Every journey is the first one and every journey takes a lot of courage – that’s Emilia’s reasoning when she leaves her home, and her father, and her studies to catch a flight to Pelotas in Brazil and that’s how her journey begins.
Taking the first step, she’s trying to convince herself that she’s courageous. No, she’s not afraid, and of course she can survive easily with a backpack, a box of homemade biscuits, enough money to rent a car, and get to another town, right?
What she needs is time and space and experience and they say that journeys are the best teachers, right? So with a promise that she’s going to call as often as possible, and be careful and come back in a year or so, she leaves for the adventure. South America sounds like a good idea at the time.
The first few months pass quickly even though it’s not the way she’s expected it to be. Yes, she’s free now and nobody tells her what to do, when to study, what to eat, when to go to bed, or whom to go to bed with. Yes, she’s self-sufficient. She’s not attached to any place, and she most certainly doesn’t make any lasting friendships. That’s not why she left her home after all. She’s not sure why she did it, but she is most certain why she didn’t do it. Or she thinks so.
She’s not picky about the jobs she accepts to earn enough money to get to the next town or village. She’s an interpreter, a tour guide, a waitress and a bartender. For a week or two she’s dog-walking, house sitting, and cleaning. She works in coffee shops, bakeries and even helps some magicians during their street performances. She’s proud to say that she can include cleaning stalls and picking fruit on the list as well. Anything that doesn’t take much paperwork and what she can leave as easily as she accepted it. She’s not there to stay permanently after all. She’s there because it’s different, because she needs to brush up on her Portuguese and because it’s not home.
But there’s something missing, something important. Or there’s something too much. She doesn’t know what’s wrong and she doesn’t know how to fix it. Every day is different. Every day brings something new, something unexpected, and something that makes her more than what she was yesterday. But there’s still something missing.
It’s Thursday and it starts with a broken radio. She’s driving through a cornfield – as she’s been doing for hours and she’s already wondering if the cornfield will ever end – and surprisingly the following silence is deafening. It’s so unexpected that she almost stops the car, because for some unfathomable reason she feels as if she was running away. But she isn’t. She’s not running. She’s brave and it’s just another road, another day, another cornfield. The day is like any other of the previous hundred and eighty six days before. She’s not running from anything. She’s just looking for something. Right. She’s looking.
So she continues driving in silence with only the engine’s noise as her sole company, but it feels as if there was somebody else in the car. This “presence” is so subtle, yet so overwhelming that she wants to cry to just get rid of it. It’s just too much after another 50 miles. The silence is killing her and she doesn’t like the feeling of helplessness. It’s already dark when she approaches the next town, but the lights are saving her sanity.
Pulling of the road next to the nearest motel, she stays in the car for a moment, trying to figure out what’s wrong and why the silence disturbed her so much. She can almost touch the answer, but decides not to. It’s just a broken radio, after all.
She stays there for a week. A week that changes everything.
It’s a small town and the only job opening is at the landscaping business, and only because one of the workers just twisted his leg. So she accepts it.
After hours of mulching, pruning and planting, Matilde – the landlady – invites her for a cup of tea and some homemade biscuits. Matilde talks about her son, who studied to be a doctor, became one, but not around here. He lives on the other side of the country, never visiting. She’s never met her grandsons either, but Matilde loves them more than life. It’s obvious from the way she’s talking, from the way she’s smiling – sad and hopelessly – from the way she’s looking at the pictures on the wall. A story Emilia heard over and over again in almost every town she visited. The story about sons, grandsons, daughters, husbands, and parents leaving and never coming back.
Reaching for a biscuit, that’s when it strikes her like a bolt of lightening. There’s that moment of sudden clarity – when she almost can’t breathe – and now she knows. It’s like a promise she never intended to keep. It’s like the presence in her car that personifies her entire past and everything she’s trying to escape from. It’s like a biscuit that smells of home. It’s like freedom that reveals her chained soul and empty dreams. It’s like the missing part. Now she can touch the answer. She’s one of them and she’s trapped outside her life.
Another week of mulching, pruning and planting – in heat and silence – gives her a way out. Or in? She can’t escape from herself. She needs to face what she’s most afraid of, before she can continue with her journey. Continue with her life. She can do it. She can do it, because she’s brave, and she needs to know what is at the end of the journey, and even if she is one of “them,” she’s also not one of them. She can make it so and she will, because it takes a lot of courage to knock at the door where she doesn’t have the key anymore.
The footsteps on the other side of the door sound as familiar as her own heartbeat. When the door opens with a screech she knows the answer. It’s just the beginning of another journey. Because it’s not important what’s at the end of the journey. It’s important what’s at the beginning.