Vacation by Stephanie Golisch
The sun pours down heavy on our heads like pancake batter. I don’t understand the language. We follow the locals. Though they might be leading us in circles, we have no choice. We had to give up our cell phones at the border, no one dared to argue with the guards in black metal helmets. When I peered up at their faces, I saw pink cataracts clouding their eyes.
Our interpreter had come to the villa, hearing about the motley group of visitors. Seasoned backpackers, passports full of ink blobs and wrinkled visas. We thirsted for a different kind of vacation. We’re not the drunk bus crowd, not the trudge the beaten path bunch.
Acid rain dumps down nightly. Leaves gleam in the morning light with an iridescent sheen. I haven’t seen the rumored cesspools of mechanical waste collecting in this jungle. Sometimes I get a whiff of batteries or blood underneath the warm sweetness of cardamom and the icy tang of daffodils.
What day is it? How many miles have we trudged today? The Irish have stopped cracking jokes, and the Germans stopped counting steps. The Brazilians can’t remember their lullabies, and the Canadians stopped asking politely. Only the North Koreans are completely satisfied. They said this expedition was bullshit from the very beginning.
We abruptly stop our march, and I am finally given water. It smells like moss and is warm as pie. The dried pulp of a mystery fruit is handed down the line of marchers, and we each take a big chunk. I crunch the bitter seeds and taffy flesh.
The locals ahead of us keep switching out. Those relieved of duty watch our bedraggled party disappear slowly into the foliage. Their arcane faces remain unreadable to me. There is a boy at Juilliard I meant to send a postcard to, along with my brother stationed at the Suez Canal. Or did they send him to Afghanistan? I can’t remember now. I believe that boy may have graduated.
Not once has anyone raised their voice at us or used physical force. We also do not mistake that we must keep moving. Bird calls like babies crying and smokers cackling freeze me with fear even as I fry in my own sweat. My tongue swells, my lips crack. The air stings my forearms and calves like static electricity. There is no dirt ground, we walk on ferns and orchid roots.
Our interpreter, gone since this morning, had perfect fish hook questions to seduce us into this expedition. Smiling, he turned to the botanist. Do you want to study the tree of life? Opening his hands to the sky, he implored the priest. Do you want to walk in Eden? He placed his hand on my shoulder. Writer, do you want the truth? We couldn’t say no.
© Stephanie Golisch
A 2014 Oregon Literary Arts fellow, Stephanie Golisch writes screenplays, short stories, and travel essays. She has spied on penguins in New Zealand and Chile, hiked the Yellow Mountain in China, and has been in several traffic jams on the Autobahn. She has been published in VoiceCatcher, Word Riot and Mission at Tenth, among other places. She lives in Portland. Read about her adventures on and off the road: stephaniegolisch.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram: stephgolisch
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