"Promise Me You'll Come Back with a Book"

Since time immemorial, men have left their caves, igloos, grass huts or whatever with their women's parting counsel ringing in their ears. "Make sure you keep your feet dry, dear!", "Don't come home until you've found me a nice big fat woolly mammoth!" or, "There, that buckskin pouch I made looks just lovely against your bark loincloth!"

And no doubt as these men left their residences, stooped under the burden of married responsibilities, their shoulders straightened only when they passed from the keen-eyed scrutiny of their women.

It really wasn't that different for me, I reflected as I took my seat on the Naked Bus heading north from Auckland to KeriKeri in the Bay of Islands.

Rosa and I had had a somewhat tense trip from the North Shore into the City. I had been so busy sending last-minute missives to friends around the world that I'd lost all track of time. And then somehow I'd misplaced my $5.00 op shop trail running shoes. In a mounting frenzy, I roamed the flat and found them at last behind the bedroom door, hiding beneath one of Rosa's handbags.

"Typical!" I snarled.

So, we were already in a bit of a dither as we crawled forward in Auckland's usual rush hour log-jam towards the Harbour Bridge and the City's skyscrapers shrouded in early morning mist.

The tension increased when we reached our destination by the harbour and could see no sign of a Naked Bus.

"I hope we haven't missed it yet!" I moaned.

Rosa looked even tenser. "Well, that'll be $41.00 down the drain!" she snapped. "You'd better run around the corner and see if it's there."

She thrust an avocado and feta cheese sandwich into my jacket pocket. "Just in case you get hungry," she said.

I heaved my rucksack out of the car and took off at a kind of hunch-backed lurch, burdened by what I came to call "The Beast". Jogging, let alone running, was out of the question. It felt most undignified. I'm quite certain I heard several commuters snigger into their cups of cappuccinos as they made way for this grey-haired, panting Quasimodo.

Turning the corner, I saw a bus with the driver holding a check list. "Keri Keri?" I panted, beads of sweat popping out on my forehead and upper lip. The driver eyed me and my backpack with distaste. "Yep. Just in time, mate."

Thank goodness for New Zealand time-keeping, I thought. With a grunting heave, I slid my rucksack into the cargo well and walked up the steps into the coach, wiping the perspiration from my face, trying in vain to look like a seasoned long-distance walker.

I found a seat towards the rear, sandwiched between a listless and no doubt hungover backpacker and a harassed-looking man with four sons aged 7 to 14. The mum, a tired woman with blonde-streaked hair and aviator sunglasses sat as far from them as she could while still maintaining some contact with her family, arms folded. The man sighed and we exchanged a silent glance of mute solidarity. He must have had as fraught a morning as me, I thought.

My iPhone chirped. "I made it, darling!" I said.

"That's wonderful!" she said and then, "I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to say 'goodbye' properly."

I felt suddenly bereft, for both of us.

"I'm sorry too. I love you very much and I'll call from Kerikeri."

"Whatever you do, Richard, just promise me you'll come back with a book!" she said with vigour.

"Of course," I replied meekly.

And so this modern cavemen left his cave, iPhone in hand, sandwich in pocket and synapses tingling with his mate's final words.

My shoulders sagged.

The engine started and the bus pulled away, heading north.

I lifted my chin and smiled, for the first time in days.