She was a happy, carefree girl, and pretty too – she had large inquisitive green eyes, dark blonde long hair, perfect teeth and a contagious smile. She was reckless. She lived with her parents and brothers and sisters – there were nine of them– in a farm in Transvaal, South Africa. She loved to run across the fields and lose herself in the many acres of her parents’ property. She knew she had to take care because there were wild animals around, mainly snakes and such, but she was always confident she would be able to cope with any challenges that might appear. She was daring and passionate, she was wild and most of all she was free. Or so she thought.
She was born in the forties and brought up as most of the girls her age: without much attention to education – not that she was too eager to learn. She had attended primary school and soon after had lost interest and her parents had not insisted for her to continue. After all she was destined to become a housewife and for that she would not need any particular studies. So her mother concentrated on teaching her the basic duties and accomplishments of a housewife and soon she was more than ready for the task. Not that she would need to do many things herself – after all this was Africa, they had many servants, she only had to learn how to manage a house and give the necessary orders.
One day, in her late teens, when she was in church with her family on Sunday she noticed a handsome dark haired boy who was also attending mass. She had never seen him around but she liked the way he looked. He had also noticed her and when she walked home she could feel his eyes following her.
Soon she was finding excuses to go to the village centre – to buy something, to go on an errand for her mother…and she saw him again, as he was working at the carpenter’s shop. One day they had the opportunity to start talking and one thing led to another – they fell in love.
They were happy together. They made plans – he would get a better job and they would marry and live happily ever after. They would live in a small house near the village and they would have children, and she would take care of the house and would happily wait for him in the early evening when he would arrive from work and sweep her in his arms and pick up the children and they would all go inside the house and be happy for the rest of their lives.
When her parents learned about her romance they were in shock – they could hardly believe it! They had been engaging in conversations with one of their neighbours, the owner of a huge orange farm who was quite wealthy and had a son slightly older that their daughter and there was an understanding that there might be a marriage uniting both families.
As soon as she came home, flushed because she had been running late – she had been to the village as she so often did in the last few weeks, and only now did they understand why – her parents confronted her with the fact that she was seeing this boy and she proudly said yes, she loved him and they were going to get married.
At first her parents tried to reason with her – they talked to her about the prospective marriage they had arranged for her, saying this would ensure her a rosy future without any financial worries. She was as if struck by lightning, and when she asked them what about love, if they had thought of that – after all her parents had married for love – they said it would grow between her and her future husband, as it happened in so many cases, and they added they knew what was best for her, because she could not possibly marry a pauper, a man without prospects, who could not provide for her. But she would not relent, and she told them she would run away with her beloved if she needed to, so finally they resorted to force – as she was legally a minor they had the authority to stop her from leaving, so they literally imprisoned her inside the farm house. She could no longer go out, not even to walk outside and much less to the village. In a time without mobiles and even phones – the farm had no phone – she had no way to communicate with her boyfriend, and her brothers and sisters were strictly forbidden to approach him. When after a certain time he came to the farm to enquire about her, her father chased him and threatened to send the dogs after him and he had to leave.
Soon her father’s influence lost the boy his job and then her parents asked her if she still intended to run away with a jobless man, scaring her with images of a destitute life by his side. During this time her prospective groom’s father was also facing some problems in convincing his son that he should marry her, as he was seeing a girl he really liked. The father also had to resort to threats and even went to the extreme of mentioning a possible disinheritance, should his son not obey his wishes.
In the end they both relented and agreed to the marriage, their wills broken as well as their hearts. On their wedding day they looked more like two convicted felons than a bride and groom, and they went on to live unhappily ever after. As for her boyfriend, when he heard she was married he lost all hope and left the village never to return.
The first times were hard for the newlyweds, as they blamed themselves – and their families – for not having had the courage to face their parents and follow their hearts. After a certain time they both embarked in a series of love affairs which did nothing for their happiness – they only felt empty. Then they tried a reconciliation and decided that maybe if they had a baby it might bring them together; after all it would be a common project, giving them some sense of purpose. For some time they tried and waited for the miracle to happen but it never did. Then they began to see doctors and go through exams to see what was wrong with them and they learned they could never become biological parents. Another blow! By now being together was like a bad habit, and they decided to stick to their common goal- to become parents. They decided for an adoption and some time after they came back home with a baby girl in their arms.
During their daughter’s childhood they got closer, maybe more than ever. Not that they loved each other but they did love their little girl very much and this brought them together. But when some years later she learned she was adopted – they had never had the courage to tell her, which was terribly wrong but somehow they could never find the right moment – she reacted violently and again it seemed their world was coming apart and again they were turning against each other and most of all blaming each other for the bitterness of their daughter.
Unhappy years followed. She deeply regretted her long ago decision of giving up on her love and agreeing to this marriage; she lacked nothing, in fact they had a very comfortable life and a beautiful house; she spent a lot of money in clothes, accessories and jewels and they travelled everywhere but she was never satisfied. And he became bitter, too, this was not the life he had wanted for himself, he dreamt of a loving wife and a peaceful life – and he knew he was cursed never to have any of them.
The incredible thing is that, unhappy as they were, they never divorced. They stayed together – always bitter, always aggressive to each other (only verbally, at least!) and so miserable that sometimes it was upsetting for their friends and family just to be near them.
Years went by and they got older. Their daughter – always a bit of a rebel – left home while looking for her biological mother, who was in fact a nasty surprise, and later she became reconciled with her adoptive parents and their relationship returned to normal. As for them, they became friendlier as time passed, and as a middle aged couple one could say they were almost reconciled to their marriage and to being together for the rest of their lives.
And so it was. In her early sixties, still a striking woman – and one who, as unhappy as she was, had never lost her infectious laughter – she had cancer and he realised he was going to lose her. And he was deeply sorry. In her last days in hospital he stayed by her bed, holding her hand and softly talking to her, and no one would say they had not been young sweethearts with a happy, full life together and who were now inevitably facing the last goodbye. After so many fights, so many betrayals, so little love, they had finally found peace in each other and comfort in their relationship – if not one of love, at least not one of hatred either.
When she passed away, as he and their daughter comforted each other he felt the tears run down his cheeks. And he cried for his wife of so many years – not the one he would have chosen, a wife he had not loved and who had not loved him either, but still a beautiful, strong woman, the mother of his child, his companion of a lifetime – and he knew he would miss her for the rest of his life.
If only – he thought – if only I could go back in time and see her as I do now. Maybe, only maybe, things might have been different for us, and we might have been happy together. But, alas, there was no going back, and there would never be a second chance for their wasted lives.