Etelka de Marco was bored with Brussels. She had done her last two years of high school there and stayed and gone to Vesalius mainly because of a boy, but all there really was at Vesalius was Politics and International Relations and stuff that pretended not to be Business. She’d had enough of that shit.
“I just want to travel,” she told all her friends.
“Just stay in Brussels,” said Xin Borg, her best friend. “It’s not that different from traveling—you meet all kinds of people—“
“We must have different definitions of ‘all kinds of people’, Xin, because Vesalius is filled with rich brats from all over the world and Brussels at large is full of Belgians—“
“There are all kinds of Moroccans, though! And Turks! And—“
“I wanna go to Africa, though. South America, India, Taiwan. Papua New Guinea! Fucking Tuvalu and shit—“
“What would you even do in Tuvalu?”
“Well, how will I ever know if I don’t go there?”
The idea was to become an Anthropologist, even if only an amateur anthropologist. She wanted to understand people. No, that wasn’t it, it wasn’t just about understanding, she wanted to discover them. She wanted to expand her own horizons by learning about the scope of human awareness and culture. What were the things a person could believe? It wasn’t just about truth. It was about possibility and it was about context.
It was in Uruguay on a joint project with the US Peace Corps that Etelka met Caleb Robard. She honestly never thought she would fall for an American. She had thought better of herself, but here she was. “Etelka,” he said, slurring the first syllable and swallowing the l in a way she suddenly found adorable. “What kinda name is that?”
“My mother is Hungarian,” she said, “and my father’s Italian.”
“You must get a lot of that back in Europe, huh?”
“You’d be surprised how little, I think. People like us are the exception. Most people still don’t seem to have the wanderlust to leave their hometown even for a day trip.”
“Could be it’s expensive, too,” he pointed out.
It was this awareness that made her genuinely like him, in addition to just wanting to jump his bones.
“I thought you were skipping the U.S.,” said Xin when they Skyped. “Aren’t they, like, imperialist pigs?”
“See, we think that,” Etelka explained, “we assume that, but what if it’s just a different way of thinking? I have to know what drives that. I can’t call myself a searcher for truth if I just write them off as careless xenophobes!”
She was, yes, following a boy to his home country. Letting him guide her, telling herself it was something that she would do anyway.
“Are they everything you hoped they’d be and more?” asked Xin when next they spoke, and every time thereafter, with decreasing enthusiasm.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Etelka. “I don’t know how a whole country can be so oblivious to the outside world. So resentful I mean, it’s like they forget I’m a foreigner and they say something about some other country—one that I’ve been to, for crying out loud—and then they roll their eyes and make fun of me!”
“Well, you are kind of rich,” Xin pointed out.
“Me being rich is not an excuse for them to be assholes.”
“It’s a big place, though,” said Xin, “Maybe you should go to Seattle? Or New York? Not LA. Actually, I hear good things about Asheville—“
“No, it’s okay. I think it’s time.”
“Time for me to come back to Brussels. You know, it’s funny, I left ‘cause I wanted to see the whole world, but I think it left a hole inside. I wouldn’t trade my travels for the world, but I’m starting to think I need to come home to ever be whole again.”