Lying on his hospital bed, he knows this is the brief moment of twilight when it is no longer day but night hasn’t yet arrived. He is dying but somehow he won’t let go.
His wife of many years sits on the bed holding his hand. She speaks softly to him, but suddenly her image is not the one he sees, her voice is not the one he hears.
Standing before him is another feminine figure – a slim, dark haired woman with bright smiling eyes, the love of his life.
The first time
They had met back in the fifties, when she was in her late teens and he a few years older. At first he had seen her from afar, at a party, moving gracefully from one place to another like a butterfly, slightly touching each person she spoke to but never lingering. He had been drawn to her sweet brown eyes and her full red lips. How vivacious she was! He heard her laugh and he thought he had never heard a happier laugh in his life. She was like a princess, admired, pampered and loved. When his cousin – who was her friend – introduced them and she looked at him admiringly in spite of herself, he knew he had made an impression. Soon he was going to every party in town where he thought she might be, and the first time he held her in his arms while they danced he had to admit he had fallen deeply, madly in love with her. He held her close and whispered it in her ear, and she told him she loved him too, and as he swept her across the floor he knew there would never be a happier moment in his life.
As a matter of fact there were many happy moments for them, as for a while life was kind.
He knew he would have to leave in a few months to pursue his naval career, and soon she would also have to leave her city to go to university in the capital city but they made plans to to meet over there. One day however, as he was considering buying her a ring – the ring – she suddenly broke up with him. In shock he asked her why, but she would not say. She simply turned and walked away leaving him standing there, bereft and unbelieving, going through the worst nightmare of his life.
A second chance
Years went by. He pursued his career and eventually married a woman he was not really in love with. He knew his former love had been married for years and was already the mother of two children. On a family reunion after the revolution and the crazy years that followed, his cousin told him she was separated from her husband and living in England.
He never had any children, nor did he feel inclined to. After a few years he and his wife parted amicably as there was no use pretending there was love between them. He went on with his life, a handsome, successful man who had many lovers, but none of them really touched his heart.
One day at a party he had a strange premonition, he felt a strange energy as he heard a too familiar, never forgotten voice: he looked back and there she was, a radiant woman in her early forties, more beautiful than he remembered, looking happy and full of life. As he approached her he could see her appraising look and her inviting smile, and when he kissed her cheek he was dizzy – with exhilaration or her perfume, he could not tell.
It was inevitable that they should fall in love with each other again. Or had he ever been out of love with her? This time he found so much more than the young girl he had so chastely kissed, he found the sensuous woman she had promised to be. He loved her so strongly, so deeply, that he wanted to be with her for the rest of his life; after a few days he proposed marriage.
Nothing was simple regarding that woman, though. She had been studying in England for the past few years – in fact she had been on holidays in Lisbon when they met again, and she would be going back. Worst of all, she very frankly told him she was in a relationship with an Englishman with whom she had been very happy. She did not say she was in love with that man, though, and this gave him hope.
In the end the stars were on his side; she went back to England only to end her relationship and in no time they were having a quiet wedding with only family and close friends in attendance. He thought she looked lovely in her white knee-length dress (after all this was a second wedding for both of them) and he felt dashing in his dark blue suit. We are the perfect couple, he thought. Life has given us a second chance and we will live happily ever after.
In the end they didn’t. She went back to England to resume her studies and although he had agreed to the situation he felt lonely and consumed by jealousy, wondering if she was meeting her former lover. When she came for weekends or holidays instead of making the most of being together he would taunt and question her and although he knew this was the worst thing he could do to a free untamed spirit like hers he could not help himself. They fought most of the time and she lost her smile and began to look drawn and unhappy. She now mostly stayed over at her parents’ – where her children lived – and found excuses not to be with him. Then she fell gravely ill and when he told her he would care for her she bluntly told him – once again – that all was over between them and she didn’t want to see him anymore.
He was devastated and tried to tell her he was sorry, that he just wanted to be near her and help her in her fight, but to no avail. She wouldn’t even have him visit her at the hospital where she went through very hard times. He felt awful and lost. And when she recovered she got in touch only to say she was filing for divorce. In no time their story was over once again, and as before he couldn’t understand why or how.
They went their separate ways and for many years he knew nothing about her. When he saw his cousin he would avoid mentioning her. And then, more than twenty years later, life brought them back together again at an event of the high school they had both attended; they literally bumped into each other. He thought she had aged gracefully and felt happy just to see her huge smile. They talked about trivialities and then she suddenly told him “I am sorry. I am truly, deeply sorry for all the hurt I have caused you. Please say you’ll forgive me”. He felt his eyes fill with tears and he could barely whisper “I forgive you”. She heard him though, and she lightly touched his hand and turned and walked away. That night, as he lay in bed with his sleeping wife, another woman he was fond of but not in love with, he silently cried for the love of his life and for all the lost opportunities.
Now in his hospital bed he wonders at how young she looks. It seems time has stopped and he is looking again at the love of his youth. The only woman who touched his heart and remained there for all time. Ah, he thinks, she has come to say goodbye, and to remind me that even if for a brief period, I knew what real love was. In the end, that’s what really matters. Even if it didn’t last, even if we were not happy as we hoped we would be, there was a time when we truly belonged to each other. I was privileged to live a great love, and now I’m so happy that she’s here beside me as I leave this world.
His wife looks at him and sees him reaching out his hand. She takes it and sees a smile of contentment on his face. He looks happy and serene. Tears fall down her cheek. In her heart she knows he has never been passionately in love with her but he has been her friend and companion. She has loved him deeply. She takes her farewell and kisses him on the forehead. Thankfully she will never know his last smile is not for her, his devoted wife, but to the girl he sees standing by the bed, the one whose hand he is holding, the one who meant everything to him, the one woman he really loved. The love of his life. The one.