Another flight’s departure announcement comes out from the speakers with a metallic and monotone voice:
“Attention passengers from flight JL9875 with destination to Dublin, please proceed to gate A28 for boarding".
And there I was, with one bag in each hand, ready to turn my life’s direction towards Ireland. I was ready to start from scratch and to leave everything far behind me.
The last few months had been complicated and that led me to decide to continue my studies as far away as possible from my problems. In this case, that meant going to a small university in Limerick.
It was already summer when my world fell apart. My girlfriend told me she had met someone else and that she couldn’t continue our relationship.
After so many years! We had started dating when we started the high school and she had always been “my girl."
I didn’t want to know more. I couldn’t bear to listen to any more details. I moved to another apartment located in the opposite area of the city and I crossed my fingers hoping not to run into her.
Right after beginning the new school year in college I clearly saw the window to my salvation: Erasmus. So I applied for the grant in order to go to Ireland to continue my studies in January.
Usually universities don’t concede to Erasmus in such a short period of time, but it seemed that my destiny’s path passed through Limerick, because one student renounced his decision to go, leaving it free for me.
Now there I was. I gave my ticket to the air hostess and I stepped onto the plane. I sat down in my seat and breathed deeply. The plane took off.
Under my feet were the clouds, like a foam sea. And in front of me there was the unknown future, reaching out to help me in my runaway.
I started to think about the last events and a silent tear ran down my cheek.
I dried it fast with my sleeve. I remembered how my friends had left me all alone when everything happened and they took my ex’s side.
Suddenly I was absolutely alone. I felt again the pain of disappointment and rage in my chest. It was such a deep pain that I shook my head to get rid of the memories.
Don’t Daniel, don’t. You have to be strong, I told myself, in this specific moment you are starting a new life. I’m letting go of these memories right now.
>>The past is going to jump without a parachute from the plane and is going to crash between Spain and Ireland, in the middle of the ocean, where nobody, ever, will be able to find it.
I rung the bell. Finally, after many hours of travelling, I arrived at my new home: one of those narrow, all-the-same residential houses with a small garden in the back and an inside wrapped with carpet.
"Hi!" A freckly ginger opened the door. "I guess you are Daniel." "Yes, I am," I answered reaching out to him. He shook my hand.
"Nice to meet you, come in. I am Mike, you contacted me." "Yes, yes, I remember." I entered the house with difficulty, since the door was very narrow.
Mike guided me to my bedroom, which was on the second floor. Meanwhile, he brought me up-to-date.
"Right now I am alone at home. I guess the others will arrive soon, because it is already late and we all have to go tomorrow to our lessons.
>>But I will remind you now, in case you don’t remember, we are six in total. Apart from you and me, there are two girls: Giselle, from Germany and Michelle, from France. There are also two boys: Dan, who is from Holland and Alessandro, Italian."
I opened my eyes wide. "Wow... Do we have space for that many people here?"
The house was really narrow, it seemed to be all stairs and it didn’t give the impression that so many people could live in it. Mike laughed.
"Don’t worry. You have your own bedroom. Here it is, voilá." And he accompanied his words with a movement of his hand. In front of me was my bedroom, small but cozy.
"Actually, Dan and Alessandro are sharing a bedroom. But you haven’t seen the floor upstairs. There is more space than it seems.
>>But I recommend that you be patient when using the toilet —mostly if you have to wake up at the same time as the girls— because there are only two bathrooms.
>> And I would also look for a good moment to cook when there aren’t other people, or eat at college, because if you coincide with everyone in the kitchen it looks like a battlefield."
Don’t worry, I have a Spanish timetable. I guess I will have no problem," I said smiling.
But I was actually starting to freak out a little bit and to doubt if I would manage to have any personal space during my time there.
When the guided tour finished, I fell exhausted on my bed. Oh, my God! This is going to be so difficult! I barely know English. I am not confident in the language at all!
In a while I would have to face five strangers in another language, which I knew less than I expected.
And, even worse, in the morning I would have to face many more strangers, lessons in English and other foreigners that had already made friends because they had been living here for months already.
I felt so discouraged! Fortunately, though I didn’t know it yet, this decision, this experience would be the best one I could have chosen.
Weeks passed much faster than I expected and I suddenly found myself speaking English with no serious communication problems.
I found friends at college, my roommates became my best friends and I had started to forget the sad reasons that had pushed me to this new life.
I must admit that this was the first time I had lived abroad and it was very surprising for me to feel —because of being far away from home— how time seemed to be encapsulated into a still and static bubble.
I barely knew this place and the people for only a couple of months, however it felt like I had known them my whole life. Everything seemed familiar to me already.
It is true that the house —mostly the kitchen— was chaotic.
There were always dirty dishes and pots in the sink, there were usually no clean glasses and many times you were accidentally stabbed by a hidden and forgotten fork while sitting down on the couch.
I will not deny that all these issues triggered some small fights between us, but everything could be solved with some beers. Even though we all were very different, inside we were all quite similar.
One night, at a party, I realised that I didn’t have the same kind of feelings toward all of my friends.
She was there, not far away from me, happily talking with some friends next to the bar that Mike had arranged close to the swimming pool, under the porch.
She was holding a cocktail in one hand and she gesticulated gracefully while she was telling some anecdote.
She was wearing a long blue dress that matched her eyes and a black cotton jacket to protect her from the cold.
It was the beginning of spring and it wasn’t warm yet, but that night we had been very lucky, because a warm breeze was blowing, unusual for that time.
Michelle finished her explanation and, still laughing, she turned her head to the left and her eyes found my eyes looking at her.
I startled and looked away, trying to pretend that I wasn’t gazing at her. I shivered.
It was too late. She apologized to her friends and moved towards me. I felt a movement in my stomach. I guess it was because I had some butterflies flying inside.
She approached me smiling and sipped her cocktail. "Hi, Daniel. How are you? Do you like the party?"
"Yes. It is awesome! We are very lucky, since Mike’s parents left this week. They have a huge house!"
"Really beautiful." She said without looking away from my eyes. That gaze paralyzed me. "Though it would be perfect if it was summer and we could swim in the swimming pool."
She took another sip of her cocktail without moving her gaze from mine. Yes, definitely Michelle was not just another girl for me.
And I started to feel that I wasn’t just another boy for her either. I tried to disguise my bewilderment.
"Yeah, it would be perfect to have a night bath," I stopped there, because I didn’t really know what to say. Oh, my God! What was going on? Michelle kept staring at me.
I felt that she had even moved closer to me and I hadn’t noticed it. I started to feel a little bit dizzy and I noticed that I was already a little bit drunk.
My experience flirting with girls was almost non-existent, so I became nervous and decided to keep on talking, no matter what.
"So… have you seen Alessandro? He told me he would come to the party, but I haven’t seen him yet."
"Ssshhh…" Michelle put one finger on my lips to make me stop talking. Actually, this was not the reaction I had expected.
She stumbled a little bit when she moved closer to me. She was also drunk. "Stop talking. Sometimes it is better not to talk at all."
So I stopped. She put her left hand in the nape of my neck and pushed me softly towards her. Her kiss seemed to plunge me into a dream. Into a soft, damp and exciting dream.
Then I felt dizzy and I had to separate myself from her lips. "Michelle, I’ m sorry, I… I am confused."
"I know. I am sorry, Daniel. Maybe I have been too direct; I didn’t want to force you. I thought that you also…"
"Yes, no, yes, I mean…" I interrupted her. "I want it too. I mean, I like you a lot. You are beautiful, I love talking with you…"
I couldn’t finish the sentence. Right in that moment Alessandro approached us. "Hey, guys! How is the party going?" He didn’t realize what he had just interrupted.
Michelle jumped from the fright and she didn’t disguise her annoyance. "Well. In fact, I thought it was strange not to see you before now." I answered trying to disguise my confusion.
"I arrived a long time ago with two friends. But we were in one of the rooms. You know, these guys love to have some garnish to go with the alcohol." Alessandro said while winking at us.
Michelle and I made a sign of disapproval. "I don’t understand why you hang out with these people. They are always getting you in trouble, aren’t they?" Michelle asked.
"Moreover, I don’t think Mike would like to have people sniffing cocaine lines in his parents’ bedroom."
Alessandro opened his mouth to protest but he closed it fast because we started to hear screams from the swimming pool.
One of Alessandro’s friends was absolutely out of his mind and shouted and pushed another guy who we didn’t know.
Both were standing by the corner of the swimming pool and everyone, nervous, started to approach them to see what was going on.
"What did you call me?! What?!" Alessandro’s friend was shouting at the other guy while pushing him.
"Leave me alone! What the hell are you doing?" The guy tried to free himself, but he couldn’t get away.
Finally the guy, tired of being provoked, punched Alessandro’s friend in the face. He fell into the swimming pool. Fortunately, the pool was full of water.
We all ran to the edge of the pool, waiting for him to come out even angrier. But seconds went by and he didn’t appear from the water.
Finally, the same guy that had punched him jumped into the water to get him out. Alessandro’s friend was unconscious and had convulsions.
"Someone call an ambulance! Fast! Ambulance now!!" This incident ruined the party and everyone’s mood.
After the ambulance took Alessandro’s friend away with Alessandro, Mike asked me to help him kick out everyone from his house and end the party.
The ambulance had attracted the neighbours’ attention and he didn’t want them to complain to his parents. Michelle approached me with a sad face.
"Daniel, I am going home. The friends that drove me here are leaving."
"Go, don’t worry. I’ m going to stay and help Mike clean all this up. Dan is also staying with us. We will probably sleep here."
I saw disappointment in her face. She seemed to hesitate before speaking. "And… and what about us?" I smiled and took her hands.
"Michelle, tomorrow. Anyway, we live together." She smiled too and kissed me again, more softly this time, more calmly. Then she just turned and left.
The next few weeks were like a dream.
Spring came, the dark Irish days were longer and less grey, and Michelle and I began to openly share something more than a simple friendship as summer approached.
The spring weeks really helped me to heal my wounds from the past.
My first few times of sharing kisses with Michelle were a little bit painful, because I couldn’t help remembering my last and sole relationship.
But as days went on, Michelle’s eyes and smile managed to make the situation new, fresh and unique to me.
Before that night at the party, I had already confided everything about my past to Michelle, so she knew about my scars. I could talk with her about everything except about what was going on between us.
I think we were both happy during these months, but neither of us ever dared to name the thing that floated in the air between us when we were together.
"Do you already know what you are going to do this summer? Are you coming back in September?" Mike broke the boring silence of a rainy afternoon in June.
"I know that Dan is staying here with me the whole summer and that he will begin his doctorate here next year."
>>And Alessandro is leaving for the summer but he will come back in September too because of his master’s. But the rest of you didn’t tell me what you are going to do."
It was Sunday, siesta time. It was one of those typical Sundays when there is nothing to do but to stay at home. It was a very dark day, the sky was cloudy and it was raining cats and dogs.
We all lied on the couches in the living room, basically one on top of the other, since there was not enough space for everyone.
The TV emitted its monotonous humming at a very low volume that plunged all of us into a kind of sleepiness. Everyone startled when Mike spoke.
I pushed away Michelle’s legs and sat up, squashing Dan’s arm on accident. I explained my plans:
"I am sorry Mike. I know you need to know about the rent. I didn’t tell you anything before because I am still not sure, but I am planning to spend the summer here.
>>And I have applied to the university again in order to lengthen my Erasmus and study here longer.
>>I have been told that the university will most probably admit me again, but I am still waiting for their confirmation. So at least initially you can count on my company." Mike smiled.
"Good! It is always nice to count on having some friends for the summer. And what about you, girls? Have you heard from the university in Dublin?" Mike added this turning towards Giselle and Michelle.
What?! Which university in Dublin? Michelle had never told me anything about any university in Dublin.
She saw I was surprised and looked at me as if saying: It is true, I am sorry, we need to talk. And then she said:
"No, we don’t know anything yet. We were thinking about going to Dublin this weekend because we have to give them some papers for our admittance."
"Yeah, it seems they are having some trouble with the enrolment transfer and we have to go to personally give them some documents and to talk with the dean.
>>It seems that, if there are any more problems, they may not admit us and then we would stay here next year again," continued Giselle.
"Oh, I am sorry, girls. I know that studying in that university is very important for you. I hope you get in."
So Michelle is planning to move to Dublin for the next school year… I thought. And wasn’t she going to tell me anything?
I was aware that we had never defined what was going on between us and that we had never talked about the future, not even about the summer.
But I must recognize that I had been sure that Michelle would still be there the next year, waiting for me.
As things usually happen like this in life —all the important things at the same time and with no prior notice— the phone rang in that very moment, and it was for me.
Mike, who answered, passed me the receiver. "Hi, how can I help you?" A very well-known voice sent me a question back from the other side. "Daniel?"
My legs started to shiver and I felt a little bit dizzy. I breathed deeply. That voice, which was travelling from thousands of miles away and leaned out through that receiver, was none other than my ex’s voice, Isabel.
I became mute, pale. My voice trembled. Was this really happening? "Yes, it is me. Isabel?"
My emotions piled up in my chest and I got a lump in my throat. Rage, sadness, hate, melancholy, love… all this mixed up in my stomach like an explosive.
"Yes. Daniel, listen, I am sorry." Her voice sounded choked with emotion too. She suddenly stopped talking and I heard her trying to catch her breath. "Oh, my God…" It seemed to me that she was sobbing. "Daniel, I don’t know how to tell you this. Are you… are you sitting?"
I freaked out. Thousands of things came into my mind. "Yes, I am sitting."
"Ugh... Daniel, I am so sorry. I know I have been a jerk and I know that it is very unfair that during all this time I haven’t… I haven’t… Shit, Daniel, forgive me…"
I started to become nervous. "Isabel, tell me what is going on." From the other side of the receiver I heard again Isabel catching her breath and this time she said it suddenly:
"I am pregnant." "What??" "Just what I said, that I am pregnant."
"And the baby…" "Yes, it is yours." Then my rage and resentment came out.
"How can you know that it is mine?! It will most probably be from your boyfriend!" "No, no, Daniel, listen. Believe me, I know it is yours. Do you remember that night, right after beginning the school year?"
Yes, I did. When the school year began, one night I ran into Isabel by chance in a bar.
Our breakup was still very recent, though in theory she was already with her new partner. But alcohol betrayed us and we ended up in my bed remembering old times.
I had never seen her again nor listened to anything about her since that night. My world fell apart. I wanted the Earth to eat me whole. Finally, I answered her, with a tiny voice.
"Yes, I do." "I think it happened then, Daniel."
"But Isabel, this is crazy. How can you know that it is mine and not…?" She interrupted me.
"Daniel, listen to me. I know that everything sounds unbelievable, but I will explain everything better to you face to face. Believe me. I am very sorry, but you are the father."
"And, why… why do you tell me now, Isabel?" I started to realize what was going on and about how long ago it had happened on that damned fall night.
"Do some math. I am due to give birth in a week. I wasn’t brave enough to tell you before. I am a coward and a selfish person, I know." Her voice sounded weepy again. "But I couldn’t hide it from you forever. I know it is late, I am sorry…"
"Ok, it is fine. Stop it. I will come back. I will come in a few days." Angry, blind because of my rage, I hung up the receiver.
My roommates, who had been observing the changes of my face during my conversation, stared at me, worried.
Michelle took one of my hands. I freed it and went to my bedroom without a word. I needed to be alone. Michelle was going. I was going to be a father.
Michelle was lucky that I had just found out about her future plans, because all of my rage focused on Isabel.
The fact that Isabel had hidden from me something so important for such a long time made me very angry. But, apart from that, all my past memories started to hurt me again.
I realized that, thanks to Michelle, I had managed to forget Isabel. I had managed to get a little bit over the problems of the past.
I had managed to suture my wounds and now, with her phone call, with her voice, all the stitches had broken. And it hurt. I sighed and dried my tears.
Actually, right now there was just one option —travel immediately to Spain in order to meet my son or daughter and the story that Isabel had to tell me.
So I turned on my computer and got ready to buy a plane ticket for within three days.
I thought that after trying to run away so desperately, life was inevitably sending me back to the place from where I had been trying to escape, to the place where everything had started.
I hoped it would be for a short period of time.
Michelle had left the previous day for Dublin and the truth was that we had barely spoken about anything.
We said goodbye to each other without really knowing when we would meet again and without knowing what would be our circumstances at that point.
We decided to just say to each other, “See you soon and good luck,” and we shared a long kiss that we didn’t want to end.
I was almost out of the door of my house, with all my baggage ready at my feet when it happened again.
I answered the phone. "Daniel speaking." From the other side, once again, a too familiar voice.
This time it wasn’t Isabel, nor did the voice sound nervous and somehow excited, but it sounded deeply sad.
It was the voice of the guy that had been my best friend, from whom I hadn’t had any news from since almost one year ago. Once more, the news was intense. "Daniel, Isabel started labour early this morning."
"Oh, my God! How timely! I am just walking out the door of my house, I am coming back to Spain!"
"No, no. The thing is that… actually…" He sighed. He searched for the words to tell me what he had to. "The labour got complicated."
"What do you mean by the labour got complicated? Are they ok?" "No, Daniel. I am sorry."
"What do you mean?" "I am very sorry, Daniel. Both died. Isabel and the girl."
The girl? So it was a girl! It was… Oh, my God! I started to become aware of what I had just heard. I felt dizzy. I lied on the floor so I wouldn’t faint.
Next to me the receiver of the phone hung from its cable and repeated, "Daniel? Daniel! Are you still there? Are you okay?" Finally, he got tired of not getting any answer and hung up.
There were lots of people at the funeral. Most of the faces were familiar to me. Too much pain pressed against my chest: past, present… I couldn’t put this feeling into words.
Now that she had disappeared for ever from the earth, now that she could only live in the memories and stories of those who were still alive, now I felt as if I loved her again, as if all the hate was suddenly fading away.
And what to say about who had almost been my daughter? Only three days ago had I found out about her existence and now she didn’t exist anymore. It seemed to be a bad joke.
When I met my friends again, everything was very uncomfortable and confusing. We hugged each other among tears and sorrowful glances, without exchanging too many words.
But it was from that moment that we slowly started to make peace and forget all the things we had done wrong.
That day, at the funeral, they introduced me to a girl who had started to hang out with them, more or less since I left.
"I am Ana. Nice to meet you." She said to me when they introduced us. "I am very sorry for meeting you under these circumstances."
Her eyes were swollen and red, swallowed by two haggard caves. It surprised me how effected she was, because as far as I knew she actually didn’t know Isabel for such a long time.
She looked gaunt and depressed, and there was something in her that made me feel curious about her. I don’t know if it was because of her gestures, or because of her gaze, as if trying to see inside of me.
"Miguel, could you please hand me the I.V.?" "Here you go."
I put the I.V. together and once I had finished with the patient I turned to Miguel, who in that moment was writing some notes in his notebook.
I let myself fall on a chair next to him. "This is horrible," I sighed. Miguel put his notebook down and looked downcast around us.
Through the door of the hospital pavilion there was a constant flow of stretchers with injured people coming in and going out. Boko Haram had attacked the area again, leaving uncountable corps and injuries after him.
We were the closest hospital, so it was our responsibility to deal with all the horror that these men caused.
.“It is terribly painful to see what these men are capable of doing,” he said while staring at the stretchers infested with pain.
“Burnt men, mutilated children, raped women. I don’t know, Ana, I don’t know if I will be able to stand this any longer.”
I looked at him worried. If Miguel goes, we will all be very helpless.
Miguel was the veteran doctor, and he had a charisma and a leadership that had saved us from uncountable tight spots in these usually so difficult circumstances.
But the truth is that I understood him. I understood him perfectly. I lowered my eyes and said to him:
“I know. I understand you. I have also thought a lot about that lately. But I would feel very bad if I abandoned these people.”
Then Miguel looked me in the eyes.
“You know very well that I don’t like to abandon them either. But I’m starting to be afraid that if I don’t go soon from this horror, I will abandon my own life.”
After saying this, he turned and went to look after a new injured patient who was losing a lot of blood. I needed air. I went outside through the back door to smoke a cigarette.
I gave the cigarette a puff and breathed out intensely, as if trying to fade out in the air with my cigarette’s smoke, floating very far away from there. I closed my eyes tightly and a tear ran down my face.
Two years ago I had finished my studies as a nursing assistant in Spain and came to Nigeria in order to work in a NGO.
The capital city was my first destination, where I met Samuel, a nurse who had already been travelling for five years throughout Africa doing volunteer work.
It was next to him that I learned how to live in such a difficult place, how not to lose my head and found in Nigeria my new home.
Some months later, I was assigned to a smaller city in the south and, as we didn’t know anymore how to be without each other, he came with me.
Sometime after that, we moved to the village where we were at this point. A small place away from the world. Or this is at least how we had felt up until now.
Some time ago Boko Haram’s men had advanced to this area and they had started to harass the inhabitants and to take control of the surrounding villages.
The Nigerian government sent army and police to protect us from these men, but nothing seemed to stop their advances and the situation became more and more dangerous.
Many fellow volunteers from different countries had started to abandon their positions and leave the country.
Since there was no one coming to replace them, we had more and more work.
I finished my cigarette and, resigned, I breathed deeply, gathered my courage and went again into the hospital in order to undo as much as possible all that Boko Haram had done.
A humid morning was waking up. The sun appeared shy between the tree tops of the jungle which spread out around the village.
I walked outside still half asleep to stretch myself and breathe the fresh air. I could only hear the monkeys’ and birds’ screams. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, raising my head towards the sky.
Suddenly, two arms hugged me from my back. I startled, but I knew who it was. “Hey! I didn’t hear your steps.”
Samuel pressed me against him and kissed me in the neck. “Good morning, beautiful. Did you sleep well?”
“Not very well, actually. I had many nightmares last night.” I turned and we looked into each other’s eyes. “Nightmares because of yesterday?”
I looked down. “Yes.”
“Ana, listen, I know it is hard, but we have to hang on. These people need us. You know there is not enough staff and...”
“I know Samuel, I know,” I interrupted him. We kept silent and he took my chin softly in his hand and made me look into his eyes again.
“So, then?” I felt my tears wanting to escape from my eyes and I got a lump in my throat. I looked away, turning my face to one side.
“I think I can’t stand it anymore.” Samuel didn’t know what to say. There was a long silence, during which I tried to calm down and dry my tears. Finally, I went on.
“Yesterday I was talking a little bit with Miguel and... he is right. I know we are carrying out a great work here.
>>Well, I know that we are just doing a small part and nobody will know about the lives we are saving here on the other side of the Earth.
>>Nobody knows about our existence, but we have done a great deal during these two years that I have been in Nigeria. And trust me, if I am still here it is because of this reason.
>>I would never change the time I have been here. But I am afraid that if I don’t go now,
>> if I don’t abandon this horror, the nightmares that I have because of what I see everyday will chase me each night for the rest of my life. I will abandon myself.”
I stopped. Samuel took my head and pressed it against his chest while kissing my hair.
“Samuel, this is getting worse. These inhuman acts of Boko Haram that I see more and more often are affecting me a lot. I think I am not as strong are you are. I am sorry.”
I couldn’t help it and I started crying after saying this. Not being strong enough frustrated me.
Being aware that I had to abandon and run away from that place before going crazy for ever frustrated me.
And knowing that Samuel would stay in that place and we would separate killed me.
“Shh...” He kissed me and tried to calm me down. ‘Don’t worry, Ana, you are not less strong for that. In fact, you are an incredibly strong woman.
>>Most of the people would never come here to do what we do and those that would have come, more than half of them would have quickly gone back home.
>>I... Ana, I am a lost cause, you know it.” He looked to me with a sad smile. “I don’t have a home anymore, I don’t have a place to go back to, I don’t have a homeland. For fifteen years I have been travelling around the world and I don’t know any other way of living.
If I don’t produce adrenaline, I feel I sicken. If I don’t feel in my hands the power of saving human lives, I feel I would die.
>> If I don’t fight something, I feel I would explode from my insides.” We remained looking sadly at each other’s eyes for some time. We assimilated the unavoidable.
“Right now I can’t go away from here, I am sorry. I am deeply sorry and you know it. But, on the contrary, maybe you should go. I don’t want for the Ana I know to fade away. It would be too unfair for our world.”
In this unexpected way, in such a heart-breaking sunrise, our sad farewell began.
More bloody days of attacks came after that conversation and, if I could have hesitated about my decision, now it was very clear.
I prepared my baggage and a few weeks later I found myself on a plane in the direction of Spain.
Back to Spain again! It took me some time to understand my present circumstances. At that point I was still flying over Nigerian territory. Below my feet, I was leaving all that had constituted my world for two long years.
Two years that, despite all the difficulties, had probably been the two fullest years of my life.
My farewell with Samuel had been very painful. We both knew that most probably we would never see each other again for the rest of our lives.
We were choosing very different ways and, even if sometimes life’s ways meet in very unexpected crossroads, the chances of meeting again in the future were minimal.
“Thanks,” he had said to me while holding my head with both hands against his and with tears in his eyes. “Thanks for everything, Ana. Thank you for sharing yourself with me during all this time.”
With my eyes spilling like rivers, I answered him in a broken voice. “Don’t ever forget me, please.”
“I won’t.” A kiss, a hug and I ran away. I went far away from him as fast as I could because I didn’t want to make that heart-breaking farewell longer.
I cried a lot on that plane. I cried because of all my efforts in the hospitals, which now, some time later, seemed useless.
And I cried because of all the things that I left behind me. Not only because of Samuel, but also because of all the wonderful people I had met and whom I most probably would never see again.
I also cried because of my cowardice, because of running away and leaving love behind me. The return to Spain was pretty hard.
Since I didn’t have any savings or a job, I had to go back to my parents’ house. And this situation plus my disappointment because of coming back with my tail between my legs and the way I missed Samuel, made me fall into a chronic sadness.
At the beginning, I had a quite fluent communication with Samuel. He wrote me e-mails telling me about things over there and repeating to me how much he missed me.
But, little by little, that conversations’ flow started to diminish until one day, finally, it disappeared forever.
Eventually, December surprised me with a job. January surprised me with friendship, and February again with love.
I found an easy job as a shop assistant. Nothing definitive, just something to have some income until I could find a job related to my field.
It was there that I met Isabel, who also worked as a shop assistant. We both got on well and we started to become good friends.
The truth is that she helped me to not see my runaway as a failure.
We met every day and thanks to the small routine of things, the jokes, and laughing together is how I started to leave behind me that halo of sadness which had been covering me since I had come back.
She introduced me to her friends and I started to join them. I rebuilt my life in a very different context to the one that had surrounded me during the last two years. Everything was calm, positive, easy, simple.
One day, when Isabel and I had become close friends, she told me that she was pregnant.
The truth is that I had already noticed her slightly bigger belly and I had wondered if that was the beginning of a pregnancy or not.
I asked her about the father and she talked about an absent ex and about a long-time relationship that came to an end when she met another person who later didn’t want to love her further than a few nights.
But, by then, it was too late to recover that old broken relationship.
They just had the time to conceive a creature in her belly in a night of melancholy, empty glasses and old memories.
As I had a job and some savings, I thought that it would be a good idea to move from my parents’ house. When I told this to Isabel, she proposed that I move in with her.
She was living alone, but she had an empty bedroom that she could rent to me. This way I would help her to pay less for rent.
I happily accepted. I moved in with her and then things started to take a different meaning.
At the beginning I tried to play it down, but I slowly realized that it was impossible to deny the evident. Something was going on between us.
I couldn’t explain how it started and how I realized it.
Maybe the way we looked at each other, the nervous laughter... I realized I was starting to have feelings for her. And, to my surprise, the same thing was happening to her.
The situation was pretty tense because we both felt uncomfortable and very confused about all that was going on. I think that at first, we tried to avoid and deny our own feelings.
But eventually the feelings exploded one night in a kiss. Our hands, our arms and later the whole body followed the explosion. And then we couldn’t deny the evident any more.
Another period started then in my life. An absolutely unexpected period which was full of colours and future plans. Some plans which even included someone else’s baby.
I got used to that new way of life and thought that things would be as we had planned them. Without any changes.
But there is no bigger mistake in this life than thinking that things will never change. And the new change which was waiting for me around the corner to trip me up would be the most painful.
I left the gynaecologist with Isabel. “Well, you have listened to the doctor, right? You have to take a rest. From now on, you will be sitting on the couch and you will ask me to do everything for you, ok?”
Isabel nodded and took my arm to help her walking. It was June and it was very hot. Her pregnancy was very advanced and Isabel had some difficulties moving.
There were some complications with the fetus and she had to be very careful.
Isabel was due to give birth in a week and she needed absolute repose. While we slowly walked back home, I suddenly remembered one thing.
“Isabel, I know we never talk about this, but I just want to make sure. You told your ex-boyfriend that he is going to be a father imminently, didn’t you?”
She avoided my eyes and answered me in a low voice. “No.” “You didn’t tell him?! Don’t you think that it is time for you to do so?”
“Well... I think there is something I have to tell you.” Isabel stopped and looked me in the eyes. She took some time before going on. “He doesn’t know that he is going to be a father.”
I opened my eyes and mouth wide. “What?!! But Isabel! Oh, my God! What are you saying?”
She looked down again and tried to continue walking, but I held her arm tight and didn’t let her move from her place. I looked at her very serious.
“I know, I know,” she said to me. “I have been a coward.” “Why did you hide it from me all this time?”
“I am sorry. I knew you would force me to call him and I wasn’t ready. And I am still not ready now.” “But Isabel, he is the father...”
“Yes, yes...” She interrupted me. “I am going to tell him, don’t worry. It is just that... that I had no courage to do it.” “You have been very unfair, Isabel. He will be angry, with good reason.”
“I know, I know... I know all that. But there is no way now to undo all my bad decisions. I will call him when we get home.”
And so she did. I heard her from the kitchen. Her voice was nervous first, broken later. It was a short conversation. I saw her go sobbing to her bedroom when she finished.
I left her alone. She had to deal with her own ghosts by herself.
Finally, just three days later, the hoped for moment arrived. The baby was coming out. I drove Isabel to the hospital and they made me sit down to wait in the waiting room.
I called our friends to tell them that she was giving birth and some of them came quickly.
But time went on and the doctor didn’t come out to tell us that the baby had come into the world. We started to become anxious. Eventually, one doctor with a very sad face entered the room and approached us.
I feared the worst. “Are you the relatives of Isabel Heredia Martínez?” “Friends. What is going on? Is everything all right?”
The doctor made a sign to make us sit down. I realized that a very bad thing had happened and my body started to shiver. Unfortunately, my suspicions were confirmed when the doctor said:
“I am very sorry to tell you that the birth turned complicated and we had to go to the operating room. There the patient had a surgery which didn’t end up successful.”
At that point he stopped to take some air and looked at us very seriously.
“The baby was born dead and we couldn’t do anything to save the mother’s life. I am afraid they both passed away. I am really sorry.” He continued saying other things that I didn’t listen to anymore.
I was stunned, trying to process what had just happened.
Some seconds later, though I was staring off into space, my eyes started to drop silent tears that didn’t stop for hours.
I think I remained in the same position for at least a half an hour, until my friends told me that we had to go.
The funeral was two days later and I think that I was in the same position and with the same blurred sight that I had when I heard the news at the hospital.
Suddenly all my present and future had fallen apart. And now what?
My house was suddenly empty, with all her things around, still with her scent. If I stayed very quiet staring off into space it seemed to me that I could hear her, talking to me.
In fact, this is how I spent the two days, just sitting on my bed, hugging one of her pullovers, trying to hear her voice to see if she came to say goodbye to me.
But she never came to say goodbye. I went to say goodbye to her.
There were many people at the funeral: family, friends, colleagues... But the truth is that, from all the people who were there, I was only curious about one person: Daniel.
My girlfriend’s ex was like a shadow that had always been projected above us. I knew all the things that had happened between them, the good and the bad things.
Daniel had always inspired jealousy and sympathy within me at the same time. A part of me had always wished that I would never have to meet him, but now that this situation was imminent I mostly felt curiosity and nervous.
And there he was. He seemed to be out of place, like lost in the middle of the hall. I remained some time observing him, sure that he still didn’t know who I was.
My friends, I mean, those who were his friends, were around him, hugging him, trying to support him in such a difficult moment, even if they couldn’t keep up appearances.
We all constantly needed to blow our noses. We all walked with our heads down. We all had our eyes sunken in two deep rings.
Finally, one of our friends came to me and brought me to him, to introduce me. When we were face to face I felt my stomach turning over.
I stared at him intensely, as if trying to read his mind and see in his eyes all his past with Isabel. Once again my stomach turned with these thoughts.
However, he looked at me passively, as someone who is just meeting another normal person does.
For Daniel, the next few days passed inside a spiral of emotion, pain, melancholy and regret.
He regretted allowing the things to happen as they had between him and Isabel, for not fighting more for her.
The past hurt again. The horrible and unexpected ending of that person with whom he had shared a third of his life wounded him. And his own regret would give him no peace.
On the other hand, the warm welcome of his friends and the fact of being at home again provided him a nice comfort, like a hug.
During that time, the days passed sunken in a kind of black whirlwind full of trash and loneliness for Ana.
She spent the first couple of days in her house, tormenting herself as a masochist with all of her good memories. She tried to be fully conscious that she would never see Isabel again.
That her body had become ashes and would never feel nor give any caress, that her lips would never kiss nor smile, that her voice would never sound again.
She thought that the person who had pulled her out of abandonment had now abandoned her. Alone again, she thought and she buried her face in the pillow to silence her weeping.
Later, she realized that she couldn’t continue like this, just crying and hardly eating. So she left the apartment and moved back to her parents’ house.
The friends, who saw how bad they both were, tried as hard as possible to make them leave their houses and join them on the warm summer evenings for drinking some beers and eating some tapas while talking about something.
Every excuse was good if that made them stop thinking of Isabel for a while. Eventually they managed it.
At the beginning, Ana seemed to have lost all her initial interest about knowing Daniel. She didn’t care about anything in the world.
But one day they were going to meet friends at the swimming pool, however, no one else came and they were the only two people who showed up.
As they were already there, they decided to stay at the swimming pool and, though at the beginning it was hard for them to keep a fluent conversation, they began to feel more and more comfortable and they realized that they were quite similar.
Since that afternoon they had a lot of fun and they got on well together, they started to meet often without the other friends.
Almost one month had passed since Isabel’s death when Ana’s landlord called her to ask if she would continue to rent the apartment.
Then Ana realized that she would not only have to move her stuff, but also Isabel’s in order to free the apartment.
When Daniel heard that she had to move, he offered to help her. He wanted to feel close to Isabel one last time. Ana let him help.
They passed two full days cleaning up the apartment and packing everything. It was such hard work that they decided to spend the entire night there. At the beginning everything was very strange.
Ana would have never imagined that one day she would have Daniel there, the famous Daniel, helping her to get rid of Isabel’s memory.
Daniel’s memories and feelings writhed because of being in that apartment again, because he saw Isabel’s stuff and that made him remember all of the things that they had experienced between these walls.
Neither of them spoke for the entire day, each one was lost in memories.
That night, the dinner and the wine glasses that they poured livened up the conversation. They started talking about banal things, making jokes, laughing...
But the conversation slowly focused on Isabel and they started to remember her odd habits, her way of laughing, her nature...
“How long did you live with Isabel?” “Not for long, four months more or so.”
“Really? It is incredible how well you know her. I don’t know, speaking with you about her I feel as if... as if you were the only person with who I can really share everything that I lived with her, as if you were the only person who could understand it.”
Ana, very surprised, hesitated for a while about telling him what had really happened between them or not. But she didn’t feel brave enough.
“I am glad to hear that. We were... we were very close friends.” The next day they both felt much more relaxed and they talked more happily during the rest of the move.
In the evening, with the house already empty, they decided to have a dinner like the last one. But this time they talked in a better mood and the wine bottles emptied very fast.
Neither of them know exactly how it happened or who was guilty of what, but they were suddenly both sitting down on the couch much closer than they would have never imagined and holding hands, speaking of nothing in particular.
The wine and their need for forgetting reality enclosed them in that bubble. They had forgotten where they were and who they were.
At some point, one of them decided that they had spoken enough and leaped to seal the other one’s lips with a kiss.
The other one thought that it was a good idea and continued playing with that kiss, which later on melted into caresses, and the rest was done by the hands and the body. They instantly found themselves tangled up on the couch.
When the ecstasy paused they seemed to come back to reality. Daniel felt a little bit strange about what had just happened. But Ana felt absolutely confused.
She felt that she had to tell Daniel what had really happened between her and Isabel. Maybe it was the worst moment in the world to tell him.
In fact, for sure, it was the worst moment to tell him. But sometimes things are like this, and one suddenly explodes in the most unexpected moment and says things which need to be told.
And so she did. “Daniel, I wasn’t absolutely sincere with you last night.” “What do you mean?”
“I told to you that Isabel and I were very close friends.” “Ah, and weren’t you very close friends? I thought you were.”
“No, I don’t mean that. I mean, yes, but no...” Ana didn’t know how to explain it to him, and the alcohol in her veins made her get straight to the point. “We were more than friends.”
Daniel opened his eyes in shock. He was perplexed. He thought he had understood her wrong. “What?”
“Something happened and... it came out that we both had feelings for the other one, more than just friendship. It was a different kind of attraction.” “So then, were you together? I mean... together like... like together?”
Daniel was absolutely stunned. He wasn’t able to process what Ana was telling him. Ana nodded and took his hand.
“I am sorry. But this is how it happened. At the beginning, when I moved here, we still were just friends. I had never felt attracted to a girl, you know? It was the first time, I would have never expected...”
“Stop! Stop! I don’t want to know more.” Daniel interrupted her and freed his hand from hers while standing up.
He remained in that position for a while, looking at her with a face of non-understanding. He didn’t know what to do. Finally he decided.
“All this is too weird. I have to go. I need to think.” And after saying this, he took his jacket and left the house.
One week went by, and neither of them had any news from the other one. Ana finished her moving alone, more confused than ever. She felt stupid and like a bad person because of what she had done.
She thought that sleeping with her ex-girlfriend’s ex a month after she passed away and, what is worse, inside the apartment where the three of them had been living, was something unforgivable.
But on the other hand, she couldn’t avoid having a strange emotion and butterflies in her stomach when she remembered what had happened on that couch.
In any case, it doesn’t matter, she thought. He will be very angry with me. He won’t want to see me again, and I understand that.
Daniel, for his part, spent the first two nights without sleeping at all, trying to assimilate everything. He was angry with both, with Ana and with Isabel.
He suddenly felt some strange kind of jealousy towards Ana, since she had been the last one who had enjoyed being with the person who had been so important to him, because she had shared her last months.
At least, he consoled himself, Isabel didn’t break up with me because of Ana, since Ana came back to Spain some months later.
Things were working out so well in Ireland now... I had forgotten all this shit, and everything was so easy with Michelle...
As days went on, his anger faded out. And he realized that he missed being with Ana.
In the end, it was not their fault that destiny had introduced them in such terrible circumstances. A week later he decided to call her.
When they saw each other again, they didn’t continue the last conversation. They seemed to have made a silent pact to let the past bury itself without interposing between them.
They continued on with their caresses from that couch where they had left them, trying to omit the new information that Daniel now had.
And the truth is that they began to spend full days together, slowly falling in love like two teenage virgins despite pain and broken hearts.
That long summer in which so many things happened in their lives was coming to its end. Daniel had to go back to Ireland.
He got some news from Michelle in the summer, but very little. She hadn’t been accepted at the university in Dublin, so she would be living again in Limerick, in the same house.
She talked very happily about meeting again. But Daniel didn’t want to be with her anymore.
He kept good memories from the time he spent with her, and it hurt him to think about how he would have to explain to Michelle that things could no longer be as they were before. But his link to Ana now was too strong.
Alternatively, he didn’t know what would happen with Ana if he left and she stayed in Spain.
Ana had also thought about that. It didn’t take much effort to see things very clearly. She didn’t have anything which tied her to Spain.
She didn’t care about her job and she didn’t want to separate again from someone who was starting to become so important to her.
She had suffered from too many painful farewells in less than a year. It seemed that each time that there was someone helping her to heal her wounds, life ripped that person from her hands.
And she wouldn’t let it happen again.
It was a warm night and Ana’s hair swayed in the breeze, caressing her shoulders. She and Daniel had been drinking with their friends and they walked calmly to their houses.
The streets were full of summer joy, there was music coming out from the bars, the terraces were full of people and lots of families used this fresh moment of the day to go for a walk.
There was peace and joy in the atmosphere. But Ana and Daniel were not able to infect themselves with that, because they were anxious. They finally began the conversation that they needed to have.
“Ana. My flight to Ireland is in a few days. I would like it to be later, but I bought the round-trip ticket in June and I can’t change it now.”
“Yeah, I guessed so.” Daniel breathed deeply before going on.
“When I leave, what... what is going to happen? I don’t want to separate from you, Ana.” “I know. I don’t want it either, Daniel.” Ana got a lump in her throat.
She didn’t want to say what she desired because she was afraid of getting a “no” for an answer. But she had to try it.
“I have been thinking that actually I... I don’t have anything here now that would make me stay.”
She paused to see Daniel’s reaction. And when she saw a smile shining on his face, she continued.
“What if I go with you to Ireland? I mean, I know that the French girl is in that house and that we shouldn’t live there, but maybe we could...” Daniel interrupted her, jumping for joy.
“Yes!! Of course yes! Would you do that for me?” “Of course!” “Don’t say anything else then! You are coming with me to Ireland!”
And there they were a few days later, with their baggage at their feet, in the airport. Ready to change their lives’ direction again.
Ready to not let things go wrong this time. Ready to face together their ghosts and to wash clean all of their past.
For their first days in Limerick before finding an apartment to rent, they had booked a room in a hostel.
But they had to go first to Daniel’s old house to take all of the things he had left there.
Daniel had told Mike everything, but he didn’t know if he would have told the others. He didn’t even know if they would be back there after their summer holidays.
So when they stepped into the house he didn’t know what he would find there.
He put the empty suitcases that they had brought for the move and he took his keys from his pocket.
Ana kissed him. She held the hand he had raised to open the door and she remained thoughtful for a while before saying to him:
“Do you know what? At the end, I think we didn’t have such bad luck. I think life made us cross in the right moment.”
She paused and they both smiled. “Go on, Daniel, let’s close this chapter.” Daniel kissed her back, opened the door and brought in the suitcases.
His entrance to the house was no doubt much more tremendous than they had expected.
Right at the moment that Daniel was opening the door, Michelle was headed down the stairs, which were right in front of the door.
When she saw him, her face shined with a huge smile and she descended at a run while shouting his name. “Daniel!! Daniel!! You are back!”
Dani’s suitcases and his world fell apart. Because he still didn’t know how to explain everything.