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He put in extra hours at work, shortened his lunch break and socialized less than in the past, a change his colleagues also noticed. They wanted stories about his trip, impressions, wanted to hear about the politics, wanted to see the photos. Miguel responded to the easy demands. His photos delighted them, not just the cathedral, but the markets, the old streets, the botanic gardens, all the colourful places that fulfilled their expectations of an old New-World city. His social conscience had demanded he visit the slums and take pictures there. His photos impacted his colleagues as the sights had impacted him — with awe, sympathy and varying degrees of futility: a terrible situation, but what was one to do?
His children demanded stories too. Their grandparents were still alive. Two uncles, one aunt, and several cousins they had never met lived in that city. Miguel told of the family gatherings, told of his original home and neighbourhood, showed photos.
His wife listened and questioned, made her comments and observations. She seemed satisfied. But in bed at night Miguel continued to turn away. At first she said nothing. After a few days, however, she asked him what was wrong. Miguel answered evasively, claiming tiredness, the trip, getting back to routine. He said nothing specific but she was alert, Miguel was certain she knew. So he gave in, transgressed his determination, and made love to her, less difficult than he expected and, in fact, enjoyable. He should not have been surprised, love-making always one of the best parts of their marriage. He felt relief as well, and his wife didn’t question him anymore.
He began an email correspondence with his new-old love, told her about coming home, about his children, work, and so on. But he avoided talking about his wife. She too was restrained, not saying she missed him and not asking about his declared intent to divorce. The distance made things easy for both. Miguel began to relax and, to his surprise, began to enjoy not only his life but also his wife. They made love frequently, went to movies, entertained friends. They seemed, her observant sister commented, happier than they had ever been.
This lasted some months. Then he received news from his new-old love. Things had changed. A business opportunity for her husband, the chance of a lifetime, she said. They were moving to a city just a couple of hours away from Miguel. Suddenly it became possible and reasonable to see her again. This had not occurred to him. Their affair, if it could be called that, had simply fallen into a kind of emotional and geographic limbo. Miguel, at first, was horrified. He went for a walk and as he walked the idea of seeing her again began to fill his head. His emotions turned, he became excited, thrilled. He returned, sat in front of the computer, reread her email and began to formulate plans.
Later he walked into the living room. His daughter, sitting with her boyfriend, looked up, asked what was wrong. Miguel met her eyes. Exhilaration turned to dread, he couldn’t answer her. The urge to turn away was intense. But he knew then, he knew he couldn’t choose not to choose. He must act. He could never inflict the pain he was feeling, not on his daughter, not his family, not his wife.
He went back to his computer nook and sent an email. I will always remember our brief time together, he said, but I must bring things between us to an end. It is too painful, not just for me but for what it might do to my family. I wish you well in your new life and now say goodbye.
His daughter and her boyfriend were still on the sofa when he returned. She raised her eyebrows, questioning. It’s nothing, he said, just a little distraction.