"Do you have to go?"
"I do. They need me," Sophie explained, wiping tears away from her eyes.
"They could get someone else," John suggested, making on furtive attempt to keep her from leaving.
"Final boarding call for flight 6039 to New York City."
"I've got to go."
"What if I never see you again?"
"Don't be silly. I'll be back at the end of the summer, just you watch," Sophie promised.
"I love you."
"Me too. I'll love you forever."
"Le vol 1902 arrive maintenant de Copenhague." The flight was announced. The flight that was bringing him to a place he had been before. It was never supposed to happen like this. John Stevens knew this. He never would have dreamed that he would be in this particular airport, on this particular day, for this particular reason. He didn't even know why he was here. It was hot. Hot and humid in the airport, and a wet, hot wind blew in through the building. Everywhere people yelled in French, Swahili, Afrikaans, and other native languages. Some chickens ran through the place yelling and adding to the overall chaotic atmosphere. How could Sophie leave Chicago for...this? He wondered. Outside, more people hurried by - Black and Caucasian - and cars sputtered by. The sun was high overhead, and was a sickly yellow color due to pollution. The smog produced a thick, overbearing blanket. Boys lead cows through the streets, and still more chickens ran loose. Women dressed in sarongs made of colorful native patterns strolled the streets precariously balancing wide basins on their heads. Vendors called out to onlookers, urging them to purchase their wares and arguing over prices. Young prostitutes tried to seduce men on their way home after work.
"Pourriez-vous épargner un franc ou deux pour un leper faible, monsieur?" a decrepit man asked, holding out a battered tin cup to John and shaking it a bit as if to insist on a tad of money.
John frowned and backed away. "Uh, I don't have anything," he muttered and turned the other way
"Someone to see you, Doctor Collins," Kubote, a nurse, said as she stuck her head into the doctor's office.
Doctor Sophia Collins smiled. "Tell him he can come in," she said.
Kubote nodded quickly and left the room. Soon, John had appeared in Kubote's vacated spot.
"John!" Sophia exclaimed, her voice filled with astonishment and her face wore a look of shock. "What brings you to Zaire?" she asked.
"You," he responded calmly, as if he had rehearsed this a thousand times. He had.
"Oh god John, that was six years ago. You don't honestly think we can go back there now do you? I mean look at me!"
"I am. And what I see is a young woman who hasn't changed one bit since 1980." He studied her. Her dark hair was cut neatly just below the ears. Her soft complexion was slightly darker due to the sunlight. Her bright blue eyes still glittered with vigor for life.
She sighed lightly, running her hands through her bangs. "People change John, that's a fact," she said softly.
"Are you married?" he asked suddenly.
Sophia was taken aback by the question. "No."
"No. What are you getting at?"
"You're available," John commented.
"I left Chicago six years ago, and I am not going back," Sophia said stubbornly.
"Why? What is so horrible about Chicago? Or the United States for that matter?" John questioned.
"Look, there are hardly any doctors here. They need me."
"How can you stand living in this god-forsaken shit hole?"
"I love my work. That is what makes it all worthwhile."
"Do you miss it? The US I mean?"
"Sometimes," Sophia sighed. "Sometimes."
"Did you ever miss me?"
"Yeah, for awhile."
"So why'd you leave me?"
"Me?" Sophia glared at him. "Me? I did come back over the summer. And what do I get? You're with that whore! So I came back here and never looked back."
John glowered at Sophia. "I was wrong about you," he said icily, and getting up, walked from the room.
Sophia sat at her vanity peering into the mirror. She was reasonably disgruntled that John had come to Zaire demanding they start seeing each other again. It wasn't that she didn't like him; it was just that she didn't want to get involved in another love affair. Over the past six years she had had so many. There was the Bosnian doctor, the British PA, the Romanian EMT. She didn't think she could open up to someone again. Sure, she had been with John once, but now… Well, she couldn't risk him cheating on her again.
John sat sullenly in a bar. He hated Zaire. He hadn't heard anyone speak English aside from Sophie. He couldn't even order himself some gin because he couldn't speak French. He also hated himself. For coming here. For actually thinking that Sophie would take him back. And he didn't blame her when she said that she wouldn't. He sighed and got up, wandering back to his hotel. Tomorrow he would go back to Chicago, no better or worse than when he came.
"Excuse me, pardon me, excuse me," Sophia said as she hurried through the airport. Her present condition of running through the airport reminded her of a movie she once saw, though she couldn't remember which one. People yelled out profanities as she ran past them, but she really didn't care. She got to the flight deck at the United Airlines.
"May I help you?"
"Uh, yeah. You have tickets to Chicago for Sophia Collins, right?"
"Yes, may I see your ID."
Considering this process a very crazy one, Sophia handed the attendant her driver's license, and waited tapping he foot nervously. "Could you hurry, this flight is about to leave?" she asked.
"Here are your tickets, Doctor Collins, enjoy the flight."
Sophia nodded and boarded the plane. She sat down next to John. "Hi."
He turned to glance at her. "Sophie!" he exclaimed. "Why are you here?"
She smiled. "I thought I might have to see the Sears Tower again before I turn thirty," she explained, hoping John would catch the true meaning of her trip to Chicago.
John smiled too and settled in for the long trip to Copenhagen.