It was not his place to bother her with matters of personal concern but that did not prevent his heart moving with submerged turbulence when his secretary arrived each morning asking, as she had each day, “Coffee” to which he always said “Of course:” Thus it had been these four years: Marina was her name, and he her boss, and always mindful of his responsibilities to protect her beautiful exuberance from his personal agenda. She had the right, he firmly believed, to keep her work life free of emotional encumbrance.
Nearly forty and practising as a lawyer, away from glamour, and somewhere in the patents department, his energy was spent largely in caring for his mother who used her infirmities to keep him by her side. Widowed when her son was only seven, she had first declared, and then repeated, “You are the man of the house ” which, when young, he took to be a compliment, but now, he recognised, was more a prison sentence: still knowing something and having the courage to speak about it are not the same thing we sometimes learn.
Now the thunderbolt: Marina, Spanish by birth, who had come to England to work as an au-pair and then stayed because she enjoyed London so much, had decided it was time for her to return home which meant a thousand miles from him. As she handed him the letter resigning from the post something in her eye asked him a question, which he avoided with his well-trained manner.
“Happiness is not ours to seek but for others to bestow,” some sage, apparently freed from impulse by a life in caves, had told his university professor, who had collected such possible “Truths” while on youthful adventures trekking across sun-bleached landscapes, which “Wisdoms” he had passed on to minds as disconnected as his own during the lectures he gave on jurisprudence.
Now, his ex-pupil’s over-scrupulous heart could only watch Marina take his happiness with her and, infected by these pallid wisdoms, limply ask. “Why are you leaving?” and as her eyes replied, “I loved a man but his heart was not brave enough to speak ” her voice said “I am engaged to a boy from home.” He did not even know she had a boyfriend.
“That is excellent” he said, “I’m sure you’ll be very happy”