by Greg Chase
They looked forward to their vacations for months. They made arrangements, compiled emergency contacts, got vaccinations.
They boarded planes, touched down in strange and sterile airport terminals, exchanged money, marveled at foreign currencies
(It’s such a funny color! It looks like fake money!). They boarded the wrong trains, squinted at maps, asked for directions
(Excusez-moi, where can we catch “le taxi”?). They looked at famous churches (It’s so big!), castles (It’s so big!), and artwork
(It’s so small!). They photographed grinning tour guides, scandalous billboards, finely woven garments. They stared solemnly at war
memorials and tried to feel moved. They withdrew money, ate street food (We’re just like the locals!), felt sick, overpaid for small
portions at guidebook-recommended restaurants. They ran into one another at hotel bars, drank pints, discussed places of origin
(Oh, you’re from Missouri? Our friend lives there. Do you know her?). They photographed rowboats, poodles, gravestones of famous authors
whose books they hadn’t read. They checked their email accounts in Internet cafés, wrote enthusiastic messages to family and friends
(We’re having so much fun!). They formed long lines outside museums, spilled out the doorways of crowded rooms, filled all the seats
on city tour buses. They wandered late at night through unfamiliar streets.
They exchanged busy cities for quiet countrysides. They walked under canopies, swam in waterfalls, withdrew money. They photographed bridges,
women playing soccer, the crooked teeth of bearded men. They got caught in sudden rainstorms, ran for shelter, complained about not having
brought enough warm clothes. They discovered, to their dismay, that no one spoke anything besides the local language. They flipped through
magazines in their hotel rooms. They uphill hiked for hours, emerged onto hilltops, watched the sun set over the ocean, turned around
and headed down again in the dark. They sat quietly through dinners. They wrote more emails to friends and family (We’ll see you soon!).
They drank foreign alcohol to excess. They learned that, whatever country they were in, hangovers felt the same. They photographed beggars
sleeping on park benches, broken glass on cobblestone, old women knelt in prayer. They withdrew money. They photographed one another, over
and over again, to cover up gaps in conversation.
They wanted to do something crazy on their last night, but couldn’t think of anything. They exchanged emotional good-byes with the hotel
staff (We wish we could stay! You’re so lucky you live here!). They all agreed that it had been a fun vacation. They checked their bank
accounts, and wondered what had happened to their money. They sat on return flights and scrolled through pictures on their cameras.
They carefully scrutinized each picture. They weren’t sure what they had been looking for, but they hoped that, somewhere in the photos,
they would find it.