Cheryl lifted her hand to caress his face. His irises glowed like Yemaya. “Goodbye,” she said. “Goodbye,” he responded. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again,” she continued. “I know,” said Robert, smiling. “I know.”
Cheryl turned to leave. She walked towards her cab and turned around once more. “Bye Robert,” she waved before getting inside. Robert stood and watched her leave from his doorstep. She was moving across the ocean like she’d always wanted. He loved that she was so determined to build the future that she’d been craving. Once upon a time, he had felt the same way about traveling. But he was settled now, and he hated the idea of starting over anywhere. Plus, he was determined to start a family with the One, whomever that would be. Cheryl was leaving behind six years of their friendship, of their phone calls, of their dinners together on patio terraces. Sometimes in April, Cheryl thought to herself as she settled into her cab, winter comes.
Robert stood in the doorway of his house as her scent drifted farther and farther away. He turned to walk through his living room and into the backyard. He would plant a new garden that day, he decided. He looked up at the clear blue sky and saw two birds flying overhead. I love the spring, he told himself. He started laying down seeds. His backyard was already awash with budding green leaves and colorful rose buds. The sound of the cab’s engine continued to trail off in the distance. Sometimes in April, was his new favorite thought. Sometimes in April, he continued to think, summer feels like it’s here. That day was Robert’s last day of rehab, where he had been for months. Cheryl had visited him every day and their friendship is what saw him through. They had been through laughter and many tears together. She had fed him when he couldn’t eat and made him cool compresses when he was too sick to get out of bed. He knelt down on the ground in his yard and began parting the soil and planting seeds one by one. The birds he had originally seen continued flying overhead. The sound of the cab’s engine had definitively faded from his street. He knew that wherever she was, Cheryl would have what Robert could not give her. Both knew that a future together was unlikely, but their past had been filled with so many happy memories that neither of them would forget.
The cab made its way to the airport as the raindrops on Cheryl’s window began washing away the tears from the faces of the passing houses. Some six plus hours later, Cheryl landed at Aéroport Charles de Gaulle in Paris. When she exited the airport, she hailed a bright yellow cab. The air outside was crisp and cool. “Avenue de la Porte d’Orléans,” she said to the driver, as she opened the back door. Out of nowhere, she heard loud squawks overhead and looked up. She saw two large birds flying high in the sky, first side by side and then chasing one another. “Ha,” Cheryl remarked out loud, before entering the cab. The cab driver took her luggage and placed it in the trunk. Cheryl bundled her jacket tighter before hopping inside. The car took off down the gray cobblestone streets that were lined with café terraces and budding branches of green. Cheryl wasn’t exactly sure where she was headed – believe it or not, she still needed to find an Airbnb – but she knew that she was headed to where she was meant to be. The two birds followed, all the while chasing each other, as the cab carried Cheryl to her destination.
The two birds continued to fly and dance in the air. It seemed as if their dance involved following the cab as it made its way through the city of lights.
Back in his yard, dusk had fallen and the wind had picked up. Robert had finished planting for the day and came back inside where he started a fire. He was really looking forward to tomorrow because a new day would come. He was finally going on a date with someone new. He took comfort in the fact that Cheryl was going to live the life that she’d always wanted in Paris. The street lights shone bright in their respective cities on either side of the Atlantic. Tomorrow would be a new day for both of them.
Sandra closed the book as she finished reading it to her daughter, who had fallen asleep. The buzzing of motorbikes grew loud and faint in a continuous cycle outside her daughter’s bedroom window that overlooked the busy Parisian street. “Legend says,” Sandra said to her sleeping daughter in French, “that one of the birds died of heartache after losing sight of the cab and never finding it. But others say that that’s just an old wives’ tale. It seems that in the end, no one will ever really know.”
Sandra turned off the lights. And with that, she, too, went to sleep for the evening.
“The boat to Paradise is leaving now. Do you want to come?”
Erica stood there as she mulled over the unexpected words.
She had only known darkness her entire life – the darkness of her dad leaving her mom, her mom later committing suicide, her older sister becoming pregnant and abandoning the family at the age of 16. Erica had only known loneliness and the fear of overcoming her loneliness. She had met great people through the grace of God, sure. But these people had only played temporary roles in her life before they too had to be called to continue their lives in other dimensions. She had learned to become self-reliant at an early age, and – despite the crack head obstacles that had been thrown in her path – now had a good job and roommates who mostly annoyed her but nevertheless helped her pay the expensive rent in the nice area of town that she now lived in. But as she began to climb the ladder of her personal success, she knew that that wasn’t enough.
On the other side of her voyage would be a tall and handsome man or woman who would await her, marry her, and for whom she’d bear beautiful children. These children would later grow to become a scientist, an engineer, and the future President of the United States.
But here, the question the captain asked her haunted her because she knew that it would release the ghosts of her past which she had spent her whole life trying to bury.
“The boat to Paradise is leaving now,” the captain reiterated, impatiently looking at his watch. “Do you want to come?”
Erica knew that if she got on board, she would ride through many thunderstorms which would include endless hours of therapy, many years of tears, and ultimately a newfound confidence and outlook on life that she never knew she had deep within.
But she didn’t want to reach into the cobwebs and release all those tiny creatures that threatened to invade the peace of her brain.
The horn sounded for the last time. People boarded but there she stood. Paralyzed in eternal contemplation. The words echoing in her mind.
“Do you want to come?”
He was going to save her. The night was black, the forest green, his armoire silver. As he advanced steadily through the woods, the light of the moon served as his only guide. The silence was occasionally pierced by the soft gallop of hooves, and the neigh of his horse whenever he tried to slow her down. Hurry, he thought. I must save her.
Sandra sat on the cold, clammy stone floor. It was dark. A sliver of moonlight filtered in through the hole at the top of the rectangular space. Faint drops of water kept falling in the distance, forming a puddle somewhere nearby. One…two…three…, she counted every drop that she heard. Four…five…six… The hour was coming to a close. Soon, it would be time. The rope swayed back and forth in the gallows with each blow of the wind. She tried to remember the events that got her there, but her head was hurting from all the bruises, and everything up until then was nothing but a big blur…
They met one day while they were both working. She was from America. He was from Italy. She had no friends in Lupiri, and neither did he. She was getting along pretty well and was equally friendly with everyone at the job, until she noticed his accent and decided to greet him with the one word she knew in his native language, “Bongiorno.” “Bongiorno,” he always responded, each time becoming more and more intrigued by her. Finally he said to her one day, “You’re very curious, you know.” “Why?” she asked. “Because I never met anyone who wanted to learn Italian.” Well, I don’t really want to learn it, she thought to herself, but he interrupted her thoughts and continued, “Why don’t we create an exchange? You teach me English and I will teach you Italian.” It was an easy enough proposition, so she said “Deal.” And so it was.
They met each other for lunch every day, and as a token of his appreciation, he began cooking for her almost every day. They began taking coffee breaks together. She would call him during the workday, and upon answering his phone he would only say, “I’m coming.” In two minutes he would be at her office door, which was only down the hall from his own. He would take a break just to walk her down the hall to the coffee machine when they didn’t have time to take a longer break. They joked in the hallway. People stared or thought whatever they thought. And yet they laughed anyway. He began taking her out to dinner, restaurants, and places to go out on the town. They received stares. And one day, they fell in love. But what they didn’t know, was that their love was a crime. He was White; she was Black.
At first, people just stared. Some tried to deny them entrances to certain establishments. Still, they laughed and they loved. One day, a bystander had decided that he had had enough of witnessing a crime in progress. That evening, the police came to her house to ask her if the allegations were true. She stated that her love was real. They asked her of his whereabouts. She denied knowing them. After all, they did not live together. The police stated that they would take her in for questioning. She responded that she had violated no natural law, and that she would not go. They told her that if she resisted, she would be forcefully taken away. Her fists were no match for their batons.
Three days had gone by since, and she had not had a chance to communicate with him or the outside world since she was taken. She had no idea if he knew where she was or what happened. But she knew that the time was coming soon before he would ever get a chance to find out from her what led to her disappearance. The drops kept falling like a ticking clock: seven…eight…nine… The rope continued to sway with each blow of the wind.
C’mon! He thought. Faster! He screamed in silence. If they heard him coming through this heavily guarded terrain, not only would his life be lost, but surely hers. He was traveling through no man’s land. They did not know that in all honesty, it was she who had made him the man that he was. She.
"I am ready for love," he said. The gallops pounded louder.
The door opened.
His breaths grew more shallow.
“Alessandro!” she cried.
“I’m too late,” he muttered loudly. “It’s getting too late!”
“Alessandro!” She cried.
The man moved closer.
Her screams echoed throughout the blackness. The man forced her up and pushed her to walk closer to the edge of the gallows. Looking out over the abyss, she looked high at the white lights dotting the sky...