It had been quite a journey, through almost all of Germany, then crossing the stormy channel on the ferry. London he had bypassed by a large scale because he didn’t like what the once beautiful city had become in the last forty years or so. Westbound on the M4, he’d passed Reading half an hour ago, when exhaustion finally hit him.
It would still be another three hours drive. »Need a break,« he mumbled and took the next exit. Chilton and World’s End, the road signs promised. »World’s End,« he pondered, »just about it.« He couldn’t avoid a sad little smirk.
On a roadside bay, just large enough for two or three cars, he noticed a vintage caravan with a large hand-painted sign ›Tea‹. Quite invitingly, the caravan’s side window was open, and soft warm light poured out into the mist. He pulled over, killed the engine and got out.
An elderly lady appeared in the window opening. Smiling, she said: »Mornin’, luv! Fancy a cuppa, strong and sweet? Looks like you need it.«
»Yes, please,« he answered and couldn’t stifle a yawn. »Morning!«
While she took a large thermos and started pouring the steaming tea into a mug, he looked around. The caravan had clearly seen better days. Its interior was sparse, consisting only of a hot water heater, some water canisters, a chair and a small table with some magazines on it.
He wondered what the lady’s story might be. She was in her seventies, wore a grubby apron that had once been white, but neither her completely white hair nor the spectacles could hide the laugh lines besides the blue eyes she mustered him with. She must also have seen better times, he thought.
»Milk and sugar on the table, luv,« she said. He poured some milk from the milk carton, resisting the urge to sniff it first. A spoon was stuck in the large porcelain sugar bowl—apparently one spoon for all. He took two, stirred, and put the spoon back into the sugar, as others had done before him.
His mug had a small crack, and ›World’s End‹ written on it. He lifted it, presenting the writing to her, and asked, jokingly, »Is it really? World’s End, I mean?«
She laughed. »50p, please. And no, dear. Maybe even the world will end someday, and I certainly will, but whenever something ends, there’s the chance for something new to begin, don’t you think?«
Something new. Yes, maybe she is right, he thought. Sipping a hot cuppa in the cold misty morning was also just the right thing. Besides, the strong and sweet Assam-Ceylon blend tasted just wonderful.
»Know what? You gave me something to think about. And this is the best tea I’ve had for some twenty years. I just love to see the old traditions being kept up, even if it doesn’t pay, and you even seem to enjoy it.«
She blushed a little. »Thank you. You know, it’s more about happiness than about money, and I’ve had enough happiness in my life to spare.«
He shivered, more from what she’d said than from exhaustion and the cold outside. »I can see that,« he said, looking into her eyes, »and moreover, I can feel it. Thank you so much and bless you!«
»Bye, luv. Be happy!«
Slowly he strolled back to his car. Unexpected encounters, and unexpected insights, he thought. Suddenly, he felt overwhelmingly happy, and did not exactly know why.
Now he looked forward to the rest of his journey. Coming home. Finally.