Isla, November 19th, 2017 – December 5th, 2017

Not surprisingly, and yet all the more disappointingly, Isla had been right. Two items had tumbled out of the envelope and onto her bed, but none of them made her heart sink any less; made her feel more comfortable with this odd situation. How had she gone from sitting peacefully in her room and listening to classical music to this? How was she supposed to decide what to do? Before, there had at least been a slight chance of forgetting about Oliver’s little poem, of ignoring the challenge he had unspokenly set her. Now, however, this possibility seemed to have been stolen from her, taken in the exact moment the plane ticket had landed on the white fabric of her sheet; the exact moment, she realized, how there wasn’t really any decision to be made, how everything had already been decided for her.

“You shouldn’t be cross with him, love”, Isla was about to protest, but Harriet only looked at her sternly from underneath her hat and continued: “Your brother seemed to have gone through a great length of trouble to make your birthday extremely special, don’t you think you should acknowledge that?”, right then a young mother stepped towards the stall and stole Harriet’s attention away for a second. Isla sighed. After discovering the contents of Oliver’s envelope, she had not been able to stay in her room any longer, had felt the walls slowly inching in, stealing away all the air and sanity she had left after her horrendous dream. So, she had left and came to visit her favourite vender at Columbia Road Flower Market, hoping against hope, Harriet would have some advice on what to do. The older woman had worked at the market for over two decades and Isla had bonded almost instantly with her – and her fabulous collection of colourful hats – the first time she had stepped closer to her stall. Now, however, she was annoyed at the florist’s enthusiasm.

“Besides, Salzburg is utterly lovely this time of year – any time of year, really”, Harriet’s attention had sprung back to Isla once again.

“Well, he could have just taken me, if he thought that place was so darn special”, Isla huffed. The two of them had been discussing the situation for almost an hour now, and still she remained unsatisfied with the outcome: “But no, he had to force me to fly there alone, buying me a freaking ticket. How am I supposed to stay here, knowing how much money he spent?”

“You aren’t. I would say, that is very much the point”, it was Isla’s turn to cut Harriet a look. Ignoring her objection, she continued: “And what about the credit card? He must have gone completely mad, giving me all this money to do how I please. I could just buy all of your flowers”, she suggested, forcing a pained smile on her face.

“Or you could fly to Salzburg, have the time of your life and bring me back some of those delicious Mozartkugeln – the Fürst kind, if you please”; and with that she turned back to yet another waiting customer, waving away Isla with a motherly kind of smile and a look that signalled the end of this conversation. Isla dragged her feet, returning to the flat only reluctantly. She was not done fighting yet, but her parents seemed to be in on the plan, behaving way too supportive and she couldn’t reach Oliver, no matter how often or hard she tried. And she did try, again and again, multiple times a day, until the 5th of December was finally upon her.

She woke that day, already dreading her journey, nausea and nerves wriggling inside of her, as if she had eaten an entire bundle of snakes for dinner. And yet, she got dressed and left the house almost on auto pilot, taking her pre-packed suitcase to the pre-ordered cab waiting outside. Over the last two weeks, since she had first discovered Oliver’s clue – naturally, he had booked a date late enough for her to have found at least one of his letters – Isla had slowly, but surely, convinced herself to go. She knew him well enough to feel sure that he would not lead her into impossible situations and, for all her dread and anxiety, there was something about riddle she had never been able to resist. The feeling of solving a clue and having a new puzzle piece fit, was one of Isla’s favourites in the entire world – hence a mere hours later she found herself sitting in an airplane seat, applying generous amounts of lavender oil to her temples and wrists. But, the scent of lavender bit her nose, irritating more than it calmed her. Still, she fought to keep her breath steady, guiding big gulps of the flowery scented air into her lungs, convincing herself that this situation was not at all out of the ordinary. She was not hyperventilating in her seat; she was not digging her fingernails into the skin of her palms; and she was most certainly not imagining herself and a dozen burning airplane pieces sailing to the ground. This was no different to all the other flights she had taken throughout her life. If anything, it was much shorter than the half day she spent travelling every summer when she visited her family in South Africa – so surely, she would be fine. Yet, when she opened her eyes, her hands felt sticky and slick with blood and her heart beat so loudly in her chest that it was impossible to hear the piano music through her earphones, despite it blaring at maximum volume. There was one big difference to any other trip she had ever taken, though. Usually she knew what or who waited on the other side; usually she was guided by more than just a written request; usually she had time to plan every second of her journey. But this time, she had nothing but a crumbled (and now slightly bloody) piece of paper and a question burned into the back of her mind: Why? Why had she played along? Why hadn’t she ignored the clues? And why had she boarded a plane, all by herself and seemingly without thinking?

Afterwards, Isla did not remember how she had survived the flight. For a moment she had felt sure, she wouldn’t make it, had been closer to a full blown panic attack than she had ever been before. But somehow, she had held on long enough for the pilot to announce the upcoming landing. Seeing land slowly inching closer had calmed her more than her lavender oil or classical music had been able to. She had even started to look forward to arriving in Salzburg, if only to be on firm ground again and to have this flight over and done with. The last few minutes, she could even detect something close to excitement within her, a feeling she hadn’t expected to set in. But, even Isla had to admit that Oliver had done his job fantastically so far – he had made her fly to Salzburg, after all. She especially liked all the small little extra clues she had discovered on her journey, which had helped her take her mind of her anxiety at least a tiny bit. Oliver had, for example, chosen to book the flight at December 5th, a date that had seemed all but arbitrary in the beginning, but had turned out to be Mozart’s death day. Furthermore, even Salzburg’s airport beard the name of the famous composer, easily setting the mood for the rest of the Mozart-related quest – she just hoped, she would find another clue soon.

 

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