Queenstown, New Zealand • January 2017 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes
At twenty-six-years-old, I’ve managed to build a life that’s allowed me to traverse five continents, party excessively, act like an idiot with minimal repercussions, meet beautiful girls, and befriend hundreds of people hailing from all corners of the Earth. What I have never experienced before in my travels, however, is the strength of the connections I’d made with the people who also found themselves backpacking in the Pacific islands in January 2017. I hadn’t so much been travelling around New Zealand on a hop-on-hop-off bus, as much as I’d become part of a nomadic bromance.
The girls on the bus were right to be shocked at how close the guys had become, and even our drivers had commented during the trip that, although cliques of friendships were always made on their buses, never before had they experienced near-enough an entire bus getting along so well. Everyone on board that bus played their part, large or small, in making my trip to New Zealand truly special, but none more so than the four lads I was about to become ink brothers with.
“How much would it cost for five matching kiwi bird tattoos?” said Giles to the girl behind the reception of the Queenstown tattoo studio.
“And are you okay with tattooing arses?” chipped in Adam.
“That’s Brian’s speciality,” replied the tattoo artist. “It will be $100 per person if they are all the same template and just an outline.”
“Perfect,” said Gadams. He was the last person I would have expected to agree to such a preposterous idea, but that too goes to show how meaningful the trip was for all of us, not just myself. Although I took delight in laughing at the fact that Giles and Adam would be living on a farm in the Australian outback in only a few weeks’ time, it was a melancholic laughter. I was genuinely going to miss these guys.
“If you hang around for ten minutes then I can fit you in just now?” offered Brian, sketching out the kiwi bird that we’d selected from a quick internet search onto some tracing paper. “It should only take an hour to tattoo the whole lot of you. You just have to decide where exactly you each want to get them.”
“I’m going to get it on my right shoulder blade,” said Adam, with Gadams and me nodding in agreement.
“I’m going to get it on my ankle, I think,” said Giles, still pondering. “I was contemplating the arse cheek, but can’t bear myself to do it, neither in front of you physically nor emotionally. What about you Jay?”
“It has to be the arse cheek for me,” he said. “Due to the image I have to portray as a personal trainer it has to be somewhere not visible to my clients.”
“That all depends on what type of services you offer,” I laughed nervously. “I mean did you not say that a large number of your clients are the stay-at-home-wives of rich businessmen who are always away on ‘work-related’ trips?”
“I’m a professional,” he blushed as we drew lots to see who would go first. Giles found himself getting onto the artist’s bench.
“It’s a lot sorer than I thought it would be,” he grimaced, as Brian got to work.
“It’s always worse in areas with less tissue,” conceded the girl behind the counter. She had turned around to view the spectacle and there was a sharp hint of sarcasm in her statement. With a full sleeve and no doubt dozens of other pieces of artwork hidden on her body, she was clearly trolling the whimpers of my posh friend.
Adam was next up, followed by Gadams before it was my turn to bend over Brian’s bench. Laying the stencil on my skin, I took a look in the mirror to be sure of its positioning, and then let him get to work. I too had chosen my shoulder blade, despite my friend Lara always complaining how bony it is, and as the needle sewed the dark ink into my ghost white torso I felt the sensation of being scratched by a cat; if the cat were a starving wild leopard attacking a gazelle that is. Within minutes, however, Brian had completed his masterpiece and I was delighted with the intricacy he’d managed to produce from such a basic design. Ironically, I’d still never seen an actual kiwi bird in real life, despite it being the country’s national animal.
Jay was then the sole remaining member of the now christened ‘kiwi boys’ to go, and a little fan club had turned up for the spectacle. Two of the girls from our bus had caught a whiff of where we were and entered into the parlour fresh from getting their own matching ear piercings. The six of us watched gleefully as Jay pulled down his shorts and let Brian ruin his hairless derriere. Another bucket list item had been ticked off, and one which I was never sure I’d actually have the nerve to go ahead and complete.