A lifetime ago, when I was still at school I met Maria, bookish like me, and awkward, and in her company I found a companionship I had not known before and in the end, under a tree in the local park, as dictated by custom, we shared our first kiss: we were sixteen at the time.
There was an understanding that we would go no further and even holding hands was not discussed because both of us were private about feelings, and much else besides, but I’m sure the way we sought each other out and left the school gates together was dually noticed by those who take an interest in such things.
As time progressed we became more open and love was mentioned more than once and there was a sense we would share each other’s lives. All was wonderful until her father, who served in the Royal Airforce got posted abroad and naturally took Maria with him. In those days there were no mobile phones or emails so letters were exchanged and then with decreasing frequency until contact was lost: I believe she went to university in the States.
Life moves on, there is no other way, and I explored it awkwardly until at university I found other people as odd as me and made friends with them. Through one of them I met Emma, who was a nice girl and tolerant of awkwardness and generally at ease with things. She seemed to like me and one day she goaded me into proposing to her: it was Valentine ’s Day and I think she thought of me as reliable, something her father was not apparently. I admit I had slept with her and in those days that signalled an understanding I could not walk away from: at least she seemed to love me.
That singing feeling, the warmth and the simple pleasure of watching someone you love go about their day was not present but she was comfortable and seemed very happy to live a conventional life: in time we had two children
I cannot say I am an unhappy man, or happy for that matter but I live an ordered life, leaning on the compensations brought by a solid home, shared memories and the excitement I get from collecting rare books and so it might have continued until!
No 24, the house across the road, which had been for sale but now was taken and, you’ve guessed it, there she was, older of course and slightly thinner with greying hair and something in her walk which spoke of hard times but definitely Maria.
I went inside, panic mixed with curiosity but I was a man who was known for being boring, who hated uncertainty, so reliable and predictable must continue: that’s what I told myself!
I managed to avoid her, never leaving without checking all was clear and lived on tenterhooks but was otherwise alright. Alright that is until on the Saturday morning my wife, who always reaches out to people, walked in with Maria by her side saying “This is Maria, our new neighbour” and I said “How lovely” and shook her by the hand and looked as if I did not know her but Maria could always read me and I nodded awkwardly. Things passed off without incident, discounting raised blood pressure; Maria got the picture and played along with me.
After she left, my wife looked at me curiously and said “Are you all right, you look a bit flustered” and I said, I’m fine, but I was going out and now feel off-track.” She shook her head and said “Don’t be so boring” but she was smiling as she said it because boring is what she loves about me after a childhood filled with trauma.
Because I had to, I left the house, first checking the road was clear, and set off briskly towards the shops and a coffee house where I sometimes went to relax. As I turned a corner and neared my destination I felt a tap on my shoulder and turning round saw Maria, eyes filled with emotion, and before I could stop her she reached up and kissed me with the passion I remember from my youth. I stood there frozen as she said “I’ve never stopped loving you,” and before I could collect myself the door to my heart opened and chaos flooded in.