It was that day, when he knew – when he heard her voice on the phone. A voice he had not heard in months and was not so sure anymore he could remember but which, quietly, secretly, he must have been longing to hear.
It was then that he knew that from that moment on he would never forget it. It was burned in some place inside of him. He was branded. Add this one to the other brandings he had received before and you would find the scars that make life.
He realized he’d died a little that moment. Because the thought that soon he would not be hearing this voice anymore other than in his memory somewhere in his head almost killed him; if it did not kill him physically altogether, it would at least destroy a part of him. Was this love? Was love supposed to be like this.
This dying part was the one which already knew the terrible truth; that this would indeed be the last time he‘d ever hear her voice over the phone or, as he was about to see her – the reason why he had come to this city – in real life.
Had he known for sure, with all his being, he might not have been able to go through with this. But he had to do it, so he had tried to push this feeling away – almost successful at times. It was his job.
They had met in Paris on a work assignment. Four whole weeks they had been working side by side. They had shared breakfast and dinner every single day. They had laughed together and they had shared emotional moments. Together they went to see many of the sights that Paris had to offer, and was so famous for. In those weeks they came to know everything there was to know about each other or, at least, everything they needed to know. And, after a while, there was no more denying the way they felt.
Then the job was finished. And he had returned home, to Chicago, the same day she left for Iran.
His heart was gripped by a strange fear as he was standing there at the airport in Tehran. When he thought of how he might forget her one day.
His heart would be left with emptiness if he did. And filled with pain as long as he didn’t…
Theirs were different worlds. The cultural backgrounds clashed. She was already promised to someone else. And maybe he was a coward but he did not have the strength to break through to the other side, which was her world. Neither did she.
He was sure, one day, inevitably, they would forget. The longing would become less and less, it would be substituted for the business of their work life and their social schedules. It was a fact of life and it would happen because it would have to happen.
He had seen it before.
No one could not go through life with this constant pain in their heart. His soul would have to, and would find a way to make it more bearable. Or else it would reduce him to a pained existence, a shadow.
It would change him, this, also, was a fact of life. A little sting of bitterness would capture, take hold, surround and protect this spot in his heart which would remain empty, perhaps, forever.
Sometimes, from within the emptiness, he would feel this silent longing pulling a string, looking for its meaning, craving a basic right of existence. And it would tug so hard that he would feel it through the protective shell of bitterness and carefully arranged oblivion.
It would remind him of a different time, of the slightly different person he used to be. And it would remind him that it would forever be missing the one thing that used to be so important and, which he chose to confine to the darkness of nothingness.
Their meeting in the office just a short drive away from the airport was brief. Those few hours of happiness, because they were close to each other once again, were overshadowed by the knowledge of what was, what could have been, and what would never be.
Only between themselves they could see the truth when they exchanged glances across the table in the meeting room.
This was not Paris. This was her world and he was but a guest in this world.
He held her hand, also brief but firm, when they said goodbye. The look in her eyes seemed to come from a deeper place. Somewhere where, very soon, the memory of him would be buried.
Life was like that.
Life was full of surprises and full of pain. And it would try to kill you, over and over again until, eventually, it succeeded.
But he had died before and he knew the score. He knew he could die once, twice, seven, a hundred times. He died in small parts and he always came out the other end, still walking upright, if ever so slightly beaten, a little more each time.
Life was good after all, wasn’t it? Nobody had ever said it was easy. Life was beautiful and wondrous. And mean, cruel and brutal. It gave you beautiful experiences, scary experiences such as love, moments of satisfaction and happiness and moments of longing and fear. Moments of losing and moments of finding.
It was Russian roulette. Only the magazine was so much bigger. There were way too many blanks in there. But maybe it would be too easy then. One or two shots and you were done.
In real life you got hit, you thought. Only, you didn’t. It was another blank. Leaving you with a wound but no proof thereof.
Like these voices from the dark, like hers that night at the airport in Teheran. And he would wonder what would have happened if their worlds had not been that different.
Or if he had not been that coward.