Beginning of chapter one:
WHEN I WAS A GIRL, I WOULD LIE ON THE BANKS OF Molasses Creek with soft green grass beneath my back and look up into the sky, dreaming of being there. In my upside-down world, the clouds were pieces of land that I would hop to and the vast blue sky was the river, the ocean that would beckon to transport me far, far away. That vast blue sky has taken me to all sorts of foreign lands since then. Sometimes the most foreign place is home.
I'll be flying in just a few minutes, cloud-hopping back to a city I never thought I'd see again.
I close my eyes and imagine myself feeling weightless again, my body traveling at five hundred miles an hour yet perfectly still. Someone clears a throat. I open my eyes and see a woman before me in uniform, standing at a podium. She's holding out her hand. "Oh yes," I say. I reach in my bag and pull out my wallet. Through the airport window, a jet leaves the wet runway and rises into thick gray rain.
I hand that uniformed woman my driver's license, and she looks at me to see if there's a match. "My hair's a little different now," I explain. "And.....I'm a little older." So much about me is different now. I wonder if she can read it in my face - the years, the tragedy, the love, the moments of hope. I smile at her, but she doesn't return it. They've gotten a lot stricter with flying these days, and that's not such a bad thing. I don't mind waiting a few minutes longer to take my shoes off and have them search my belongings. There's a poor lady up ahead of me, hunched over. They have her to the side and are patting her down. Really? Her? Never in a million years. After flying as many times as I have, you get an eye for these things.
The woman hands me my license back and the young lady behind me reaches to hand her passport. "Charleston is a very nice place," she says in a foreign accent. You can tell she's worked hard on her English. That warms my heart. I take a deep breath and walk to the conveyor belt. I set my shoes in a gray bin along with a lightweight jacket and carry-on bag. The top of the bag is open and when I set it on its side, a large, tattered book peeks out. My heart flutters and my mind spills over with images, sketches of my life, as if I'm having one of those near-death experiences and life is flashing before my eyes.
I blink and move forward. Did I remember my pencils? Yes, I did.
I shuffle along with everyone else, barefooted, until I pass through the metal detector. Oh, the things I've seen people get caught with over the years - guns, drug paraphernalia, tiny switchblades in unusual parts of the body. Some people are flat-out crazy and criminal.
Criminal. Crime. Why would anyone ever return to the scene of the crime? For closure? To find that part of them that was lost there? To make things right? I'm going back for all of these reasons. I can't believe it. I never thought I'd see the day.
The airport is fairly empty this time of the morning, but our wait isn't long. A cup of coffee and a People magazine later, we've entered the plane. It's a Boeing 737. I look into the cockpit to see who is flying us. I'm looking to see if a certain old lover is there, but that would be too much of a coincidence, even for me. I nod at the pilot, a fiftyish gentleman I have never seen before, and carefully eye the flight attendant. She's about thirty-five, a little heavy in the hips, blond hair, nice looking. Back in my day she never would have gotten a job here. Back then, getting and keeping a stewardess job was as hard as making the cut on American Idol. But not today. Times have changed. Part of me wants to relieve this lady and do her job for her. I could take care of this entire plane, all these passengers, all their needs, without blinking an eye. I'm not too old, no matter what they suggested. So what, my back went out and I dropped a cup of coffee on a passenger. It happens. My heart just wasn't in it anymore, and when your passion leaves you, well, it might just be time to move on to something else.
To be honest, flying turned painful emotionally as the years went on. I was always torn between wanting to fly to the other side of the world and keep searching - or going back to see him. A woman is lucky in life if she finds true love. Twice as lucky if she holds on to it. Three times the luck if she loses it and it comes back to her even stronger than before.
I've got to go back. I can't believe I'm going back. I left in the first place because of him, and now, I can feel this strong pull within me - he's pulling me. He's leading me, telling me I must return to the scene of the crime where my whole life changed in an instant. It's now or never. No more wasted time.
I close my eyes as the plane rumbles to takeoff. I've never been much of a praying woman, but this time, I hear the faint mumbling of the young lady beside me. I turn to look at her, a pretty girl, obviously nervous about flying today too. Her eyes are closed and fists clenched. We all have our fears today, don't we? Our own stories. And our reasons to go back to the place that changed us. She catches my eye. I take a deep breath and give a reassuring look. I squeeze her hand like I've done a thousand times with passengers, then turn to the window as the plane lifts off the runway. My heart lifts along with my stomach, and I say a little prayer to the clouds for the both of us. Great white bird, take us over the river. Make us brave and remove our fears.
I think of his rugged face, those dark eyes, those sweet lips, smiling for me. I know what I promised you, but you know me, Vesey. You always have.
Sometimes stepping back in time is the only way for a girl to move forward.'
End of chapter one.
- Debolina Raja Gupta