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Racing the Sun

By´╝ÜKarina Halle

CHAPTER ONE


We’ve all thought about how we’re going to die. My friend Angela Kemp, whom I’ve known since we played in saggy diapers together, is convinced she’s going to choke to death on something. Every time we go out to eat, she searches the restaurant for the person most likely to know the Heimlich maneuver and tries to sit by them. It doesn’t seem to matter that I know the Heimlich maneuver; she just wants to know she’ll be safe if it happens.

Personally, I’ve always thought I’d fall to my death. I think it all started when I was seven or eight years old and had dreams of my house turning over and me falling from the floor to the ceiling, dodging couches and tables. After that, my dreams turned to me falling off of balconies, getting trapped in collapsing elevators, and being in horrific plane crashes. Actually, it was never the crash that killed me, nor was it the scariest part of the dream; I was always sucked out of the airplane before the impact and fell to my death in a horrible rush of cold air and mortality.

It shouldn’t surprise me, then, that I think I’m about to die in this moment, and by falling, no less.

In fact, I’m sure there’s no way I can possibly survive this. It’s not just that I’m in a taxi that seems to be coughing black fumes out of its tailpipe every two seconds, or the fact that the driver, with a mustache so big that he looks like a walrus, is looking more at me and the two other backpackers in the backseat than at the road. No, it’s because, as we round the corners of the “highway” toward the postcard-worthy town of Positano, we’re going full speed and there’s nothing but a sheer cliff on my side of the vehicle.

“Shit,” I swear, trying to hold on to something, anything, that would keep me in the car and prevent me from falling to my death, like my sordid dreams foretell. I look over at Ana and Hendrik, my Danish traveling companions for this leg of Southern Italy, and they don’t seem all that concerned. I’m especially not going to grab on to big, blond Hendrik since Ana has a problem with random girls touching him.

Not that I’m random at this point. I met up with the couple in Rome and spent a few days with them there before we took the train down south. I know they have plans to keep going all the way to Sicily and hunker down in some beach hut with a bunch of goats (I don’t know, but whenever Hendrik talks about their plans, goats are involved somehow), but I’m starting to believe that Positano is the end of the line for me.

And it’s not just because I’m certain I’m going to die on the way there. It’s because I am flat fucking broke. We all knew this day would come (and by we, I mean my parents and I). After all, I’ve been traveling for six months around the world and even though I’ve been trying to spend as little as possible, the world isn’t as cheap as you’d think.

It probably doesn’t help that I went a little overboard in Europe and had a mini shopping spree in every city I was in. But I like to think of my new shawls and sandals and jewelry as souvenirs, not just clothes. I mean, do you get to wear your postcards or ceramic doodads or tiny calendars with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on them? No. But you can wear a scarf you picked up from a market in Berlin.

But, of course, in hindsight, maybe I should have managed my money a bit better. I just thought that my savings were enough. And then, when my parents started bailing me out, I thought I could coast by on that. Just for a little while. Until I found out they sold my shitty 1982 Mustang convertible to help pay for this trip. After that, they just stopped putting money in my account.

I’ve now eaten into the money that was supposed to pay for my return ticket home, a ticket I didn’t think I’d have to buy until I got down to Morocco, or even Turkey.

So, Positano, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast, might just be the end for me.

If I even make it out of this cab. As we round another bend, I can see crazy people parked on the road and selling flowers. Not the side of the road, but parked on the actual road. So now people are swerving around them, but when Italians swerve they don’t slow down—they actually speed up.

I decide to close my eyes for the rest of the journey and hope I get there in one piece.

Even though the journey from Sorrento to Positano doesn’t translate into many miles, it still feels like it takes forever for us to finally get there.

The walrus-mustached cab driver pulls to a sudden stop, abrupt enough that I fling forward, my curly blonde hair flying all over the place.

“Amber,” Ana says in her deep accent. “We’re here.”

“I gathered that,” I say, and awkwardly pretend to search through my messenger bag for euros, though I don’t really have any euros to spare. Thankfully, Ana thrusts some bills into the driver’s hand and we clamber out of the cab.

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