We had broken up three years earlier. I had been dating someone else off and on, and I had heard she was dating someone too. She was not far from my mind, though I knew she was irretrievably in the past.
Then I decided to make a break with that past and move to another country. I started getting rid of the furniture and then of the smaller items. The most difficult was to let go of personal letters and photographs.
The last day, as I sorted the remaining photographs, I suddenly gasped: there were, in my collection still, three photographs of her that I had taken, which I liked and which she liked too.
I held them in my hand for a long time, knowing that I could not take them with me and I could not destroy them either. They were just too beautiful. Also, she was just too beautiful.
There was only one thing to do. I got into my car and drove to her office. The receptionist, who knew me, smiled and went in to fetch her. She came back with a frown and a message: No, she could not see me.
I gave the receptionist the envelope with the photos, “Please give it to her.”
I would have liked to see her my last day in the country, but it was not to be.
I went back home, had an early dinner and started working on the endless chores one must finish before exile.
It was midnight when the bell rang. I opened the door and found her standing. Barely. She held on to the door to keep her balance and she was reeking of wine. I was astonished. I had known her for years, and she never drank. She disliked the stuff.
I held her arm and brought her in. She collapsed on the sofa.
“Those photos were good,” she said. The words slurred.
“But,” I hesitated, “you don’t seem so good now. Are you all right?”
A second later she started getting sick. She retched helplessly on the floor, the sofa and even on herself.
I carried her to the bathroom and turned on the shower on us both. Once clean, I dried her hair, helped her put on my pajamas and put her to bed. I made her swallow two aspirins and let her go to sleep.
I washed, dried and ironed her clothes for the next day. Then I readjusted the cushions on the just-washed-mildly-moist sofa and tried to go to sleep.
Slender fingers nudged me awake. I saw the burgundy nails before I saw her face. It still looked as beautiful as ever. She had found and put on her clothes.
“I have to go,” she murmured. That murmur had always entranced me.
At the door, I felt I could not let her go. She was important to me. What we had was important. Nothing else mattered. I wanted to tell her that. No words came to me. Finally, hesitantly, I said, “Please write to me,” and gave her a card.
She looked at me, the very last time, and said, “I will.”
We both knew it was a lie.
The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]