Friday, November 30, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #15

Max lay in the hammock, rocking gently from side to side. He was gazing at the sunlight being filtered through the leaves and branches above him, completely lost in thought.

Cindy and Greg had left just after lunch and he had spent the two hours since then out back with only his thoughts for company. He knew everyone else was inside watching an important game of some sorts on the TV but he could not be a part of that just yet.

Max needed, quite simply, time to miss two people who had grown to be very dear to him over the last few months. Close bonds tended to be forged quickly and deeply on the road and this one was no different.

In the absence of friends and family, finding kindred spirits is a joy that tends to be latched onto with a fierce grip and treasured greatly. This results in the time of separation being especially difficult and jarring.

Max closed his eyes and tried to center himself before rejoining the crowd inside. The two Brits were fantastic company and he knew they would keep in touch. And there were still several guests remaining that he was close to, like Tobias and Tim and Cate… oh, there was very definitely Cate.

“Hey Max, you alright?”

He kept his eyes close and continued swaying slowly as his thoughts were scattered to the wind.

“Hey Cate. Yeah I’m alright, just needed some time to myself.”

“Want some more or is it okay if I join your mourning party?”

“Haha, no, go ahead and grab a hammock. It’s very therapeutic.”

Max listened to Cate settling into the one behind him, their shared tree yawning lazily at its new burden. When she next spoke her voice came from close by, which meant she had chosen to lay heads together. For no particular reason he found that comforting.

“Funny how quickly you get attached to people when you’re backpacking,” she said wistfully.

“Yeah, back home it would take a year to get to know people as well as you do in a month at a hostel,” Max agreed, opening his eyes to once again watch the sunlight play with the leaves overhead.

“Do you think it’s just the combination of forced close quarters and common interests,” Cate asked, “or do you think these bonds would happen as long as the people meet at all?”

“You mean do I think I’d be close to the same people at home as I would be on the road?” Max asked carefully.

“Yeah, I guess that’s what I was trying to ask,” came the soft reply.

Suddenly he was not so sure they were talking generally. Things were getting very specific, very quickly.

“Well,” he began while grasping wildly for the right words, “I reckon the potential for that closeness would be there – it would just take more time to develop at home.”

“That’s true – I don’t even see my best mates more than a couple times a week back home.”

“I guess we’re lucky then,” Max replied before he realized what he was saying, “it would have taken forever to get to know each other so well back in B.C.”

Well that’s probably the bravest thing you’ve said to her. Sadly.

Aye, he thought, or the stupidest.

Cate took a few moments to reply as Max held his breath and hoped for the best.

“Yeah, we are,” and he could hear the smile in her voice. “Which reminds me – about the other night, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have imposed on your trip like that. I had no right-”

“It’s okay,” Max told her gently. “I’m glad you did.”

“No, I really… you are?” To his biased ear she sounded a little surprised, a bit confused, and a whole lot pleased.

Damn biased ears, trying to show you reality when all your big stupid eyes want to see is –

Hush, this is important.

At least you’ve got that much right.

“Well I know for sure I’ll need that extra kick out the door to leave here,” Max laughed. “By then I’ll have been here longer than I was in each of my last 3 apartments in Vancouver!”

“Right, yeah that’ll be tough,” Cate said a bit flatly.

We’re losing her here...

All in due time, all in due time.

“And it’ll be great to have someone to split a rental car with,” he continued casually.

“Totally,” she replied without a hint of enthusiasm.

Psst, Houston? We have a problem.

Oh ye of little faith.

“Maybe we can go the Jay and Diego route and paint it red and white, with the words to O Canada written on it.”

Cate gave a forced laugh, and then Max heard her shift around in her hammock as though she was preparing to get up.

Good idea girl, I’m out of here too.

Well, if you like – but I don’t think you’re going to want to miss this.

“But most of all, it’ll be great to have some company on the road. Especially,” Max closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and dove into the deep end, “when that company is as fun, smart and pretty as you.”

You… no way…

You are now free to leave me the hell alone.

Cate paused for a short eternity before finishing getting out of her hammock. Max heard her approach but kept his eyes firmly shut as he did his best to remain calm.

“Despite your best efforts, you can be very sweet Max,” Cate said as she reached down and tussled his hair. He slowly opened his eyes to see her smiling down at him, her face framed by her sun-fired hair. Not having the slightest clue as to how to respond, he turned once again to his old friend Silence.

“Come back in soon,” she told him with a small wink. “The hostel isn’t the same without you.”

She turned and strolled back to the hostel, pausing briefly at the doorway to turn and give him another smile. After she had disappeared from view, Max counted to ten and, as casually as possible, followed after her.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #14

“Do you think she was serious?”

“I dunno mate, she looked pretty serious to me,” Greg replied evenly. A casual observer might have almost thought he had not already answered that question five times in the last ten minutes. Almost.

“Nah, there’s no way,” Max said stubbornly.

Greg rolled his eyes at him and flipped a couple of burgers over. He looked quite at home manning the barbeque wearing Mossy’s “My meat brings all the girls to the yard” apron. Fortunately all the girls had already left for their night on the town by the time Mossy had found it. Well, one would consider it fortunate if one cared about Greg’s health and well being. Max had thought it was quite unfortunate.

“Well,” Greg said, attempting to remain calm, “she seemed really excited by the idea of splitting a rental car with you.”

“Yeah, that would be so much more reliable than thumbing it again,” Max allowed.

“Just slightly,” Greg snorted. He glanced over his shoulder at the slowly setting sun. “We couldn’t have asked for a better night for this. It’s too bad we can’t watch the movies out here.”

“That would be awesome – hey, I bet we could too!” Max said, finally perking up a bit. “We could run an extension cord out here, carry the couches out… this is gonna be brilliant!”

Greg smiled and took a swig from his bottle of beer, relieved to see his friend get his mind on something besides Caitlin for once. It did not last long.

“I’ll go ask Mossy where the big extension cord is,” Max said as he started to turn away. He took a few steps before he paused, glanced around and then came back to the barbeque. “Seriously though, do you really think she meant it?”

“I don’t bloody well know!” Greg snapped. “Why don’t you just bloody well ask her?”

“Well I can’t right now, now can I?” Max said a bit peevishly. He realized how he sounded and winced slightly. Thankfully he was spared Greg’s reply by Jay’s timely arrival.

“It smells fantastic out here!”

“Yeah, thanks,” Greg managed to reply in a fairly civil manner. He returned his focus to the burgers and chicken on the grill in front of him before the temptation to impale Max with the huge barbeque fork became too strong.

“How are things going in the kitchen?” Max asked before Jay could ask about the cause of Greg’s behavior.

“Really good, Kisho is doing up those two cod Mossy caught for us and everybody’s mouth is watering!” Jay laughed. “We’ve got a couple guys on veggie cutting duty and Tobias is hell bent on making some sort of dessert.”

“I hope it involves both chocolate and chocolate chips,” Max smiled. “How’s Diego’s rice dish coming along?”

“Ah, not so well,” Jay replied, frowning and scratching the back of his head. “First he burned the rice, so he had to start over, then he managed to dump half the herbs in the garbage. That was the last of the cilantro so he had to do a run to the store to get more.”

“I told you that was one of their cars we heard!” Greg told Max smugly.

“Yeah, we really need to get a mechanic to have a look at the engines but we just don’t have the cash to spare right now,” Jay lamented.

“I think one of Mossy’s mates is a car guy, I bet he could swing you a deal,” Max told him. “Come on, I need to go talk to him right now anyway.”

“Sweet man, I really appreciate it,” Jay beamed. “You need anything from inside Greg?”

“Another one of these would hit the spot,” he replied, shaking his nearly empty bottle.

“You got it.”

Max lead the way back inside, past the idle washing machines, through the bathroom and shower area and into the bustling kitchen. Even with so many bodies in such a small space it only took him a heartbeat to spot the owner, towering over them all.

“Mossy! Quick word?”

The big man looked up from the soup he had been staring into, smiled broadly and attempted to squeeze his way through the crowd. His efforts were made significantly easier once everyone realized what was happening and simply momentarily abandoned the kitchen.

“Thanks lads,” Mossy called over his shoulder as everyone settled back in. “What’s up Max?”

“Two things,” Max replied, holding up the appropriate number of fingers. “Thing the first: where’s your longest extension cord?”

“It’s behind the seat of my truck… why?”

“You’ll see. Thing the second: Jay and Diego, I suspect you’ve noticed, need their cars looked at. Do you know someone that could help out?”

“Rory,” he replied immediately.

“Ah, payment might be an issue,” Jay said, a bit embarrassed.

“Naw it won’t, Rory will probably do it just for the fun of it. He’s not quite right in the head, that one,” Mossy laughed while tapping his forehead.

“Perfect!” Max smiled. “I’m gonna go grab the cord. Oh, Mossy when a couple guys are freed up in here could you get them to bring the couches out back?”

“Sorry?” Mossy blinked at him slowly.

“And I’m going to need a hand lifting that big fat TV of yours too,” Max carried on. “We can leave the stand though, that tree stump by the hammocks should do the trick.”

“You’re taking the piss,” Mossy stated firmly. “You cannot be serious.”

“Theatre under the stars mate! It’s going to be brilliant!”

Mossy looked at Jay, then back at Max. It was fairly obvious that he had not previously encountered this particular situation in his forty-two years on Earth.

“You’re taking my TV and furniture outside?”

“Aye aye, captain!”

“And I’m paying you to be here?”

“Not nearly enough mate!” Max gave him a toothy grin, spun on his heel and headed off again, leaving a slightly shell-shocked Mossy behind him.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #13

“I can’t believe you’re actually leaving.”

“I know, but it’s past time to be moving on.”

“Where will you go first?”

“There’s a hostel on the coast, about a five hour drive south of here that I’ve heard great things about.”

“Oh yeah, The Captain’s Shack? Everyone I’ve met who’s stayed there has raved about it.”

“So you’re off on Saturday then?” Cate managed to squeeze in before either of the guys could blabber on.

“Aye, that’s the plan,” Greg replied as he looked up from the map he had spread across the dinner table. “There was no way Cindy was gonna miss Girls Night Out.”

“Like you would miss another night hanging out with the boys,” Cate chided him.

“Aye, well, there’s that. Max is gonna let me pick out the movies too!”

“Don’t make me regret it,” Max shot back. “I’ll kick you out a night early if you come in here with Bridget Jones’s Diary and Johnny English.”

“Two fine movies in their own right, but I shall do my best to find something everyone can enjoy,” Greg answered as he swept his arm around to encompass the entire hostel. Then, as though he truly could not resist the temptation, he cheekily added, “Not just you.”

Max shook his head and went back to studying the map. It was Wednesday evening and the hostel had a pleasant buzz in the air. All but a few guests had finished cleaning up after their dinner and were strewn throughout the common rooms engaged in muted conversation. Someone had put a Ben Harper cd on the stereo and his soulful voice made a perfect backdrop for the scene.

Max smiled contentedly. Vibe Quality Control was a happy man on this night.

“I won’t believe you two are actually leaving until I see you lug your bags out the door,” Max told him. “And even then I won’t rent your room for at least a week cuz I’ll be expecting you back any hour.”

“You’re a big sentimental sap, you know that right?” Greg accused him, but Max could tell he was touched. At least he thought he was – it was equally likely his pained expression was a result of the beans on toast he had eaten for dinner.

“I’ve just gotten used to having your ugly mug around,” Max said distractedly as he traced the route south with his finger. “It won’t be the same here without you two Brit’n up the place.”

“What about you mate?” Greg asked from across the table. “You can’t stay here forever.”

Max did not look up but he still noticed Cate shifting awkwardly in her seat to his left. They had not had more than a few minutes alone together since Monday afternoon and he could feel their interrupted conversation hanging between them.

You should really get on that you –

Yes, I know, Max thought for the tenth time that day.

“And you’re looking awful fond of that map,” Greg added when Max didn’t respond. “The road is calling you again isn’t it?”

Max looked up and glanced around the room, being careful not to catch Cate’s eye as he did so.

“It’s hard to leave a place like this,” he finally said. “You get settled in, get comfortable. You get to know people, really know them – not just the usual ten minute chat then goodbye forever. It’s places like this where you make the connections that last even after you’re back home. And you just know everywhere you go after here won’t be able to measure up.”

“That doesn’t mean those places aren’t worth seeing,” Cindy said as she joined them at the table, cuddling up to Greg. “You know there are places here you would love to see. Things you’d love to do. If you keep putting it off, before you know it you’ll be sitting at home wondering why you never saw or did any of it.”

“I know, I know,” Max said as he raised his hands in front of himself to fend her words off. “Being a born procrastinator doesn’t help anything either. I just need to set aside some time to draw up a concrete plan of how I want to spend the rest of my trip.”

“When are you going back home, April?” Greg asked.

“Yeah, at the latest. Anything past that and me mum will get me deported.”

“So about four months from now, that’s heaps of time,” Cindy said as she placed her guidebook on the table and started flipping through it.

“Ah, yeah, but I’m definitely spending Christmas and New Year’s here so it’s more like three,” Max said a bit defensively. “What are you doing?”

“No time like the present,” Cindy replied without looking up. “You have some spare paper hun?”

“I do indeed,” Greg answered with an apologetic shrug in Max’s direction. He then nonchalantly pulled a pen and two sheets of lined paper from underneath his map.

“You cheeky bastards,” Max told them with narrowed eyes. “Looks like you weren’t just planning your own departure, hmm?”

“We were worried about you staying here too long,” Cindy replied with her nose still buried in her Lonely Planet. “We’ve been talking about you -”

“You’ve been talking about me?” Max gave Cate an exasperated look. “You see what I have to put up with? With friends like these -”

“One should consider oneself very lucky,” Cate smiled. “This will be fun – so where are we sending him first?”

Sending? I’m not -”

“That depends on how he’ll be traveling,” Greg answered as though Max had not spoken. “Are you planning on going around by thumb again?”

“Er, I hadn’t really thought about it. This is completely ridiculous, you’re all aware of that, right?”

“You have given no thought as to how you’ll be getting around after you leave here?” Cindy asked, finally looking up.

“Well, I mean…”

“Bloody hell, this is going to be a long night,” she sighed.

“I’ll get the beer,” Cate said, standing up with a gleam in her eye. “And don’t worry you two, I’ll make sure he sticks to whatever plan we draw up tonight.”

“Oh for crying – and how will you manage that?” Max asked, crossing his arms across his chest.

“Simple: by going with you.” And with that she turned and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Max staring after her, his mouth gaping.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #12

Max studied his opponent closely as he gradually closed the distance between them. As he entered striking range again he faked a right hook to the head. His opponent responded by bringing his hands up to protect his face, so Max snapped two crisp left jabs to the body before slipping away again.

“Are you going to peck away at me with those sissy jabs all fight,” Cate asked from beside him, “or are you going to be a man and try to knock me out?”

It was Monday afternoon and the two of them had completed their cleaning duties shortly after lunch. A rare rain shower had trapped them inside since then, where they had been reading and writing until Cate had asked him from across the room if he was up for some video game action.

Max had been impressed and quickly agreed. When she suggested that they play a boxing game first, he had had to quash a very strong urge to propose to her on the spot.

“You’re just mad that you can’t break through my iron clad defense,” Max replied while maneuvering his boxer confidently around the digital ring. He had selected Joe Frazier as his fighter while Cate had chosen Lennox Lewis, as any good wannabe-British Canadian girl ought to.

“You fight like a girl,” Cate countered as she threw a wild right that Max easily ducked.

“Hey now, just because I’m beating the pants off you there’s no need to question my masculinity!”

“Ha! You wish you were beating the pants off me!”

Max blinked and looked at her sideways. She had definitely been joking but he thought that he had detected something else in her voice. Before he could give it much thought he realized Cate was not looking back at him. In fact, she was still focused on the TV, her fingers working rapidly over the controller in her hands.

Max snapped back to the game just in time to see Frazier double over from the impact of a left hook to the body. Before he could recover, Lewis followed up with a huge right uppercut that sent him reeling.

“Ow, son of a…” he muttered as he scrambled to reestablish his defense.

“Iron clad me arse!” Cate shouted triumphantly. Sadly, there was no one else around to hear that particular gem.

“Lucky shot,” Max grumbled.

“Shots, actually – there were two,” she pointed out happily. She then added in a more thoughtful tone, “I guess while I’m nit-picking I should also point out that in order for you to be beating the pants off me, I’d have to be wearing pants.”

Max had to struggle to prevent himself from looking at the tanned legs stretched out beside him, on full display thanks to Cate’s brown Columbia shorts. He managed to keep his eyes on the game but Frazier still ended up eating three sharp jabs to the face before Max regained his focus.

“You’re cheating,” he told her matter-of-factly. “Stop cheating.”

“Am I now?” she laughed. “And how do you suppose I’m managing that?”

Yes Max, just how is she doing that?

Bloody hell, he thought. Well there’s no good answer to that, so I might as well go with the truth.

“You’re distracting me from the game,” he said, swallowing the awkward laugh threatening to add itself on to the end of his statement. He kept his eyes firmly on the boxers in front of him.

“What’s wrong? You can’t talk and box at the same time?” She sounded as though she was trying to tease him but Max could sense the conversation ebbing inexorably to a more serious tone. He could feel her eyes on him now as a small bead of sweat formed at the base of his neck, then slowly trickled down between his shoulder blades.

You should ask her “Is it hot in here or is it just you?” the little voice cackled.

Max calmly rummaged around in the back of his head until he found the voice. He then grabbed it by the neck, dragged it out behind the shed and shot it. Twice.

He continued to move Frazier around the ring, trying to buy himself time to figure out what to say next. Lewis had stopped protecting his head again so Frazier moved in to try to end the fight early. As Max wound up for a knockout punch, he realized Lewis had stopped moving completely.

Max held the punch and glanced at Cate. She had let go of the controller and was looking at him with a mixture of concern, confusion and something else.


You talk pretty well for a guy with two bullet holes in him, Max thought darkly.

I’m resilient like that.

“Max?” Cate said gently.

“Sorry, just have a lot going on up here right now,” he replied, putting down his controller to tap his head.

“Care to share?”

Max swallowed hard. He tried to make it silent but, as is always the case when you need it to be quiet – in a library or church, speaking in front of a large crowd – the body rebelled and made sure the gulp was loud enough to rattle the windows.

“Ah, yeah, actually,” Max began carefully.

“Hey kids!” Mossy boomed as he strode into the room.

“Holy – hey big man, didn’t hear you come in,” Max told him. He had jumped at least two feet in the air.

“Hey boss,” Cate said.

Is that disappointment in her voice?

Don’t make me shoot you again, Max threatened silently.

“Did I, um… interrupt? I can come back later,” Mossy offered while doing a remarkable job of ignoring the idle boxers on the TV to his left.

“No,” Max and Cate said together. Max flashed a smile at her then continued on, “You need something?”

“I just wanted to go over some of the books with you Max, my accountant is coming in tomorrow and I just want to be clear on a few things ahead of time.”

“Sure, no problem,” Max replied, standing up. As he left the room with Mossy he turned and gave Cate a quick smile. She returned it, although a bit sadly, he thought to himself as he turned away again.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mossy's Backpackers #11

“Wow, mate!” Greg said as he came in the front door. “Have you seen those…?”

“Couch,” Max replied flatly, sticking his thumb in Jay and Diego’s direction. They were sitting on the couch chatting with the last five guests who had returned to the hostel that afternoon. Max was already regretting his decision to take them in.

“Everything copasetic?” Greg asked suspiciously.

“Oh yeah, grand. I’m just pining for the days when people said ‘hello’ to me when they came through that door. You know, back when people still had manners?” Max let loose an overly dramatic sigh and returned to his paperwork.

“Don’t worry, Princess – you’ll be the favorite child of the hostel again soon enough,” Greg patted him on the head then went to join the animated discussion around the couches. Max stuck his tongue out at his retreating back.

As he watched the American and Mexican start their tale over once again, Max heard the hostel’s office phone ring. Cate answered on the fourth ring, sounding a bit out of breath since she had run from the clothes line out back. He was seated about ten feet away, but it had been her turn to answer so he continued to twirl his pen between his fingers. Rules were rules, after all.

Just as he heard Cate say, “He’s right here, just one moment”, the pen slipped off his fingers and went under the table. Max bent to fetch it, contorting his body awkwardly to fit between the bench and the table top.

“It’s for you,” Cate said from above the table. Max grabbed the pen and straightened hurriedly, slamming the back of his head against the solid wood of the table in the process. He paused for a couple of breaths for his vision to stop blurring, then swore loudly.

“Who is it?” he asked her through gritted teeth.

“Your mum,” she replied, struggling to keep a straight face as she continued to hold out the cordless for him. Max grabbed the phone and turned so that his back was to her. He thought he heard her snicker as he lifted it to his ear.

“Hi mum.”

“Who was that?” the familiar voice asked, sounding much closer than the half a world away she actually was.

“Who?” Max’s head was throbbing, making thinking difficult.

“That girl. She sounded pretty, where’s she from?”

“Aren’t you even going to say hello? Nobody says hello anymore.”

“Hello. So, son, who was that? Have you finally found yourself a girl?”

Max sighed. He briefly considered telling her that Cate was fifty and a mother of two, but knew it wasn’t worth the bother. Mum always knew when he was lying. Always. It kind of creeped him out, if he was honest about it.

Instead he glanced over his shoulder to verify that Cate had gone back outside and said, “That was Caitlin, she started working here a couple of weeks ago. She’s from Victoria, actually.”

“Oh, just a ferry ride away! And to think you had to go thousands of miles from home to meet her!”

“Yeah, that’s traveling for you. How are things at home?” Max asked, attempting to move the conversation to more comfortable ground.

“We’re fine dear. Why are you changing the subject? Is she within hearing distance?”


“What was that? I’m getting a lot of static at this end.” He thought about crumpling up some paper to add to his story but decided that would be a bit much.

“Oh my, she’s really gotten into your head hasn’t she?” the all-knowing voice replied. “I bet you haven’t even told her how you feel yet.”

Max leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a moment. How the hell does she do that, he wondered silently.

“I’m your mother, dear.”

He almost dropped the phone. This was too much, how –

“You can talk to me. What’s the problem?”

“It’s… complicated,” Max said weakly.

“She’s a girl, Maxwell – of course it’s complicated,” she told him with a hint of laughter in her voice.

“Now isn’t the best time mum. I’ll send you an email about it later.”

“Always more comfortable with the written word instead of the spoken,” she sighed. “Alright. But I’m calling on Monday if I haven’t received that email by then.”

“Fair enough,” Max cringed. Now there was no way out of it. It was either an email with a proper explanation or repeated phone calls until someone started asking questions. With his luck that someone would be Cate.

“So I guess we will be mailing your Christmas presents again this year?” Max could hear the sadness at the edges of her voice.

“Yeah, looks like it,” he replied, trying to ignore the sudden tightness in his throat. Simple words, spoken plainly from a great distance, can trigger great emotions he reflected.

“This will be the second year in a row, dear. We love that you’re out there seeing the world, but we do miss you so much.”

“I know mum, I know you do.” Max blinked away the moisture at the corners of his eyes. “I’ll be back before spring, I promise.”

“I will keep you to that promise young man!” She was trying to sound stern but he could tell she was smiling.

“I better get going. I’ll drop off another postcard soon. And I’ll get presents for everybody in the mail by the end of the week.”

“And that email,” she reminded him, the smile definitely gone now.

“Right, that too, of course. Love you lots, give my love to everyone for me.”

“Home by spring, right? Don’t make me send your sisters to come get you.”

“That might be fun, actually…”

“Not once they get you back here, it won’t. I love you son.”

“Bye mum.”

Max hung up just as Mossy came through the door. He could tell he was about to ask about the painted cars parked in front of his hostel, so he cut him off to save them both some time.

“Couch,” he said, then gathered his things and went to his room to be alone for a while.