Opening her eyes slowly, she felt the now all too familiar thrum of the engines, the vibration a constant companion for the last twenty-four hours, before realising that it was dawn somewhere in the world.
The deep, eerie orange glow came in low through the open blinds of the more wakeful passengers, highlighting the figures of the cabin crew as they slowly moved along the aisles dispensing water, juice and the vegetarian breakfasts (the vegetarians always got their food first).
The scene was so beautiful and yet so surreal, she thought she’d maybe slipped into one of the science fiction films she’d devoured so far on this never-ending trip to the other side of the world and back. The orange glow could easily be reflected by Mars or by the Red Spot seen through the storms around Jupiter.
Where that dawn was breaking through was not yet clear, not without looking at the interactive map on the entertainment centre embedded in the seat in front.
She was not awake enough yet to navigate the nearly impenetrable touch screen menus on the in-flight entertainment system, so she accepted the ignorance of where, exactly in the world she was right now, hoping only to be flying over friendly countries.
Knowing her breakfast would be a while yet and not feeling the need to join the growing queue for the bathroom, she let her thoughts roam back over the events of the last few weeks, from the exact moment on the balcony in Greece when she received the email from an ex-business partner.
“Daphne, I’m putting on an event for my entrepreneurs,” Roger wrote from his new home in Lisbon. “Will you come and speak for us?”
“Where and when?” she replied, already dreading the answer, knowing that she would want to go but it would feel way too soon.
“Brisbane! 18th and 19th of June. That’s where the biggest numbers of my clients are, so it makes sense to host it there. C’mon, it’ll be fun, Matt’s coming from London too! You’ll be able to make an offer from the stage, maybe get some new clients for you too.” the irrepressible reply came.
“Let me think about it, I don’t know if I’m ready for that sort of thing yet, I don’t even know where I’ll be living by then”.
“Ok, I can’t hang about, I want to start promoting it so I need an answer. You have a week to make your mind up” Roger said, showing a glimpse of the steely core that had made him into the phenomenally successful entrepreneur he was today.
Her sister (and companion) in her self-imposed Greek retreat, Sarah, started tapping away, looking for flights, seeking bargains; she loved nothing better than a bit of research online.
“There’s one here for just over £700 around the right dates, giving you time to get there, get over the jetlag before the conference starts, then you can come home on Monday after or stay a few days and visit the Gold Coast and all your online maties there!” she said.
“No, I won’t be doing that,” Daphne said. “I don’t even know if I’m ready for this speaking gig, let alone being ready to hang out in a strange country trying to amuse myself and making conversation with people I hardly know!”
Over the next week, she went over and over it her mind, thinking of all the practical reasons why she didn’t want to go, even discussing it on the weekly podcast recording with her co-host Emma. The weekly podcast that somehow, she’d managed to keep going even after 12th of March last year.
Finding David on the floor like that, quite obviously very dead while curled up like he was simply sleeping, had tilted the world off its axis for Daphne and everything, including simply breathing, felt like an uphill struggle now.
David had been a huge presence in Daphne’s life for the last fifteen years, but especially in the last two years when she was the only person he trusted while the paranoia and voices ate away at the strong, fun, capable man she loved.
She’d been by his side constantly and especially in the hospital after the three failed suicide attempts, made to try and escape the voices saying such terrible things all the time.
To find him dead from a heart attack that morning, when he’d just popped to his flat to fetch something (but not returned), was such a terrible shock and a scene she found hard to banish from her mind. Daphne had never lost anyone so close to her before and the shock and grief that followed felt totally physical.
An essential part of her business marketing, the weekly podcast with Emma gave her a semblance of normality to cling to. While hidden behind a microphone it was relatively easy to summon up a cheery tone and positive outlook for an hour, especially when talking about entrepreneurship and the challenges thrown up by following that path in life, something Daphne was passionate about.
Video was nearly impossible though and when Daphne looked at photos taken since March, she could see the emptiness and lack of hope of ever feeling happy again, in her eyes.
Emma’s clients tended towards the artistic and crafty while Daphne’s were more down to earth, aspiring online entrepreneurs. Emma was an ex-accountant and brought sound financial sense to her business coaching but nowadays was into much more esoteric topics – laughingly described as “woo woo” while Daphne was a dyed in the wool cynic about such things.
It made for a great dynamic for the podcast and listeners loved it when they profoundly disagreed, which they did on a regular basis.
Emma’s opinion was that she should go. Over the next week, Daphne mulled it over, turning it this way and that, looking, at it practically and emotionally. The invitation came at a time where she’d have left Greece anyway, the six months retreat being over and their accommodation needed by the owners of the house they were staying in for their own first holiday of the year.
The big draw was the chance to acquire some new much-needed clients. This event might provide some of the elusive financial security so sorely missing since the previous year, making her grief doubly hard to cope with. Since the shock of David’s death, Daphne had found it impossible to deal with her demanding and difficult media buying clients, so had wound up that part of her previously successful business. A fortuitous (and forgotten) small pension windfall has cushioned her slightly but was now rapidly running out.
One of Daphne’s slim lifelines in her grief was to look forward to the possibility of achieving the lifelong goal of living and working in Greece on an ongoing basis, held so dear for the last 25 years but ironically not shared by David. If she attracted some clients from Roger’s event, then she would find it easier to make this happen.
However, her track record was not great at making an offer from the stage. Audiences always loved her, so keynote speaking was always a big success for her, but those gigs were few and far between. This was a different kind of event altogether. You had to make an offer of a coaching or training programme at the end of your talk and if nobody bought your offer, you were seriously out of pocket on your expenses.
The trip was a big financial and emotional gamble and one that she was not at all sure she was ready for.
The week passed and decision day arrived. Still not ready to make that decision, but somewhat bolstered by the “real-time” coaching she’d received from Emma on air, she took a deep breath and pressed send on the email that would commit her irrevocably to the long trip to Brisbane.
Within minutes she saw the announcement go out on Facebook about the event, her speaking slot and she had to laugh at his jubilant tagging of Matt alongside the caption “We’re getting the old band back together again!” followed by details and a “Book Now!” button.
The three of them had worked well together while building the digital marketing agency they had all co-founded and played together hard too! Although they had gone their separate ways geographically, she knew the old spark of potential for fun would still be there!
The following weeks were taken up with reconnecting with friends and family in the UK, then suddenly it was time to board the Emirates flight to Dubai, where she would be changing to fly to Brisbane. Nearly two days in the air, but it didn’t feel too bad because she would be arriving Wednesday morning in Brisbane, the time difference makes it seem like you are only travelling for half a day and overnight at that.
Her presentation was nearly ready, mostly striking pictures as she found that helped to talk in a more spontaneous way. She knew her topic inside out and was ready for any questions from the floor.
No, the main issue would be shoes as her feet always swelled on long journeys and all she had to wear were some battered trainers that had faithfully seen her up and down the hill in Greece throughout one of their worst winters for 20 years.
She’d intended to buy a new pair of white Birkenstocks in the UK but had not got around to it, the time being filled by visiting family and friends and spending time with her grown up children, so busy with their own lives you had to squeeze their company in when available.
A whole new non-black wardrobe had been purchased, the first year of mourning being over now and the hot weather in Greece along with the occasional glints of hope and future happiness seeming to require a lift in the sombre tone of her suitcase contents.
But what to wear on her feet? How tall was the stage, if there was one? As soon as the stage height gets over half a metre, people would be looking at her footwear, especially the women. Battered, cheap, black greek trainers with fluorescent pink “go faster” flashes did not complement the newly purchased pale linen contents of her newly repacked suitcase.
“Surely I’ll be able to get white Birkenstocks in my size in Brisbane, it’s a massive city in a modern country, besides didn’t the Ozzies invent beach shoes?” she asked herself whenever a wave of sartorial panic came over her.
All this thinking about shoes, of course, was merely displacement activity so that she wouldn’t think about travelling alone, staying in close proximity to the dynamic Roger in the B&B he’d booked, spending time chatting socially at dinner with the conference guests. All activities she was totally out of practice in, being more familiar with bursting into tears at inopportune moments, when hearing a song that reminded her of Steve and their life together.
However, Daphne was neck deep in the “feel the fear and do it anyway” school of thought, having studied personal development for over 20 years now. She found that the year of grieving had not quite replaced her knack of being able to replace negative thoughts with positive and so she focused on those whenever she did, indeed, feel the fear.
After the initial shock of arrival in Australia wore off, there was an inauspicious start to the trip of not being able to get into the Air B’n’B Roger had booked. Daphne was forced to spend many jet-lagged hours after landing, sitting up in the cafe under the apartment until Roger arrived.
When he finally did get there, and she went to pay her bill, Daphne found she had yet another obstacle to overcome.
During that morning, while nursing coffee after coffee, she had received email notification that not just one, but two large client payments had bounced in one week.
This left her worryingly short of ready cash for the incidental expenses of this trip starting with those coffees!
Knowing that each client was sound, but had obviously just experienced an expired card or similar situation, things were further exacerbated by a large monthly payment from another source of income being now over 9 days late, all three circumstances adding up to a fiscal disaster of the first order.
There is nothing more terrifying than being in a foreign country with no money, something Daphne had experienced in the past but vowed never to let happen again. However, having decided several years ago never to rely on credit or posses a credit card again in her life, she found herself heartily regretting that decision now.
She quickly explained what has happened to Roger, who settled her bill for her while Daphne racked her brains frantically, feeling humiliated that the situation had come to this. How was she to pay her share of the expenses now, much less buy the much-needed shoes?
After several hours sleep, Daphne woke refreshed and as is often the way, an idea had popped into her head on first waking.
She quickly emailed a long-standing client, who had booked to spend a “Dinner & VIP Day” with her on her return from Brisbane, quickly explaining some of the situation. The advance payment agreed arrived in minutes, smoothing the path now for a worry-free week.
On Friday, with just one day to go before event kickoff, she was finally able to set forth on her footwear quest, having done some initial research into Birkenstocks stockists online. Luckily three such footwear emporiums existed within walking or uber-ing distance to the apartment.
Feeling not a little lightheaded and rather disassociated from her body, having been dinged wide awake at 2 am and unable to get back to sleep for hours, she approached the first mall with determination.
“First, some fresh veg with added vitamins is required!” she thought, spotting a welcome fresh juice bar.
Several hours, and many willing but ultimately unhelpful shop assistants later, she was back in the Food Court slurping Vietnamese noodles, in despair.
What on earth was she going to put on her feet for this important event she’d travelled halfway around the world for?.
Totally out of time now, with some crucial touches still to add to her presentation, she returned to the shared apartment where Roger was busily organising final details of his conference arrangements. He’d just returned from his latest Uber trip with many copies of the order forms for all the speaker’s offers and wanted to run through her presentation to make sure it was “en pointe” for his audience.
Then, after a fun dinner with “the band” at Fat Noodles the night before, Daphne determined that she would just have to tough it out and wear on stage the flimsy diamante flip-flops she usually used as slippers in Greece, useful for avoiding treading on the various critters on nocturnal visits to the loo.
Day One of the event went very well, with the one hundred or so entrepreneurs enjoying the speakers and looking inspired to action by the event so far. The energy in the room was electric so the quiet dinner and an early night were welcome as Daphne’s speaking debut in Australia was at 9.30am prompt the next day.
Both Roger and Daphne were awake by 3 am, Daphne had been up since 2 am with jetlag. They met in the living room of the apartment, wide-eyed and not a little wired, to slurp down some coffee before getting ready and heading over the to the venue.
Her favourite “intro” music played while Roger introduced her warmly to his audience and as she walked to the stage, she felt absolutely great in the orange and black African print kaftan she’d finally chosen to wear to match the diamante trimmed slippers.
On the way home again, as she watched the interior of the plane’s passenger cabin being slowly painted with the same deep sunrise orange as the colour in her kaftan she stretched and enjoyed the memory of the applause as she finished her presentation and came off the stage.
Not just the applause, but the comments afterwards. “So inspiring”, “not just inspiring but motivational” and ‘just the kick up the butt I needed” were just some of the things said to her after her speaking slot.
She patted the section of her carry-on case, containing the sheaf of completed order forms, from the 30% of the audience who had decided to join her mentoring programme. Roger had messaged her while she slept, saying that the orders were still coming in. “I’ve never seen anything like it” he enthused.
The knowledge that she’d cracked one of her most difficult business challenges to date, that of not just inspiring an audience but of making a successful offer from the stage, was second only to the growing feeling that life would start to get better now.
“This has felt like a real turning point in so many different ways” she reflected as she tucked into her breakfast.
With that thought, her email pinged again, with a message from Roger saying that he was seriously thinking of putting on an event for European Amazon entrepreneurs in the Autumn.
“Fancy Barcelona?” he jauntily enquired.
“Oh yes,” she thought happily.