Sloan’s gaze dropped to the tattered plaid blanket beneath her as the sun-drenched sky beat down on her powdery tone like a hospital lamp. As sweat puddles at her hairline, her thought is interrupted by a walking beanstalk of a man in a beret.
“Bonjour, Mademoiselle. Your croissant and coffee.”
She smiles back in gratitude, not speaking, and grabs her breakfast from the barista.
“Bon appétit!” he cheerfully says while trying to sneak back to the cafe.
Instead of eagerly digging into her meal, she instead picks up her camera. First a candid photo of her coffee laid atop the plaid blanket, and then the metal eye’s attention was torn from the picnic and set its sights on something whose beauty it had only heard of: the Eiffel Tower.
It was as if traffic had stopped just for this photo. A metal skeleton projecting through the clouds was eerily captured, but Sloan thought it was the most magnificent sight she’d ever seen. It was a story book perfect start to her last day in Paris.
After recording everything for memory, she struggles up from her picnic and trudges towards the same coffee house from earlier. The sun still blinding her vision, she lets the smell of authentic espresso guide her way.
The familiar melodic chime rings as Sloan walks through the worn mahogany doors.
“Ahh, Mademoiselle, back so soon?” says the same scrawny barista.
With a nervous chuckle, Sloan replies, “Oh, yes. I’d like a chai tea to-go, light cinnamon, and a box of dozen bagels as well.”
“Of course, Madame,” he says as his prickly goatee and curled mustache rise with his toothy grin, “Are the original bagels okay?”
“No, give me one of all of them. I will never get to experience them again; I don’t want to miss out on any of them.”
Her mind trails off as the skinny man tried to keep up a conversation as she was paying. Her hands unconsciously walts towards their familiar dancefloor. Sloan makes sure to photograph everything: the corners of tables, a spiderweb in a lonely corner, and all the people that pass her by.
The flight for Brazil leaves early in the morning, yet Sloan did not want some rest. After the diagnosis, she knew she couldn’t miss a beat. Everything was so much more important now: so raw. Her doctor claims she must stay indoors to avoid sunlight and complete rounds of chemo and radiation three times a week to add a few months to her already dissipating life.
She vividly pictures her doctor’s face when he broke the news of her inoperable melanoma, although she didn’t care to remember his name. She wished she’d had her camera to document his face full of forced melancholy, when her gave her a death sentence.
Sloan’s family disowned her like a sow leaving behind her sick piglets. They were unable to grasp why she would refuse treatment. This proved to be a enlightenment on Sloan: more like a realization than a breaking point. Instead of spending her last few months of life indoors and in a drug coma, she decided to see the world and capture all its uniqueness.
Paris was her fourth stop in Europe, and her tenth in world travel. She had to travel light due to the tsunami of pain her condition caused her so she carried nothing with her but a small backpack and her camera to remember it all.
She has the rest of the day to get to enjoy France, so she wanders down lonesome alley ways and through farmers’ markets; she soaks in the surrounding culture like a simmering roast. Slowly she makes her way to the international airport, her demeanor like a static balloon, pulling towards anything near it.
As she arrives at the airport, she is promptly offered a wheelchair from an stewardess at the door.
With no response, Sloan peers behind her as if signifying ‘is she really talking to me?’, looks directly at the stewardess with a smirk and scoffs as she attempts to strut off, containing her limp to a minimum.
Accepting death was no easy feat, and Sloan still struggles in situations like these when her ailment is physically noticed by others, making it more of a reality for herself.
As Sloan boarded the plane bound to Brazil, her mind wondered. What would her life be like had the world not gifted her with such an unfortunate present? What is her family doing in this moment: are they thinking of her? How much time does she have left?
Sloan numbly jostles in between the open seating flight as everyone tries to find the best seats. Thoughts of backing out of her travels and to return to her old life tug at her gut like a flag in the wind. Among the bustle around her, she begins to turn around hesitantly just to be abruptly interrupted.
A woman of medium stature with burnt auburn hair and rosy cheeks to compliment the fine wrinkles ever growing along her smile line smiles back at Sloan.
“Boardin’ time is always the worst part ain’t it?” says the plump, middle aged woman in a thick southern accent.
Taken aback by the familiar sound of a native English speaker she does a quick swivel of her head to fully face the woman.
Understanding Sloan’s initial response to her question, the woman assures that she heard right.
“Sorry to be a stranger, stranger,” the squirrely woman chuckles, “I just noticed your Georgia State sweatshirt earlier. I’m a southern gal myself. Tallahassee, Florida, born and raised, although I’ve lived here in France the past decade or so, since graduating. What brings you to France, or should I say Brazil now?”
“I’m sorry. Hi, yes, that’s amazing. What a small world we live in. I’m just doing a little bit of traveling here lately.”, says Sloan, a little timid, and short spoken in hopes the conversation will be short lived so she can find a seat before she changes her mind.
But the woman was persistent. When Sloan somehow managed to score a window seat, the overly hospitable woman ws quick to wiggle her way into the middle seat right next to Sloan.
“You’re packin’ mighty light for such a big trip, missy. You got family in Brazil?”, the woman prods.
“No. I’ll just buy more clothes when I arrive. I prefer to not pay an extra $50 to carry extra weight.”, Sloan hastily replied.
Perplexed the woman looks Sloan up and down.
“I just can’t figure you out girl. What’s your story?”
“I was diagnosed with inoperable melanoma with a few months to live and wanted to spend the rest of my life just enjoying the world in peace. Is that too much to ask lady?” Sloan yells out of anger.
The lady’s round puffy cheeks lose a bit of their perkiness as she stares apologetically at Sloan; the way everyone else looks at her when they hear of her misfortune.
“That is not too much to ask for at all. I’m sorry for bringing up. I hate to continue on that note, but have you looked into alternative treatments? There’s always hope for a miracle. They work in mysterious ways.” the woman solemnly states.
“A miracle is like deafening silence: very uncomfortable to grasp and completely insensible” she replies.
That was the end of any talk on the flight to Brazil. The only conversation left was between her eyes and the galaxy. Hopefully tomorrow will shed new beauty into Sloan’s eyes.
It was early morning in the nature clad Brasilia, a stark contrast from the night life in the city of Paris. Sloan felt her body weakening and decides she cannot handle the bustle of city life, and grabed a brochure for the rainforest as she trudges out of the airport.
She clutched her her camera close to her face as if they were her glasses. She manages to grab action shots of the many street vendors and family markets as well as the produce they sold. The practical use of the worn dirt and cobblestone roads were an enigma to Sloan; these people did so much with so little, yet they loved life.
The city was lovely but Sloan needed something more; she knew her time was running out. She hails a taxi and travels as far as allowed into the rainforest. At this point, she was running low on funds and could not afford to tip the driver at which point he hastily slammed the brakes and threw her things to the ground before speedily turning around leaving as cloud of dust in its wake.
Too tired to the incident, Sloan jerked her bag across her back and followed the ancient sign pointing the direction of inner forest. An overwhelming sea of vibrant greens drowned her vision. Her evident weakness was overcome by awe. As she mindlessly follows the dense foliage, everything she loved about nature overrode any logical thought of remembering the way she’d came. The sheer thought of being surrounded with the denseness of the forest, surrounded with so much life confronted Sloan, almost made her feel cozy. In that warm air reminiscent of a sauna, she decided to stop briefly just to enjoy that comfort.
She plopped down at the base of an enormous tree that seemed to be the center of all life in the forest. Its roots, huge and jutting, yet magnificently twined, climbed high out of the ground as if wanting to get a taste of freedom. A perfect dip in the entangled web presented itself as a perfect spot for Sloan to rest. The warm air fills her chest like hot soup, and her breathing slows to a rhythmic inhale exhale. At the same time the lofty limbs and protruding leaves smother out any reminisce of the blue sky above. She knows she should get up and find her way back but can not find the wish to; she feels so at peace now. Sloan lets her heavy eyes droop, slowly but surely, like a lowering flag coming down for the day.
Time has passed, but she was unsure how much. She woke up wrapped in a thick quilt with her head being dabbed at with a chilled cloth. Confused by her location, Sloan attempts to sit up and find that it comes with much more ease than usual. Strange figures surround her: dark men, with little to no clothes on, some face painted or pierced. To her right another, with an unkept beard, is by her side wiping her forehead. They converse in a language unknown to Sloan, yet for some reason she is not afraid. She feels down to her side, a man smiles up at her as he wraps her torso in a sling filled with what looked like earthy herbs and water; that’s where her scars from her unsuccessful surgeries reside.
She knew what they were trying to do, but wanted to tell them there is no fixing her. Food and a drink are brought to her as well, and Sloan denies and tries to get up and find her way back to the city but the tribe shake their heads no, as if insisting she eat before she leave.
Meat, similar to a cured country ham is what was given, but tasted like the greatest meal she’d ever eaten. One swig on the bitter tea made her recognize the smell as the same smell the herbal wrap they were surrounding her body with. She appreciates the gesture of these people, but knew it was time to get home; she needed to say goodbye to her family before it was too late. But as she attempted to get up, expecting to need a helpful push with her hands, she rose with ease.
As the men who fed and housed her pointed a direction to leave, Sloan felt the sudden urge to skip her way home, and she did just that. She was feeling remarkably better.
Emily Miller is a senior at Corbin High School.