we wouldn’t be going all the way to the capital. He asked what our destination was, and I honestly told him I didn’t know.
Off we went and it soon became evident that Mop, as we shall call him, did not frequently indulge in the pleasure of the shower and his clothes were none too well acquainted with a washing machine. I couldn’t complain too much on that score; camping means that we don’t have showers everyday either.
However, I did object to the fact that something was obviously wrong with Mop’s mind. He would repeat his sentences, and sometimes a string of three words in those sentences, a minimum of three times. Conversation was painful, and I was beginning to imagine Mop with a knife in his possession.
Don’t ask why; it was just one of those weird little scenarios that randomly pop into your head...frex, a meteor falling from the sky, burning a hole through your windshield before burrowing hotly through your hand on the steering wheel, or, say, a mugger snatching your purse and you catching him and kicking the living daylights out of him...
Julien, strangely enough, was imagining something to same effect--the knife thing, not the meteor or mugger thingies--and was planning how he would warn me before slamming on the brakes if ever Mop should lunge forward, imaginary knife in hand.
Now, I’m not prone to wild imaginings after picking up hitchhikers* so getting such a weird vibe off Mop was disconcerting. I studied the road atlas, looking for a likely place we could set him out and found one where we could head into town and double back further down the highway. The only problem was that it was a good stretch to the place of conveniently divided roads. Nothing for it--besides telling him the truth and putting him out--Julien and I settled in to brave the upcoming 70 km.
Mop lapsed into silence, but not all was silent in his mind and body, for his lips moved excitedly, and he couldn’t stop twitching, looking side to side and waving as if he were constantly counting. To three. He did break his one-sided conversation long enough to hint that we should give him something--water, food, money--but I pretended not to understand and went back to counting the kilometers.
The drop-off point did not come quickly enough, and we apologized for not being able to take him further. We turned toward town and drove off as quickly as the speed limit would allow. When we rejoined the main highway farther down, we were relieved to see that the intersection was too far down for Mop to see our van.
We headed off toward Wellington again, but we were still feeling nervous and slightly guilty for dumping him out. I kept expecting him to be in one of the many cars that passed us. He would be sure to recognize us. The “Happy Campers” blazoned all over our van was a dead giveaway.
I guess that would have been better than what actually happened.
As we turned on to the motorway to Wellington, who should be standing on the corner but Mop, raincoat over his arm, sandwich in hand. He had had time to find another ride, get food, and get dumped off again in the time it took us to arrive at the same spot.
We gave him an embarrassed smile and wave and kept on driving. Talk about feeling like crap. But still, I’d rather that knife scenario remain one of my weird little imaginings. When the ick is on you, don’t tempt the devil or the fates or falling meteors.
True to plan, we spent the night in a beachfront parking lot in a town north of Wellington. Can’t remember the name, something long and interesting and repetitive. There were fishermen on the beach when we woke up, and when they saw us about to leave, one, Johnny, came over and offered to sell us some fish. However, being from New Zealand, he didn’t say “fresh fish;” he said “frish fush.”
The only thing was that he couldn’t sell us what he had just caught; he wanted us to buy some that he had at his house. The price was decent and the idea of fish, tempting, so we agreed to give him a lift to his house and back.
Johnny complimented me on my dreads and said he had cut his off when Bob Marley died. He asked if I smoked ganja and when I told him no, he said I should because it’s really good. Like Mop, he seemed to be afflicted with Repeat Syndrome, and he kept saying the things like, “Got some frish fush, going to give yous some real frish fush. Frish fush, it’s good frish fush,” AND “I had dreads, I did. Cut ‘em off when Bob died, but I had dreads. I like your dreads. I had dreads.”
Oh boy, I was thinking, another one. But Johnny, moved by nostalgia and unawares of my unease, informed us he was going to sell us one fush and give us two; not only that, he was going to give me a Bob Marley CD because I needed a little Bob in my life.
We pulled into his house and it resembled a gitan (gypsy) camp with caravan trailers parked all over the backyard. He disappeared into his house...I didn’t actually see where he went because his brother appeared and started telling us about an appointment he had at the unemployment office.
Johnny came out with three fush and a Marley CD, true to his word. Despite tempting us with tales of all the varieties of fish he had, the three were all the same. From the looks of them, if they were anything like fish from Mayotte, not very good. But it was only 10NZD (5 euros) for three fish and a CD, so we didn’t complain.
Unfortunately, the weather was blustery in Wellington that day, and we decided to postpone cooking the one thawed fish until the next day. We popped it in the fridge and didn’t worry about the other two in the freezer. Consider this your foreshadowing that we should have worried.
The weather was worse the next day, and we couldn’t put our bbq grill outside. Fish was not something that we wanted to cook in the campervan, so we ended up having to throw it away. After it spent yet another morning in the fridge. ( A case of not being able to find/get to a bin.)
By that time, Johnny’s fush wasn’t smelling too frish and neither was our fridge. We emptied the refrigerator and cleaned it out, but the reek of rot remained. I checked those in the freezer but they seemed fine.
Several days later, the van was still stinking and Bob was the only thing looking like it wasn’t a poisoned gift from Dear Ol’ Johnny. We emptied and cleaned the fridge yet again. Did the same under the sink, thinking that maybe some of the fish juice had leaked into the cupboard. It wasn’t until almost a week had passed that we realized the fish in the freezer had been constantly thawing and refreezing.
Oh the misery and disgust. We chucked out Johnny’s prezzies and did another thorough cleaning.
I think the fridge would have started smelling better at that point had Julien not filled it with stinky cheeses. The joy of being married to a Frenchman. (It is joy.)
Thankfully, the fridge passed the sniff test when we dropped off the van. If we didn’t have Marley and a new way of asking for fush and chups, the frisha the betta, Mop and Johnny would be little more than odiferous memories.
* I once picked up a hitchhiker in the middle of the night, in the boondocks, who needed me to drop him off in the dead center of nowhere. I kind of freaked at that one, but I said, ‘Ok, God, I’m doing someone a good turn here. I expect you to look out for me.’ I’m still here, so amen for answered prayers.