I stand in the airport, bewildered and stunned suddenly at the noise rushing around my ears. Faces hurry past me, families laughing, couples scowling and children yawning sleepily as the clock chimed past an hour they had never seen before.
I hitched my rucksack higher on my shoulders, a multi-coloured blaze of glory that the Delos Crew had bought me for my birthday. They had wanted to get something they felt represented me so I would, “get rid of that f**king thing.” I had left my ugly green backpack behind, and in a way, every stain and tear that backpack had gone through in the past felt like it represented myself somehow.
But I was breaking out. I was stepping free from that old skin.
I looked down at the boarding pass in my hand.
It was so strange to think this day had come. I had been waiting for it for so long. Days and weeks had passed of not knowing, to then knowing that this would happen.
The next three weeks that followed after Edouard asking me to come to Paris were met with a strange sense of calmness. Every day meant something. Every moment counted.
We had managed to talk every now and again since I finally had some internet. But he had to fly to Tanzania for a charity project for two weeks and look after some French teenagers whilst helping the community.
“I want to show the kids that you don’t have to be connected to wifi all the time,” he explained to me. “I want to teach them how to disconnect and be in the moment.”
And that’s how I felt in my last week. Being in the moment with my crew.
“It’s like someone has told me I have seven days to live,” I tried to explain to Lisa as we were sitting on the back of Delos at night with a glass of wine in hand. “It’s like every day matters. There’s no taking anything for granted.”
And I knew in that moment that that was probably the way life should be seen in any case. Because every day does matter. Nothing should be taken for granted.
I think back now to who I was at the beginning of this journey. I could never have imagined that this would be the outcome of my voyage. And I’m so glad that my leaving Delos was not done out of sadness, or because the journey was ending at a particular port. It was ending out of love. It was ending because another was starting.
And in a way, it wasn’t ending at all. After talking with Brian, Karin and Brady, it was discussed that I would continue to be a part of the Delos Project on land and help them with whatever they needed- including continuing to write the Delos Story for them.
I was leaving out of the best of circumstances.
But hell it was emotional.
As I walked with my boarding pass tightly clasped in my hand through security, I thought back to saying goodbye to my crew.
The night before we had a party on the beach, all wrapped up to avoid being bitten by the flies, we danced, we drank and we sang and played the guitar until our fingers were bloody.
Standing with the girls about to go home to Delos, we all decided to swim back to the boat naked. I can’t remember whose idea it was, but we pulled off our clothes, threw them to the boys to look after in the dingy and dived into the black surf of the sea.
I don’t even think I felt the cold.
It was an incredible moment, laughing and singing as one as we dragged the water beneath our arms and legs, the bioluminescence twinkling around our limbs like fireflies. It was as if we were swimming through the night sky itself.
It was a special moment with my girl crew as the rest of the party called us crazy.
And as the boys chased us in Maggie and dived in as well, I had an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. This was my family. This incredible bunch of crazy people that had helped me form who I am. Who helped me find myself again.
And as the morning came and I finished off packing the rest of my things, I remember just sitting there in the lounge, staring at Brian and wondering how on earth I was ever going to say “see you later” to him.
Our friend Felipe was giving me a lift to the airport and I was to be dropped off at his boat any minute for then a three hour car journey from Ubatuba.
Wow, was I ready?
I couldn’t stop crying as my crew dropped me off at his boat, clinging onto them desperately as I sought to be a part of two worlds.
Couldn’t they all just come to Paris with me?
My eyes watering at the mere memory of their faces as I waved goodbye, I thanked customs and walked through to the departures lounge.
It was a strange feeling being without them. But if I had been afraid of breaking under the pressure of life without them, I felt strong after the love they had given me. I felt like in the past my spine had become nothing but chalk, beaten and brittle under the events that had happened over the past two years of my life. But after being with Delos, it was as though they had poured strength into my bones. I walked straight, feeling excited, invigorated and ready.
I would be strong. I could do this!
Hours passed and soon I was walking around another airport- Casablanca. It wasn’t long before I was sitting on another plane, staring out of the window with my hands tightly clasped over my lap. The land disappeared beneath my eyes suddenly as we took off into the air and it hit me that in less than three hours, I would be there.
And then I suddenly realised how far I was away from Delos.
I looked at the map on my screen and hovered over England and France for a moment, thinking of my sister probably lying in bed asleep with the rest of her family. I thought of Edouard in France, waiting for me at the airport.
Would everything still feel the same? Would he think I looked different? How would things be on land? Would he still want to be with me?
It was all such a big risk.
We landed finally at Paris.
It was happening, it was happening, it was happening!
I gazed at the people surrounding me as we went through security, proud suddenly at being a European. This was the closest I had been to my country in nearly a year. I listened to the flurry of languages as I raced through to pick up my baggage, wondering whether I would understand any French.
I did not.
After waiting for twenty minutes, I paced back and forth to try and find someone who could help me. Waiting in a long queue for baggage assistance I realised that almost 40 minutes had passed since I had landed.
I hoped Edouard would wait for me. Maybe he would think I got cold feet and stayed in Casablanca? Maybe he would think I lied and I had never got on the plane at all?
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
I stood at the desk, waiting patiently as the woman took my passport number.
There was a clear glass wall behind her, showing all of the people who had just arrived, greeting their loved ones and families. I told myself not to search for Edouard. I couldn’t. I don’t think my heart could take it just yet.
But it was too late.
Because I saw him.
Standing with a sign in hand saying, “Welcome Miss England From Delos!” and a small turtle drawn underneath was being held by three people. A girl with blue hair and another tall guy I had never seen before with his long hair tied back behind his hand.
And then in the middle, there he was.
Standing exactly as I had seen him last, he and his friends were waiting patiently, strips of red and blue glitter on their faces as they searched for me in the crowd.
I was frozen.
But then they saw me through the glass.
Edouard grinned and waved at me, a handful of red roses in his hands as his friends started to cheer.
“I’m sorry about your baggage,” the woman behind the desk apologised, jolting me from the sudden wave of emotion that was threatening to overwhelm me.
“That’s ok,” I grinned. “I really don’t care about my bags.”
She blinked at me in surprise.
Pointing to the group of people on the other side of the glass, my smile became even wider. “My friends are there waiting for me. I really don’t care about my stuff. It’s only things.”
I had lost everything but I felt nothing about it. I didn’t care. I had all I needed with me. How could I ever feel sad or annoyed that I had lost my belongings when I had just gained so much?
Quickly telling the woman the two sentence version of our story, my smile was suddenly echoed on her face.
“Come over here!” she beckoned to Edouard through the other side as she swung in her chair.
He came closer and I couldn’t believe suddenly that there was this stupid pane of glass separating me from him.
His hair was a mixture of wild curls and tiny little braids done by the African children in Tanzania as he grinned at me, writing down his address for the woman to have my baggage posted to his address when it had been found.
“Can I go now?” I begged her.
After making me sign a few more forms, giving her my flight number and anything else that could have been done in slow motion she finally nodded.
“Welcome to Paris!”
I signalled that I was coming around to Edouard and started to race to the other side, walking down a small corridor until the blinding lights of the next room hit me.
He stood in the centre, the roses still in his hands as he waited for me.
I don’t know how I felt. Overwhelmed, excited, happy, exhausted, emotional, a wreck, hopeful, fearful and everything in between.
My heart was beating so hard in my chest as I came closer, owning suddenly nothing but the backpack and clothes I was wearing.
“You’re here!” he laughed.
And then suddenly his arms were wrapped around me and everything became very simple.
I was here, in Paris with Edouard.
That night I met Bruno and Ann-Charlotte- the girl with the blue hair, Bruno’s girlfriend. It was incredible to think that these people had also come with Edouard just to see me. There was such joy and happiness in their faces as I spoke to them that I instantly felt so welcomed and safe. And as we squeezed into Edouard’s 1980’s 4L, I grasped his hand.
Everything felt like it should all of a sudden. The lights of Paris passed us by as the night wrapped itself around a sleeping world. Paris. What an incredible place. There was so much to do. So much to explore. A whole new life to live!
Edouard squeezed my fingers tightly and we exchanged a look that said we both couldn’t believe we were both here, together.
We celebrated by drinking a bottle of wine on top of a hill in his village with Bruno and Ann Charlotte, wrapped in blankets and discussing life and love. They all spoke English around me and I used the little French I had learned whilst being in Brazil.
Soon Ann Charlotte and Bruno left with a promise to see us again for a double date and I was suddenly alone with Edouard.
And if I had been afraid of anything feeling different, there was no need. Because as I lay there on the grass with him, catching up on the past seven weeks, it felt like we were back on that beach on Ascension Island, lying side by side in the sand.
But this time we were lying on the grass, surrounded by trees with the stars flying above us that I hadn’t seen for so long.
And in that moment, I realised that everything felt the same. I was with this incredible person who was smiling at me as he spoke of his adventures, about waiting for me, of reading my emails over and over and counting the days until I would land.
It was another adventure to be had.
And after feeling lost for so long, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
In the moment.