I was on a cycling tour of Ireland, but this day I really wasn’t enjoying it. The night before, I’d gone out drinking with a couple of teachers who were with a school group at the hostel. So I set off feeling a little under the weather. The day was hot, and it seemed half the cars in Northern Ireland were driving along this stretch of road near the Giants’ Causeway. Trying to control my overburdened bike was hard enough when fully alert on an empty road, but this was a Sunday, and I should have taken another route. Or better yet, taken the day off.
The road followed a meandering line of cliffs, punctuated from time to time with small cottages and, more rarely, a pretty little waterfall. For some reason one of the cottages caught my eye, or perhaps I needed a break, and I stopped to admire it, fervently hoping that something would happen to remove half the traffic from my side of the road. That prayer was not answered, but it seems another one was.
I noticed an old lady in a rocking chair on the verandah. She was waving to me to join her.
I shrugged and pointed to the traffic, but she persisted. Then something strange happened. Breaks appeared in the cars in both directions and I was able to manoevre my bike across the road.
I’ve long forgotten the woman’s name, but she ran a Christian bookshop in Derry. She told me her children and grandchildren were staying with her but had left her alone for the afternoon, so she took a nap on her front porch.
She had a dream that God would send her an angel to have tea with, and when she opened her eyes, there was I, staring at her.
I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but this was the first time I’d been called an angel, and I would have thought God had more pressing matters to deal with than arranging tea guests. But free food and pleasant company is always welcome, especially if you are travelling on a tight budget.
Despite my protestations that I was too hot and hungover to eat much, she laid on an immense spread, and kept urging me to eat up, that I would need it to get to my destination. As the afternoon wore on, her various family members arrived to shake my hand, drink some tea and urge me to keep eating.
At last, when it seemed I’d eaten enough to live off for a whole week and met every relative that could possibly fit in her cottage, I made my excuses and waddled back to my bike to continue on my way.
Struggling up the first hill, I sensed a car close behind me. I felt like I’d doubled my bodyweight, so was not having a good time, and a car on my tail really wasn’t helping. I hated to hold up traffic, and it felt like I was being pressured to cycle faster, so I became increasingly irritable. I knew if I stopped I would have to walk the rest of the way to the top.
Without daring to turn and look, I waved them past but they just sat there. I gave up and pushed my bike off the road to allow the car to pass. To my amazement it was the old lady again. I’d left my sunglasses behind and she had come to return them.
I was not the angel; maybe it was her.