I took my eyes off the main road and glimpsed at my watch: I’ve waited for just over an hour.
After four hours of which the Qantas flight to Australia would depart, followed by that arriving in Melbourne – a flight that will depart, regardless of the presence or absence of an expected passenger.
The chill had eased, and the morning haze ascended to unveil a glistening Lake Tekapo in crystalline sapphire – the warning sign. Channelling all my body’s strength into keeping my arm raised, as though by clenching my fist harder into the thumbs-up would will drivers into picking me up and delivering me all the way to Christchurch. But then, there’s not a lot of traffic headed in the right direction.
Even though Tekapo is a popular destination, its visitors are mostly those stopping by on their commute between more-frequented ports of call, like Queenstown and Christchurch itself. It was a fact I had neglected to notice: shuttle buses and local transport didn’t originate from Tekapo, but reaching it no earlier than midday from farther afield and won’t reach Christchurch until early evening. My flight was to leave at one.
With no other options – and I didn’t want to depart Tekapo until the morning of my flight, in order to spend more time with my friend Kyla – I had resolved to risk it and hitchhike.
In desperation I accepted a ride from a truck driver, who, half an hour ago, offered me a ride 50km down the road, but only if I had still no luck getting picked up after her half-hour break. Intermittently, between conversations and tossing packaged newspaper out of the window – the driver delivered papers to the remoter parts – nervousness would swell in my chest as the digits on my watch flickered, all whilst the confined speed limit of the lorry had me think I was lagging behind schedule.
Just as my feet hit solid ground again, this time in Fairlie, I hoisted my thumb again. Logistics played against me yet again: I’d given way my Christchurch sign, the traffic thinned and, sympathetic as they were, most drivers weren’t going anywhere other than within town.
My prior optimism trickled away and evaporated.
Then, kicking up dust as its tyres ground to a halt, beside my increasingly quivering and anxious stance, the opportunity arose.
For one fleeting instant of observation and assessment, I concluded it was another bogus: the vehicle was packed full, with four girls of Asian appearance occupying both front and back seats. I spoke to the occupants through the side window – they seemed eager to help, yet held back by a mist of reservation and insecurity.
Then I caught their brisk dialogues amongst themselves – in a foreign tongue that was instinctively comprehended by language receptors.
They were speaking Cantonese, which is none other than my own mother tongue.
I mustered every eloquence of my near-forgotten lingo, surprising the four Malaysian Chinese as I fought to reclaim their sympathy, impressing them enough to promptly make space and implored me to wedge, body and backpacks, into the front passenger seat. Nervously I conversed with them, eyes imposed upon the flickering digits of my watch in passing intervals, just as the car sped towards Christchurch and I maintained my charm with three languages – now including Mandarin – in rapid alteration.
They drove me all the way to the airport – a diversion from their original destination – and upon a playfully-stern warning that I should endeavour such risky a journey, I uttered my gratitude in as many languages as we shared in understanding, and in as many seconds as I could afford, and dashed towards the terminal building.
I arrived mere seconds before checkin was closed for my flight.