Graz, Austria

"Dankeschön." German stumbles awkwardly in her mouth, a mouthful of sharp pauses and consonants that don't quite fit together. A far cry from the fluidity of French she can drink, the dance and slur of drunken vowels. She pockets the pregnancy test, and the cashier smiles kindly, as if he can see the loneliness in her eyes.

"Nichts zu danken," he answers and pauses, adding in French, "Good luck."

"Thank you," she responds.

Walking out the door, she stops and stares at the parking lot, dimly lit by a single street lamp, and sighs.

The world is a lonely place.

New York CIty, USA

Bright lights, loud people, and the smell of coffee, tapas, and gyros blending into a fragrance that begins to cling to her like a second skin. She has never seen so many people in her entire life, yet she can't escape the feeling of loneliness. It's more than a feeling she realises one day. It's a state of mind that invades every sense, tinges every memory, burns any connections she might try to make.

She tries anyway. "Hear that?" She pats her belly, still flat and smooth, no kicking yet. "That's Italian. Maybe you'll learn it someday."

A couple passing by give her a strange look. The hasty glances and whispers behind her back are as constant as her loneliness. She wants to scream at them, tell them she's not crazy. But she's not quite sure if that's the truth. Death can drive you crazy with a precision no other instrument can. It fucks with you, digs at you, surrounds your every movement until you're not sure if you're living or not.

But, oh god, she has to live, and she will.

This baby is all she has left.

"Your father knew five languages," she whispers in her most comforting tone, not sure if it's for her or the baby. A rueful smile graces delicate features. "I only know one."

Pretoria, South Africa

The doctor comes back smiling. English slips through her lovely, curved mouth in guttural bites. Throaty and hearty like dinners on Christmas Eve. "Congratulations," she says. "It's a girl." She hands her the ultrasound.

"A girl," Aelita replies, snatching the ultrasound. Too late she reminds herself not to be rude. "A girl." She shoots an apologetic look at the other woman, hoping to convey something more. "I have to go now. Thank you for your time." At the doctor's protest, she reassures her. "Don't worry, I'll pay." Again, she forgets her manners.

She spends the rest of her afternoon exploring with her baby, her daughter. They visit the local markets, marvelling at handmade trinkets. They ask directions from men and women, all of whom take the sight of a pink-haired pregnant woman with grace. They walk under the drooping, famed jacarandas, inhaling every scent and sight.

And there it is, the nudging of something she thought she'd never feel again. A reluctant seed of hope.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is no place for a pregnant woman, her friends warn her, when she finally gathers up the courage to write them. Prostitutes, scandals, corrupt businessman; immoral people that dare to challenge the fabric of society, disguising themselves artfully in the day only to emerge at night like a butterfly breaking out of its cage that was once a safe haven. Bangkok, a city of both beauty and deception. She wonders when they got so judgemental, when they changed between Kadic and university and first jobs. And then she has to ask herself if perhaps it is not they who've changed, but she.

She and her daughter—Amélie, Estelle, Veronique?—see the world anew here, and she feels strength in her weary bones. Perhaps there is something worthwhile in this world after all. Other than her and her daughter, of course.

When her friends ask her to come home, once again, their pleas dripping with condescension and guilt, she finds it in herself to deny them. It is pleasure she seeks its own gain, but pleasure all the same; something she has denied herself far too long.

Rome, Italy

It creeps up on her, changing the edges of her life, working its way to her innermost hopes and fears, till she has no choice but to recognise it. She doesn't know when it quite starts, whether Pretoria was the catalyst or the beginning. She only knows that something is different when the storekeeper hands her a map, and she realises how wrong it is to only have one. Never mind that Veronique can't read, and won't read for many more years. It is not her anymore, but them.

The last leg of her quest, which started as a run borne of desperation, finds them walking among the denizens of this ancient city, so old and weathered that it was known as the Eternal City centuries before she was even an egg in her mother's womb.

There is power behind that kind of history, stories of great men and great women, of the crowning achievements of mankind, of a civilisation far ahead of its time, of an expansive empire that still crumbled under the might of time. She decides they will make their home here, sink themselves into the walls of the city, and without the constant reminder of him, she will be okay.

They will be okay.

notes: It's taken me so long to update this, but a lot of it is because I've taken far too long to realise that there is no "correct time" to write. I think if I keep on waiting for inspiration, I'm never going to write as much as I want to. And, oh, I want to write a lot, and I want to improve, and I can't do that if I excuse myself by telling myself "I have no inspiration." So, this was how this piece came about. I think I want to have a theme for every chapter, whether it be a smatter of this and that like the first chapter or interesting locations, like this chapter. I see this ending at a nice (or weird) number, like chapter 20 or 13. I was a bit concerned on how the pacing came out, but I hope I managed to convey that Aelita isn't "fixed," but rather, coping! I abuse adjectives, but I'm working on it.

As always, thank you reading. Thoughts are not required, but I'm always interested in any you may have: critique, dislikes, likes, anything that caught your eye in a good or bad way, just anything that happened to cross your mind while reading.

I have an idea for the next set of drabbles/mini stories, but if you have any suggestions, I welcome them!