My plane departed at exactly one o’clock in the morning and my seat by the bathroom doesn't help the unnerving airsickness. I am going to need a lot of these motion sickness bags. One business meeting in the rural town in France means that I need to amp up my collars and freshen my breath because these locals are just about clueless about personal space and heating than I was about their small community. I was informed that I had to meet with them about a pressing issue. Something about the economy, but the line was cut short.
“All electronic devices must be turned off, ma’m.” says the flight attendant, who had glazed an overt amount of foundation on her otherwise olive skin.
There isn’t going to be any cell reception anyway, so I listen and prep up the small pillow they offered. This was a good time to catch up on some sleep, but I can’t get any. Beside me is a man with an unmistakably droopy British accent. His shirt doesn’t cover his large belly and he snores without consideration to those around him. I request a seat change.
The same flight attendant approaches me with a smile, “Our apologies, but this flight has been completely booked and there seems to be no more seats available.”
I nod my head and sigh. I don’t understand how someone can be stuck in a confined space for more than an hour and still be smiling. She is definitely not happy to be here. She probably wants to be at home. I want to go back home. But I decided a promotion was more important than my fiancee and my parents. Six more hours to go. And only forty-eight hours in France. Not too bad. Although, I really wish that the man would stop leaning on my shoulder.
I wish that I could be with my fiancee, Neill, and my son, Will, but someone had to pay the bills and it sure as hell was not going to be Neill. I loved him, I did. But his carelessness and overt effort in trying to correct everybody and everything makes him appear extremely egotistical and he is fueled with obsessive behavior. I guess that’s why I wanted to leave. I wanted to get away from the hustle that was my home. My son means everything to me, but even so, it’s getting harder and harder to pay attention to the most valuable things around me. Maybe I was too young and too foolish. Maybe I didn’t realize that this marriage isn’t what I want.
At last, the plane lands smoothly on the soil of France and I drag my carry-on beside me as I checked through customs.
I check my phone and listen through voicemails. Just a bunch of white noise, as far as I am concerned.
“Hey honey. I just landed in France. I’ll call you later today, and that’d probably be nighttime for you.” I hang up and stuff my phone into my pocket.
I am nervous that he didn’t pick up Will on time from school and that he doesn’t flake in any of his after school activities. I shake my head and try to get everything and everyone off my mind before it drives me crazy.
I was expecting southern France to be morbidly cold and unbearable, but September here greets me with such pleasant warmth that I immediately regret bringing so many outerwear pieces. I reapply my nude lip gloss in the rental car that had been waiting for me.
In the blur from the car window, there is lush greenery and grass that is growing wildly. People are wearing monotone colors, all browns and a touch of color in their heavy jeans. It isn’t anything I am used to back in Nice, where there are flocks of tourists and landmarks everywhere. Here, everything is calmer. It is a bit nice, I had to admit.
I stepped out of the car.
“Thank you, sir.” I say.
He tips his hat, and smiles.
I grab my luggage from behind, with some help from the driver, and walk towards my temporary home. There are white columns and ivy spewing from the cracked ceiling. The door was varnished with a fresh coat of gloss. I open it and everything was set; a small kitchen, a queen bed with a metal frame, and yellow walls that brighten the sunlight seeping through the quad windows.
I check my phone. No signal.
I heard knocking on the door. “Bonjour ma’m. My name is Jacque. I’m here to show you around the town and the place where we will hold our meetings.
“Ah, yes,” I said, as I place my phone down and lock the door behind me.
I follow Jacque and everything was like a botanical still-life. People are farming and others are selling crisp, golden brown baguettes in wooden carts. All around the townspeople are clay pots and strategically placed bouquets of lavender and green blossoms, issuing out of the corners of the streets.
Their tediousness in their appearances and the way they keep their houses showcases a breath of fresh air; I smell notes of sunshine and florals. I am beginning to feel guilty because I need to work on myself, more than my job or others. I never make time for myself or my family. Coming to this trip showed just that. I could’ve easily given the job to someone else and denied it respectfully, but my inability to have a consistent life got in the way of everything.
Jacque leads me to a small café with tables aligning the mud roads.
“So tell me, what interested you in this position? We’ve contacted your firm for weeks, but no one ever obliged to come to such a small town.”
“Honestly, I don’t know. But my hopefulness for things like this café and the manners had a lot to do with my decision.”
“Yes, we are very nice people.”
He nods his head in agreement with himself and takes a sip of his espresso.
The drink calms my nerves and I sink into my chair. I look at my engagement ring. I don’t like the way it looks on my hand.
I want to get away and be free, but I have a child and I have responsibilities. I can’t be the person I used to be. The person I was now. It had to stop.
“So where are you from? I detect an English and American accent?”
“You’re right. I was born in the States, but moved to England when I was thirteen.”
“What about you? Have you always lived here?”
“Born and raised,” he said, raising his cup and smiling.
I smile back.
All of a sudden, my thoughts quickly went back to England and I want to check my phone. What if there was a voicemail?
“I have to go, settle in, and get some rest. I couldn’t sleep at all on the flight.” I said, frantically taking my jacket from my seat and waving goodbye.
“No worries!” he calls back.
I walk the distance from the café back to my place. There is no reason for going back. I just had to get out of there.
When my mind spirals deeper into a hole of unnerving thoughts and excuses, I linger at the thought that I should stay and never go back home. It seems comforting to think that way. It’s also the easy way out and the worst possible thing I could do to Will, but I soon begin to question if my decisions with Neill were all that great. The first mistake was saying, “I do.”
I see Jacque exiting the cafe and I turn the other way before he sees me. Work seems like a chore, yet I show up on a giant Boeing just to be here for the pure purpose of working so I had to suck it up. Slacking was not an option. Nowadays, it all seems to be about money. I try to get some sleep early so that I would stop overthinking.
The business meeting in the morning isn’t what I expected it to be. There is no one dressed professionally, but in their usual clothes and everyone was tyrannous about so many issues. What do they need a professional for?
A large man walks up to the podium. His low, raspy voice complements his grizzly complexion.
He cleared his throat, “Everyone, everyone. Calm down. We are here to discuss tourism policies and I know everyone has ideas that they want to shoot, but we have hired someone to help us. If you may.”
He looks at me. The townspeople turn to me. I slowly walk up and for the first time in my life, I am ashamed of looking so proper. If I want to voice an opinion, I need not a business suit, but casual clothing. That’s the only way people will listen; if you’re just like them.
“If I could have everyone raise their hands, I’ll start with the front.” I gesture my hand to those that are now standing in excitement.
“We should put up billboards, commercials! The works!” one man speaks, louder than the rest.
“Tourism is little to none!” almost everyone phrases.
“That’s something you have to advertise, but don’t let tourism kill this place.” I finally say, and the townspeople look at me with puzzled looks. “There is a difference between money and value. Your town may not have money, but it has value and that’s all you need. You don’t have to stick to tourism. I saw quite a few of you farming and you can export those crops out and into urban France.”
Some of the people looks at me as if I was utterly dumb. My knowledge was foreign, but people need perspective.
“We sustainably farm for ourselves! Not for those corporations that just toss food away and waste here and there.” They are getting frustrated. “I understand your frustrations, sir, but debt can be conquered in other ways.”
Jacque was in the back, sitting down. He was reading a book. Oh, thank god. There was this giant spotlight on me and he was the only person that didn’t care about the meeting. I step down from the podium.
Everyone began shouting, “So that’s it? That’s all we paid for? Waste of money!”
People soon turned to Jacque. I think it was because I was trying to make direct eye contact with him as I was frantically walking in his direction.
I didn’t say anything. I just had to retreat. I had no idea what I was doing here. Do I even enjoy my job anymore? The confusion derails me into a tree, but Jacque stops me in the midst of failure. At least I find something that I am consistent in: catastrophes.
“Are you okay?” he sounds concerned, and he helps me with my balance. I feel dizzy all of a sudden.
I feel like a child and I wish I can be carefree like one, but I am an adult. I have to get my life together or at least pretend to act like it because my transparency on all of life’s offerings is becoming certain through my facial expressions.
My face sags in uncertainty and age, but my tears are fresh as my rose blush becomes pasty on my skin. I don’t want to show my face amidst the townspeople so I begin to run towards my house. I leave Jacque.
At night, I manage to boil a beef stew and I drink a cup of milk that I bought a liter of from the bakery. A slice of baguette, strawberry jam, and butter is my breakfast.
However, this one morning I did not want to get up or deal with anyone. I want to hide under my sheets. Maybe if I keep sleeping every time I wake up, it would become permanent. Jacque knocks on the door. Sometimes it’s better if people don’t care about you. Then at least I’d be able to stay unproductive.
Jacque continues to knock on the door.
I roll my eyes and get out of bed, keeping my sheets wrapped around my back. I walk to the door. The sheet drags behind me like an oversized cape.
When I open the door, Jacque shakes his head in disappointment.
“The meeting began and the people in the town are counting on you. I really thought you had it in the bag.” He starts walking backwards and then to his bicycle.
I chew the side of my cheek.
Before he walks away completely, I yell, “What’d you need me for? Specifically, me?”
I remember that there was an approval process that had to be done before I was given the job. And I also remember that it was an approval amongst the locals and not the firm.
“Because I had faith in you. And maybe you should too.” He says, but he doesn’t stop. He continues on his bicycle away and down the road.
I decide it is my time to leave.
This town is everything I wanted, but it isn't meant for me. I pack my bags.
I leave Jacque a voicemail as I sit in the taxi, “Hello Jacque, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to solve the town problem, but I assure you I did care about it. Right now, I’m going to take a vacation from life and have time to myself. I need to focus on me right now. If I ever pass by France or if you ever stop by London, call me. I’d be happy to meet up again.”
I guess this is how things will always be. Jacque is an excuse to stay. The smell of the flowers is an excuse to stay. But Will is my excuse to leave and immediately. I decide that I need to do some serious thinking when I go back home.
The window blurs the blossoms from the trees and the bakery carts, but all I can smell is cigar smoke of the driver and my jasmine perfume. All things that remind me of my life back in England.