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Times Pendulum Swings Again

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1 Life’s rich pageant

 

Jenny

 

It was the middle of summer in 2002 when my mind was wandering and I was thinking once again about Sebastian, probably because it had been this time of the year, ten years earlier, when he left me. For some unknown reason I had spent most of the day thinking about him, unable to shake off the feelings.

Ten years back, I had mistakenly thought the relationship we shared was strong enough for the long haul. I had not reckoned on the kind of man he turned out to be. When the truth eventually caught up with him he broke my heart, for I knew from the beginning that this man, who had filled the emptiness in my world, was the love of my life.

The last time I saw him he was going home to Nepal, the place he had been born and where his family lived and were waiting for him.

Seb was married with two children!

I had no idea of his deceit when our romance was in its infancy. It was only after the first year of living together that he was courageous enough to tell me.

It was in the bedroom of our little flat, the place we shared for many months, that Seb – his nickname – plucked up the courage to talk to me about his past.

‘You know, Jenny, I am not free to be with you,’ he told me, ‘as I have a wife and family back home.’

This news came as a hammer blow of such intensity, that I thought I was going to faint. I would never have dreamt that this man, who had become the centre of my world, could have deceived me in this way.

I partly blamed myself and should have had an inkling about the situation when a colleague from work told me that he thought Seb might have a wife back in Nepal. He had heard about it from someone he knew, a person who had attended the wedding.

At the time I chose to ignore this comment, knowing in my heart that in no way would Seb have lived his life in such a false way. My lover was an individual who wanted order and tidiness in his life, not complications. He became agitated at the slightest hint of anything in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My mother had the good grace not to say to me

‘I told you so.’

We first met at the Royal Infirmary Hospital in Leeds, where we were both working in the hospital’s various operating theatres. He had been a surgical registrar, while I was a newly trained registered nurse. The attraction between us had been instant, and apparent to all those around us.

‘What about the way he keeps looking at you?’ said my friend. ‘He’s rather gorgeous, Jenny. You are so lucky.’

Seb was a tall, enigmatic, dark-skinned man of Nepalese origin, and he was thirty years old. His English was heavily accented, but his words were easily understood.

I was a naïve twenty-four-year-old, who was not at all worldly-wise. Friends told me that I was pretty and that I should have no trouble in attracting him. The man who had made my heart miss a beat was known as Sebastian, but he hated being called that, and told everyone he met that he only ever answered to ‘Seb’.

‘He never takes his eyes off you except when he’s operating,’ encouraged my friend. ‘You go for it, Jenny, after all you’ve not been out much lately, and it’s time you had a bit of fun in your life. You’re only young once, you know.’

I was living at home with my mum – her name is Gladys – and we had lost my dad four years before, when he had a massive heart attack. Mum’s grief was part of the reason I was still living at home. She had never really got over losing Dad.

My upbringing had been a strict and religious one, with regular visits to church on a Sunday. I think it was this that led me into wanting to train as a nurse. I had heard so much about the good work that missionaries were doing abroad and it was with this ambition in mind that I took a nursing degree, something that struck me as a useful prerequisite for life as a missionary.

Of course, that was all before I met the man of my dreams. I had had boyfriends in the past but nothing that meant a great deal and certainly nothing to compare with all the emotions I felt now, for Seb.

It was not long before the pair of us made any feasible excuse to get closer than was necessary for our working requirements. And I for one was putting more hours into the working day than I was obliged to do.

Both Seb and I worked in the specialty of trauma and orthopaedic surgery.

Life in those operating theatres was extremely busy, with a constant turnaround of the routine surgical lists. Regular emergency theatre slots were also being filled as the hospital was close to the M1 motorway. This made it a convenient place to take the victims of road-traffic and domestic accidents that occurred in the surrounding areas of Leeds.

We were regularly required to work additional hours, and we always seemed to be the first to offer our services when such requests were made. It was Seb that first broached the question of going out on a date with me, much to my relief. It was after we had experienced an exceptionally busy day, with the usual raised voices when things were not running as smoothly as was expected.

The tremendous sense I felt of being desired was quite overwhelming when he did at last ask me out. I was beginning to think that he may not be as keen on me as I undoubtedly was on him. After all, we were both free agents and old enough to know what we wanted from life. Shyness did not appear to be an issue for Seb, however I was reluctant to be the first to broach the subject of dating, for fear that he would get the impression that I was far too forward. I had, however, decided that if he didn’t make me an offer very soon, I would take the bull by the horns and make the first move.

There was no hesitation on my part, when the offer did eventually come.

We agreed to meet at the pre-arranged venue, and as I was there before him he was amazed at the sight that met his eyes. He turned to me and said,

‘My, my, you look lovely tonight. Not that you don’t always look nice, but you have a sort of glow I hadn’t noticed before.’

‘Well, you have never seen me in anything other than theatre scrubs,’ I told him, ‘so anything I wore would look a good deal better than that, now wouldn’t it?’

‘You’re right, Jenny. But really I hadn’t ever imagined that you would look as beautiful as you do.’

We went into the place known as the local ‘hop’, a very popular place in Leeds. It was crowded, stinking of cigarette smoke and there was the faintest whiff of what could have been cannabis – I recognised the distinctive smell of the drug from parties I’d been to in the past. Gosh, I thought, if my mother had known I went to places where hash was smoked she would have had forty fits!

However, it was a good place for getting to know a partner, for when people weren’t dancing they would be spending time sitting drinking their favoured tipple and getting to know one another.

However, on the night of our first date the noise of the crowd was deafening and Seb said, ‘Shall we go outside? I can’t hear myself think.’

We left the club, which happened to be beside the Leeds-and-Liverpool Canal. We began to walk along the footpath beside the water.

I could not help but wonder why such a good-looking bloke, who was also a doctor, hadn’t already been hooked by some lucky girl. Here he was at nearly thirty years of age and still single.

I dared to ask the question:

‘How is it that you’re not married, Seb?’

‘Well, I haven’t really had much time for romance,’ he explained.

I knew that was a lie.

‘I have been so busy studying for hours on end to try to pass all my exams, some of which I failed the first time round. The shock of failure took me by surprise. I wasn’t accustomed to failure in any form and it shook me up a bit and made me realise that all my efforts had been insufficient and I had to work harder. I wouldn’t say that I was celibate, but as close to it as possible for a chap like me.’

The evening went well, and we seemed to get along, finding out about each other, and discovering how much we had in common.

Seb spoke of the country he had left behind.

‘It is a beautiful place, sitting in the valley of the Himalayas. The days are warm, and the nights can get very cold, but the country is so lovely with all its ancient temples, and palaces and the hustle and bustle everywhere. I miss that.’

‘I think there’s been plenty of that at the club where we’ve just come from.’

Seb laughed at this and said, ‘Jenny, if you think that is hustle and bustle, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.’

I hesitated to answer this. It struck me that he was being condescending and superior.

Even so, following this first date we met up on a number of occasions. But I was hesitant about getting involved with him now, as I had seen a side of him that I wasn’t sure I liked. However, we did get along and I enjoyed his company in the main. I began to find our time together always seemed to pass too quickly.

 

  • * *

 

Seb had been born into a rich, aristocratic family who originated from India, and who were now living in Nepal. The family fortune had been made in textiles, and the parent’s two children had been privately educated in the United Kingdom and America. As a result of this early upbringing the children’s expectations in life were indeed high. Seb’s sister was working as a lawyer, in Kansas. She had married an American whom she had met when they were both at Yale University.

It was clear to me that the family expected nothing but the best from their children. To this end they had both visited, and lived in, many places around the world in order to gain as much experience of the diversity and richness of its various cultures as was possible.

Seb had begun his medical career back in his Nepal home, training at the Tribhuvan University Institute of Medicine in Kathmandu, the capital city of the country, where his family lived, and also the bustling, nerve centre of Nepal’s economy. His family, as was the case with most of the well-to-do families of the region, were all well-educated. The literacy rate of the nearby population had been rated at ninety-eight per cent. This amazed me, as I was under the impression that many folk in these countries were poorly educated.

Seb told me that he had been given the chance of furthering his medical training in the UK or America, mainly because it was becoming apparent that he was a brilliant student. His professors felt that his chosen career would benefit from experiencing what the Western world had to offer.

He had the opportunity to train in England and was wise enough to realise the gift this was. The medical training for doctors in the United Kingdom is regarded as amongst the best in the world; this was a fact and he felt it would be foolishness to let the opportunity pass him by.

His parents also did their best to encourage his move to the United Kingdom. They were anxious for him to do so, realising that this would equip him with the highest medical standards in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 SERIOUS DATING

 

 

The year end was approaching. It was the beginning of December and Seb had decided to take me to one of his favourite restaurants in Leeds, called the Stern. He knew that it was the time of year when the restaurant would be looking at its best. The rooms were lavishly decorated for the festive period, festooned with paper chains and streamers of every colour imaginable. It was the beautiful, huge lanterns that appeared in the entrance and at each corner of the three rooms that attracted most attention. As a consequence of this fabulous décor customers, some of whom were celebrities, came from far and wide, making it the fashionable place to be seen.

The Stern restaurant was all that could be expected of exceptionally fine French-influenced culinary expertise. The finest world-renowned chefs had worked there, and the current incumbent of the role was apparently no exception.

I had never in all my life been treated to such a fine dining experience, and was a bit embarrassed by the evening, and a little unsure of what to say and do. My parents had brought me up to be adept at the usual social situations; however, I was now in a different milieu, not even confident that I was using the cutlery in the right order. Seb was understanding and helped me to learn what to do. He was happy to have a pupil that he could teach such social accomplishments, and I was the willing student, as I had always been. This special night and Seb’s guidance as to the correct way to behave, endeared me to him more and more, and the cracks in our relationship that I sometimes detected now seemed to be a distant memory.

And I recalled when we had first set eyes on one another in the hospital when we were working in the same operating theatre. Seb had taken great delight in being able to tell me about the surgery that was to be undertaken. When I reached the point of being trained to the level where I could assist the surgeons, it was Seb who encouraged and guided me through every aspect of the surgery. I have to admit that I had learned so much through his teachings, as a result of which I became a sought-after member of the theatre team.

I enjoyed our meal at the upmarket restaurant immensely, and Seb began talking to me in a soft and romantic way. He put his arm around my waist and was not shy in coming forward, telling me where he wanted our relationship to go. He spoke of the need to take things slowly, until we were sure of what we each wanted from it. He also told me that he hoped our relationship would one day become a physical one.

In fact I was anxious for us to have a sexual relationship – as far as I was concerned the sooner it happened the better. But I was a committed Christian, and had been brought up to respect the sanctity of marriage and that pre-marital sexual relationships were wrong.

Seb had not lost the air of arrogance that went with his status in society, and he usually got his own way in practically everything. This was especially true regarding his wants and needs when he was in the theatre, operating. This rather appealed to me, as I was used to being organised at home. Mum was always telling me the way things should be done and in what order, and I would tend to take a back seat and do as she said.

My mother was anxious that I should make something of my life, and was not that keen when I told her that I wanted to become a nursing missionary. She was keen for me to have a comfortable future, not one of hardship and sacrifice. Life had been hard for my mother, for she had been left to bring me up alone after Dad died at such a young age.

After the meal we were sharing a taxi, on our way back to the hospital where Seb was living and sharing a flat with another doctor, when he asked me if I would come up for coffee. I agreed to do this, but only on the understanding that I would be able to take a taxi that would get me home by midnight.

‘I have to be home by then, Seb, or Mother will be fretting,’ I explained to him. ‘Once not so long ago, I went to a party with a friend of mine and forgot to check the time. When I arrived home at one in the morning I found that Mother had phoned the police because she was so worried. Officers had gone to the house where the party was being held. Our paths must have crossed, for soon after I came home they rang my mother to tell her that I had left the party and was on my way home. I felt so embarrassed about it, after all I’m not a child, and I’m twenty-four years old! We had quite a nasty row that night, and I told her that if such a thing happened again I was going to move out and get a place of my own. Mother doesn’t like to hear me talk that way. The thing is, I know that she only has my best interests at heart, and that she feels I’m a bit fragile. Gosh, if she only knew what we have to do as nurses, she’d soon realise that it’s not a job for the faint-hearted, and fragile we are certainly not.’

‘No problem there, Jenny,’ he replied as the taxi came to a halt. ‘Right, here we are back at the workhouse.’ Seb paid the taxi driver and escorted me to the front door.

As we entered his flat I was amazed to see how opulent and classy it was. The doctor he shared the flat with was also from Kathmandu, and they had been together for parts of their training. It was apparent from the décor that they clearly had similar tastes: the place was decorated with bright colours and opulent materials, and was very tidy indeed. I had been used to going to parties in the doctors’ mess and most of their living quarters were in absolute chaos. ‘Mess’ was indeed an apt name for them!

‘This is a lovely flat, Seb,’ I told him. ‘How long have you been here?’

‘Not long,’ he replied. ‘I moved in a couple of months back. Before that they had me put up in some awful hole, and I kept on complaining until I wore the housekeeper down. She was very good to me and let me have a place where there are only two of us. Most of the Reg’s (Registrars – a doctor’s ‘rank’, meaning that they are receiving advanced training in a specialist field) have to go in with four or five other doctors. Anyway, sit down and I shall get the coffee on. Do you want coffee or something stronger, Jenny?’

‘No thank you, Seb, I shall stick to coffee.’

‘Well, you don’t mind if I take in a brandy, do you?’

‘Not at all, have what you like.’

Seb was used to drinking heavily, although the alcohol did not appear to have much of an effect on him. I couldn’t help but think that he was overdoing it, especially since he was a surgeon, who needed steady hands. However, he never showed any sign of having over-imbibed the night before when he was on duty.

We enjoyed what was left of the evening, and when he reached over to kiss me on the lips, I did not resist. It was the most passionate kiss I had ever experienced and I found that I didn’t want it to end.

‘I had better order that cab for you,’ Seb said. ‘Time is pushing on.’

When we parted he said to me,

‘When are we next going out, Jenny? I have had a really good evening, and would like to repeat it again soon.’

‘Let’s wait and see what happens,’ I replied. ‘Christmas is just around the corner, and I shall have a lot to do. Mother needs quite a bit of help, as she’s a bit handicapped with her arthritis. This year we have all of the extended family coming over to us for three days at least, so there’s a lot of preparation I must do.’

Mother was still up when I got home.

‘Did you have a good time, dear?’ she asked.

‘Yes, thanks, Mum,’ I replied. ‘Mum, I’m tired and have to get up to be at work on an early shift, so I’m off to bed.’

This was my way of avoiding having to answer the numerous questions that would be asked about the evening. I hadn’t told her who I had been seeing that night, just that I was going out to dinner with a friend from work.

The following day I seemed to have a faster spring in my step. I had trouble sleeping because I was thinking about this man who already had a considerable influence over me. I began to think he was a decent fellow deep down and I couldn’t wait to see him again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 STUDY LEAVE

 

 

Seb had evidently had some time to reconsider the events of the previous evening, and even though it seemed that he felt as strongly as he did towards me, I had a strange inkling that he was hiding something from me. I had no idea as to what it was. But at times he seemed to be miles away, in a world of his own.

Another thing was that he had an insatiable habit of flirting with all and sundry. I didn’t like it, but I knew I had to accept this if I wanted to keep a relationship going with him.

He didn’t seem to want any long-term involvement, just the odd evening out here and there. I sometimes felt that he wanted to end our friendship, and I dreaded the day that he might decide to do so. The thought of that made me feel quite sick. I was aware that my feelings for him were clearly a bit too deep and had arisen rather too soon.

I knew that I wasn’t the type of girl that he would seek out for anything more than the occasional date. He was clearly not interested in strong attachments and seriousness, whereas I had a different outlook on the opposite sex. I had a more serious nature than most of the ladies he was used to going out with. I think at that moment he considered himself more in tune with good-time girls, and they were the ones he felt safer with. I believe that he couldn’t quite understand it all himself.

 

  • * *

 

Sebastian

Since Seb was confused about what was going on, he decided to take avoidance action to help reduce the risk of anything too complicated happening. He had a good excuse, in that he was entitled to take study leave prior to sitting his final exams, and he decided to do so now. Seb was about to take the Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (F.R.C.S.) examinations, and although he was a fine doctor and a very clever man, he knew that in order to pass these he would need to buckle down to some serious study.

This gave him a good excuse to keep his distance from Jenny, and he later appeared to have no conscience about failing to discuss the decision made with her.

Jenny, to whom he hadn’t explained his actions, was completely in the dark and she became really worried about what had happened to him and wondered why she had not seen or heard from him for a while.

 

  • * *

 

Jenny

I asked around the hospital if anyone knew of Seb’s whereabouts.

‘Oh,’ said one of my colleagues, ‘he’s got some holiday due. I think he said that he was going to London or back to India or something like that, I’m not sure, to be honest. He could even be off sick.’

I was amazed that he had chosen not to say anything about his plans when we had last met. I clutched at the straw that he must be ill, for if this was the case then he had a good excuse for not getting in touch with me. But the days went by, and there was still no word from him. I wondered why on earth he had seemed so keen to see me again when he had said goodnight after the last time we met, only to disappear the next day. Something was definitely wrong, I reasoned. After all, I felt strongly that he was not the kind of man to just dump me without warning, especially after our short but agreeable friendship.

Eventually, after a week had passed, I plucked up the courage to go to his flat in the doctors’ residences. His flatmate answered the door.

‘Is Seb in at the moment?’ I asked Seb’s friend. ‘I’ve not seen him for a while and I’ve been a bit worried.’

‘Seb, there’s someone to see you,’ the friend called to someone within the flat. The man who I had been dating came to the door looking dishevelled and unkempt, not at all the way I was used to seeing him.

‘Hello, Seb,’ I asked tentatively. ‘I was wondering where you were. Are you ill?’

‘No,’ Seb replied. ‘I have been studying hard for the finals. I had to shut myself away to get down to it seriously. You know how hard those exams are, don’t you?’

‘Oh, of course, I see. But you didn’t say anything about it to me, so I was worried. And no one seemed to know where you were.’

‘Well, I’m OK. Look, Jenny.’ Seb looked uncomfortable as he spoke to me, perhaps he was aware of how upset and confused I was.

‘I think that we shouldn’t see each other for a while. I have to work hard to get through these exams. I cannot let my parents down after all the effort and money they’ve put into my future career. I shouldn’t be letting myself down either. It would be better if we didn’t see each other just now; I will see you at work when we are next there at the same time, OK? I must go now; I’m in the middle of a tricky subject.’

And with that he shut the door on me.

No kiss, not even a hand of friendship to shake.

I was astounded. Not only he had kept me on the doorstep, and was decidedly cold and stand-offish, but he had displayed a completely different side of his character to the one I had come to know during the last four months. How, I thought, could someone change from being kind and affectionate one minute, to being so distant and austere the next? I left the building feeling extremely let down, embarrassed, and somewhat humiliated.

I knew that the best thing would be to forget about him. Thinking back over the relationship, I admitted to myself that the romance had been a bit shaky from the start, and that this hurtful encounter was an irrefutable signal that our relationship must be ill-fated, and best left well alone.

So I decided the best thing to do was to get out of the way and resolved to let him go.

I did not see him again for some time. He extended his study leave and then went to London and Edinburgh to sit his final exams.

Passing these would be his first step on the ladder to finding a consultancy post. He already had a great deal of experience as a registrar, and his friendly nature and unique manner was likely to help him to progress quite quickly, impressing his various bosses along the way. All of these factors helped no end when it came to references. I imagined that all this made him hopeful that once he had passed the final exams, it would not take him long to find a senior position. I guessed that Seb had not yet decided where he would apply for jobs, but knew that he would have the choice of working anywhere in the world.

I think he felt that the best place for him to work would be back in Nepal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 FORGIVENESS

 

 

When I saw Seb again, it was back in operating theatres. When he was nearby I did not know where to look. My heart was pounding hard as I changed into my ‘scrubs’: the name given to the blue clothing that all staff working in a hospital theatre environment are required to wear. I had seen the lists for the day go onto the staff noticeboard, and knew that I was to be in Theatre Five for general surgery, the one that Seb would almost certainly be working in. Both of us found we were working more in general surgery than before. Prior to that it had been in trauma. I far preferred surgery of a different kind than working with bones, and in the main old bones at that.

I prepared for the busy morning ahead, and I started to shake, a sensation I was unfamiliar with. I saw him in the outer preparation room, getting scrubbed up. As our eyes met I did not smile, nor did he smile back. It was an awkward morning with the pair of us trying to avoid each other’s glances.

Eventually, when the list came to an end, Seb came over to me and said,

‘I’m really sorry for the way I treated you before. I was so stressed out, what with the exams and feeling unsure about us, I took the easy way out, and thought it better to simply keep away from you. But I have to tell you, Jenny, it’s been the longest and the hardest time for me.’

Trying hard to get a word in edgeways, I interjected with, ‘How did the exams go?’

‘Oh, I don’t know yet, it’ll be ages before they let us have the results. The papers were not too bad, but the oral, now that’s another story. I’m not sure if I did enough to make the grade and impress them sufficiently.’

I knew that if the outcome was to be on impression alone, Seb would have no difficulty in achieving a very high score indeed!

‘Look, Jenny, I really would like to make it up to you,’ he told me. ‘Let me take you to dinner and we can talk it all through. When will you be free to come out with me again?’

My response was immediate.

‘I don’t know about that, as I’m not looking for a trip into heartache-ville again. Ouch, I didn’t mean that,’ I hurried on. ‘I just meant that it was a shock when I came to see you and you clearly didn’t want me there.’

‘Yes. I behaved appallingly, for which I am sorry. Please, Jenny. I really do want to make it up to you.’

It did not take long before I was persuaded. This demonstrated the power that this man had over me.

One thing led to another, and soon after our date he asked me if we could move in together. His attraction to me was apparently quite overwhelming, not like it had been before. His feelings were far more intense, and I loved it.

‘You know, Jenny, I find that I’m thinking about you all the time,’ he said to me after suggesting we cohabit. ‘I just can’t get you out of my mind. I have never in my whole life experienced anything like this before.’

‘My mother would not be happy with that arrangement, Seb.’

‘It’s not your mother I’m asking,’ came the reply.

‘Sorry, Seb, but she’s a bit old fashioned in her outlook on life, and as you know she is a staunch Catholic. I need to show some respect for that, don’t you think?’

‘Don’t ask me about thinking, I seem to be incapable of thinking straight at all these days. And this, may I tell you, is down to you, Jenny.’

Eventually, I plucked up the courage to talk to Mother about the proposal.

‘Mum,’ I began, ‘I am going out with a chap from work. He’s a doctor and we are very fond of each other. He has asked me to move in with him. Don’t look at me like that, Mum – I don’t expect you to be happy about it. But these days living together is perfectly normal. And we do so want to be together.’

Gladys, my mother, was wise enough not to object too firmly, but went to great lengths to warn me of the risks I would be facing in a mixed-race union.

I could see that she was pleased I had found myself a boyfriend who was a doctor, but knowing my mother I think she would have been far happier if his skin had been white.

‘Let me tell you, Jenny,’ she warmed to the theme, ‘that it was not so long ago that couples would be spat at in the street, if one of them was black and one white. But I suppose you are old enough to know what you want from life, so I shall wish you good luck for you’re going to need it. I do hope that you will find somewhere to live close by to me, Jenny. Since your father’s death I feel so alone most of the time. Tell me, does he intend returning to his country, or staying over here?’ she asked. ‘Because these are the things that you need to know about, my girl. A life in a strange land with such different cultures to our own can be very hard, and you may find that you are extremely unhappy.’

‘Oh, Mother, we are just going to be together,’ I appealed to her. ‘We are not talking marriage, not yet anyway. It may not work out at all, and that will be that. But for the time being, Mum, I think I’m in love with him!’

‘Oh, Jenny, what do you know about love? After all, you have only had a couple of close male friends, and you never indicated that they were any more than that, just friends.’

‘Well, we shall have to see how things pan out. For the time being we’re going to look for a flat near the hospital, and take things slowly from there.’

‘That’s good. And I repeat, Jenny, you are going to need all the luck in the world, and I wish you plenty of it.’

At that moment there was a knock on the front door. I went out and answered it, to see Seb on the threshold. As I let him in I gave him a look that said I’ve done it!

Seb hurried over to Mum and, holding out his hand, said, ‘Hello, Mrs Hilliard, how good it is to meet you.’

Mum could not fail to see why I was smitten by this young man. His demeanour and good looks were instantly recognisable. And it didn’t take long for his charismatic charms to emerge.

‘Well, young man,’ Mum began warily, ‘Jenny has told me of your plans and although I don’t fully agree with the idea, I’m not so out of touch that I don’t know what young people are up to these days, so good luck to you both. And I hope you will not go far away from here.’

It was with wondrous relief that we left the house.

‘I’m truly amazed that she didn’t make a fuss and strongly object to our plans,’ I rattled on excitedly. ‘To be honest, Seb, It wouldn’t have made any difference if she had objected. I had decided that whatever she thought about our plans, whether she agreed or not, I was still going to move in with you. I did tell her quite firmly that I had every intention of sharing a home with you. But it makes it easier all round with her blessing, doesn’t it?’

In the days that followed we spent all our spare time flat-hunting. We weren’t looking for anything too large, as neither of us were partial to housework or even cooking, come to that. However, Seb made a fine curry that was popular with everyone, and his colleagues often asked him hopefully if he was ‘cooking that night.’

Eventually we found the perfect house, close to the hospital, which had a second-floor flat .There were two double-bedrooms, which meant we could have visitors if the need arose.

The price of the property was high, but when we worked out our joint finances, it was clear that we could actually afford it.

Seb didn’t tell me that he would ask his father to lend him the money for the deposit.

 

 

 

 

 

5 OUR FIRST HOME

 

 

 

We moved into our newly rented flat together on a cold winter’s rainy day in early February. It rained so hard that it was like iron rods falling from the sky. Every time we went in and out to the removal van to organise what should be taken off next, we got a thorough soaking.

When we were in our new home and could sit and relax, we breathed a sigh of relief that the move was over. The flat was warm and cosy, with a large bathroom which held the mysteries of leftover candles which had burned down to the end of the wick. There was, however, a little wax that was left in most of them and they stood in small glass holders. I wondered how on earth these came to be left behind by the previous owners. Perhaps they felt the newcomers would benefit, as it would seem they had done. There were so many of them: they surrounded the bath, basin, shelves and were even perched on the top of the toilet cistern!

I ran a hot bath, adding the special foaming stuff so there were oodles of bubbles. I had always enjoyed this kind of thing when I was living at home. We had made the bed, which seemed to be the most important thing to do first, and after a shared bath in hot water, it was not long before we decided to dash to the bed, and eat later.

This was not the first time that we had made love, but it was undoubtedly different from the previous times. On this blissful occasion there was no need to rush, and Seb held me so tightly it was as if he thought I might disappear from his arms forever if he didn’t do so.

We kissed each other from top to toe, each of us taking our time and making the moment last.

‘Let me see you,’ he panted urgently, ‘no, not in the dark, with the light on, and naked. You are so beautiful. I don’t know what I would do without you now.’ He bent down to where I lay on the bed and kissed me on the lips so deeply, that I just melted with the intensity of the moment. My love for this wonderful man was deepening with every kiss, and with every touch, heightened by the closeness of our bodies.

Our passions for each other were increasing with this amount of foreplay that seemed to last so long. When eventually we had penetrative sex I did not want it to end, and when it did, I turned my face to his and said,

‘Thank you for loving me as much as I love you, my darling.’

The heat of the moment had passed, and with it, hunger had set in.

‘Come on, Jenny,’ Seb announced. ‘I will make us a curry – you know, one of my very special ones.’

‘But I don’t want to eat. I just want to sleep with you.’

‘We have plenty of time to sleep, there’s no work ’til Monday, it’s only Friday, so let’s make the most of the weekend ahead.’

I spent so much of my time busying myself in this whole new experience. I loved having the responsibility of homemaking, and the joy of a fairly new relationship just took my breath away. I wanted to make the home as welcoming as I could for us. I had started a ‘bottom drawer’ (where items are saved for an envisaged future home) when I was just fourteen. This began because my school friends were also following that trend and it seemed like a chic thing to do. I was glad that this diligence was coming in useful, as the little household gadgets, and bits and pieces lovingly squirrelled away all found a place with no difficulty.

I changed soon after. From being the one who always wanted sex I became the one who wanted to be the housewife. Our roles had changed a little, and now it was Seb who was continually trying to persuade me to go to bed with him, rather than letting me get on with my chores.

‘Not now, Seb, I have so much to do in the home,’ would usually be my reaction when he suggested romance.

However, our lives seemed to jog along with remarkable ease.

No one from Seb’s part of the world knew anything about what was going on in England. One day I asked him about his parents and their home, and I said that we ought to let them know we were living together.

‘After all,’ I explained to him, ‘it’s only right that they know about me, and perhaps we could take a trip over there sometime, maybe later this year or next.’

I wasn’t sure what had come over Seb. He looked at me in a very peculiar way. He seemed to be absolutely horrified at the thought of what I had just suggested. I couldn’t understand it, as up until now life had gone so smoothly. He had even begun to forget about his old life back home in Nepal. He had also told me that he didn’t want anything to stand in the way of our happiness.

The reality of what I’d said was a stark reminder to him of his obligations back home, or so I reasoned.

He was clearly distressed by my request and he replied, ‘Yes, yes, I will write to them, or I might even call them at home sometime this week.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 DECEIT

 

 

 

Sebastian

Seb left the flat for work later that afternoon as he was on-call from five p.m. until the morning.

He left with a heavy heart, wondering if he should tell Jenny the truth about his situation. He knew that if he did, it would be more than likely that she would not be able to forgive his lies and deceit, and would very probably leave him. He could not bear even to think that might happen, for he realised that he was deeply involved with this young girl who never left his thoughts, except for the times when he was working.

He knew in his heart that his marriage was over; he knew this even before he had left Nepal. Their marriage was an arranged one, which is regarded as normal by young people in Nepal. Seb’s parents and those of his intended were aware that their offspring were from similar backgrounds, and felt that the match was a good one. They also believed that in time all would be well and the couple’s lives would be happy, free from any worries of financial burdens.

Sarina was training to be a lawyer when she was first introduced to Seb. From the outset it was clear to him that she was far keener on the union than he was. She was not at all his type, being rather old-fashioned. However, she was a gentle, intelligent girl, although quite plain. She also moved in a different circle of friends to the ones that he had been used to cultivating. He was young and forward-thinking, and well versed in the ways of the Western world, whereas Sarina was not. Her upbringing had been authoritarian, and she was sent to a boarding school where the strict religious regime had taken its toll on most of the girls who attended it.

After the marriage ceremony had taken place, he found that his new wife was not at all worldly wise, and Seb had to take things very slowly in the beginning, so as not to frighten her away. She was an only child and had no peer company or help with the changes that would come about after her marriage.

Both her parents were alive and well and lived close by. However, her mother was not the domesticated type. She had a career of her own, working in a local bank, where she was the under-manager. This restricted the amount of help she was able to give to her daughter, and the new bride received virtually no advice or guidance from her. Sarina was conscious that this kind of behaviour was most unusual for a Nepalese mother. Because of this the young wife relied totally on her husband, with a little help from her mother-in-law, who was a kind and protective woman.

After a year of being married she found that she was expecting their first child. A little boy had come into their lives, and they certainly knew it!

This was a huge shock for both of them. Sleepless nights, nappies and a crying baby put a strain on the marriage that had been absent previously.

It was not long after the first child was born that Sarina found she was pregnant once again. Seven months later another little boy came into the world. This time life was easier, as she had some idea of what to expect and handled day-to-day life completely differently. She made sure that she made time for herself, at some point every day.

Sarina had to give up on all thoughts of resurrecting her career, which was on hold for the time being, as she realised that the life she now had did not allow her to be a working mother.

  • * *

Seb pondered on how he was going to face up to what lay ahead. He was in a much deeper mess than he had ever intended to be, now that he was living with one woman while still married to another. He did, however, know that the life he was living could not continue, and at some point he was going to have to tell Jenny the entire sordid story.

He would have to get a divorce if he planned to stay with Jenny in the UK, and that wouldn’t be easy. In the country of his birth, the tradition was that once you were married it was expected that you stayed that way for the rest of your life.

‘Our religion dictates this, son,’ Seb’s father told him when he was younger, ‘and the whole community expects it.’

The other option would be to tell Jenny the truth and face all the misery that would bring. He considered the possibility that she may find it in her heart to forgive him, and that they could continue their lives together. But he doubted that that would ever be the case.

He quickly forgot about these worries, for when he arrived at work, things were always so busy that there was no time to dwell on his problems.

 

 

 

 

 

7 INTERESTING TIMES

 

 

 

Jenny

As the weeks passed by I realised that I wanted to have this man in my life for always. I also knew how deeply I loved him, more than I ever imagined possible. He was fun, he was attentive, and an all-round good partner to be with. He helped me in the home, and was considerably more skilful in the kitchen than I was. I thought about our future as a couple, considering what our lives would be like if we decided to stay together.

I was well aware that I was seriously considering marriage and children, and these thoughts filled my head day in and day out. To this end I hoped that one day he would want to marry me. The differences in our backgrounds and cultures didn’t seem to matter anymore. I suppose we had been lucky not to have experienced any form of open hostility regarding our colour differences. Even if this had occurred, we had both discussed such a possibility a long time back, and resolved that we would be prepared, and would not allow it to affect our relationship.

Anyway, life for most intelligent people was rapidly changing in the UK. People were becoming far more tolerant about mixed-race relationships than they used to be. I was pondering my good fortune one morning over a cup of coffee when the phone rang. As I picked up the receiver I heard a distinctive voice that had a foreign accent.

‘Hello, Jenny here,’ I answered.

The voice replied, ‘Is Seb there please? This is his mother; I got the number from the hospital. We have not heard from him for so long now, and we wondered if he is all right.’

‘Yes, yes, he is fine,’ I assured her. ‘I am Jenny, a friend of Seb’s. I spoke to him just the other day about getting in touch with you.’

‘Well, please to tell him that I want him to call us. Tell him that Sarina and the boys are well, and they are missing him, and that they wish to see him again very soon. Thank you.’

And with that the call ended, with a sharp clang as the phone went down at the other end of the line.

I was surprised by this rather curt phone call and at a loss to know what it was about. I found myself thinking back to the comment that had been made by someone before we got together, about him being married. I quickly dismissed it as utter stupidity, for I knew there was no possible way that he could be married.

When Seb returned from work that night, I told him about the call from his mother, and relayed the message that, ‘Sarina and the boys are fine, and could you call home, as they are worried about you.’

Right in front of my eyes his face became strangely pallid for a dark-skinned man.

‘Are you OK, Seb?’ I asked. ‘You look a little pale.’

‘So, my mother called did she?’ he replied, ignoring my comment. ‘I will call her when I’m at work tomorrow.’

‘Why not call her from here, darling? You could tell her about us, and then we shall both know what her first reaction is to the news. Do you think your parents will approve of me, Seb?’

‘I don’t know what they will think,’ he replied evasively. ‘I’m tired now and we will talk about it tomorrow. I need to get to bed.’

The last thing he seemed to want to do was to get into a long and meaningful conversation.

He turned to me and said, ‘Jenny, I promise I shall call my parents tomorrow.’

 

  • * *

 

Sebastian

Next day at work Seb transferred his call home to the hospital switchboard, and asked them to monitor the time he spent on the phone. This was the custom, as staff were not permitted to make personal calls from the hospital, unless they were paid for.

When he eventually got through to his parents’ home, his father answered, ‘Seb, it’s good to hear from you, son.’

And the conversation continued in the Nepalese language.

His mother came on the line, and the gist of her words were along the lines of: who was that woman in your home who answered the phone?

‘I only got that number because I called the hospital,’ his mother told him, ‘because I didn’t know where you were, and they told me you had moved. Why on earth did you not think to tell your family of this? Surely you did not wish to keep it a secret from us, Seb, did you?’

‘Mother, she is the girlfriend of my flatmate,’ he explained.

‘I want to know when you are coming to visit your family. It has been too long and your children and wife are missing you like mad.’

‘I will try to make it later this year, Mother,’ he promised. ‘But you must remember that if I fail any of the exams I shall have to retake them immediately. It’s no use letting it slide or I won’t be in the right frame of mind to retake, and will remain in the Registrar position I now hold for the rest of my career, and I don’t think that any of us want that, now do we?’

He came off the phone feeling that he had managed to assure his parents that he was telling the truth, and he promised to call his wife later that day.

When he did have the time to do so, she was angry, and chided him for not being in touch with her for so long. She questioned what on earth he was thinking of by being so distant for so long, and not contacting her or the children.

‘The boys are growing up so fast and you are missing all of that,’ she railed at him. ‘Shame on you, Seb, for being so distant!’

Seb’s excuses to Jenny came so naturally that he almost believed them himself.

He kept off the subject of Nepal, parents and family as much as he could, and every time that Jenny steered the conversation in that direction, he changed the subject.

Later that year, just after spring had arrived, Seb received the news of his exam results. He had passed them all with flying colours.

 

  • * *

 

Jenny

It was now midsummer and Seb told me that he must take some time off work to visit his homeland. His father had been unwell, and his mother was most anxious that he go home for a visit. Also he wanted to go before he started looking in earnest for a permanent consultancy post, most likely in the United Kingdom.

I protested that I was keen to go with him, but eventually he won the day with platitudes such as how I would be unable to bear the heat at this time of the year, and that I should stay and take care of the flat.

‘I’m not going to be away long, as I don’t have much leave left, because I took so much of it at the time of the exams,’ he explained.

I gave in to him as I always did, but made it clear that I was most unhappy about the situation and definitely wanted to go with him the next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 THE HOMECOMING

 

 

 

Sebastian

When Seb arrived at Tribhuvan International Airport the whole family had turned out to greet him.

The day was hot and sticky, and the airport bustling as usual. The flight had seemed interminable, and he was relieved when it was over. Passing through customs and out into the air, however hot, was a blessing. Seb didn’t enjoy flying, in fact he was afraid to fly; his phobia had been with him since the time when on a flight to America the plane hit severe turbulence, followed by an alarming storm. The shock of this experience had never left him, and if anything his fear of flying increased as time went by.

As he walked across the hot tarmac towards the terminal building where his family were waiting for him, he felt ashamed of the man he had become, and was concerned about how he was going to keep up the pretence that he lived alone in England. Part of him knew it was better to ask his wife for a divorce, but he was also aware of how difficult that would be, as this was a rare occurrence in Nepal. He considered the shame that would fall on the whole family, and felt that it would be too much for them to have to bear.

How was he going to face up to his responsibilities? He thought that for the sake of his children, who were now aged eight and ten, that he should try to make things right at home. This would not be an easy option, but he felt that he must either take this road, or divorce Sarina.

Being so far away from England and from Jenny, he was able, with considerable effort, to put her out of his mind, at least for the time being.

On arrival at his house, he was very uncomfortable, not because of the heat, which was an intolerable forty degrees, but because everything felt so alien. He had been away for such a long time that he had forgotten how the place looked. He looked at his wife, and became irritated that she had rearranged rooms, and told her how he no longer recognised them, and angrily asked how he was expected to find anything now?

Sarina could not believe what she was hearing. How could this man, whom she had not seen in three years, be so callous and unkind? He had no sooner stepped through the doorway, when without any goading from her he became irrational and argumentative with her.

It took several days before they were able to settle into some form of stability, Seb endeavouring to be pleasant to Sarina, and she trying hard to make allowances to make the overdue reunion pleasant. Seb was surprised to discover that he enjoyed the company of his children, realising how much he had actually missed them.

‘I had to be away so long to take lots of exams, so that you and your mother can live well, and want for nothing in life,’ he tried to explain to them.

‘But, Daddy, did you have to be away for as long as three years?’ asked his eldest son. ‘We have missed you so much and we have all cried for you.’

‘How long are you home for?’ asked Seb’s mother, when he next visited them.

‘Well now the exams are over and done with, and as you know I passed them all, I shall have to start looking for work as a consultant,’ Seb told her. ‘These posts are hard to come by and you have to be prepared to move anywhere in the world.’

‘What do you mean, son?’ said his father, who had been silently sitting in the background, but could not help himself interjecting. ‘Are you going to look for work here or back in the UK?’

‘Well, I thought I should start to look in the UK, as I am known in the medical world there, far more than I am here.’

His mother continued, ‘You know, Seb, you have a wife and children over here and you must realise by now how much they have missed you. You also know what Sarina’s mother is like – she is all out for herself, and does not offer any assistance or solace to the girl. You have responsibilities in your own home, and I think that you should start to consider them, instead of thinking only of yourself.’

‘Mother!’ protested Seb, ‘Have you any idea of how hard it will be for me to get work in a senior position over here at the moment? I know what the work situation is like, with so many doctors after each of the few jobs that occasionally come up. I have kept my ear to the ground back in England and I know what’s going on there regarding the work situation. It’s hard enough over there, but here it’s even worse.’

His mother decided to back off, as now was not the time to continue the argument. ‘Well, you still have not answered the question. For how long are you planning to stay home?’

‘I shall be here for three weeks, and then I’ll return to England.’

‘Come here tonight and eat with us, it will be good to have you all together once more.’

‘Thank you, Mum. What time shall we come?’

When he returned to his home, he found Sarina sitting by the back door crying. The children were at school, so they were alone.

‘What on earth is the matter with you, Sarina?’ he asked.

‘I just feel so unhappy when I should not, now that you have come back to us. But I feel that your heart is not in it, and that you cannot wait to leave us again,’ she told him through her tears.

Seb stood over her, and said that she was just being silly. He now needed to find suitable employment, and he did not know if it was going to be in Nepal, India or the UK.

The unhappy doctor simultaneously felt guilt and compassion for his wife, and could not help himself from saying to her, ‘If it is to be abroad, Sarina, you will have to think about coming back with me and bringing the children too.’

He had chosen not to ask her for the divorce he really wanted.

At the thought of leaving Nepal his wife froze with fear. She was aware that she could not have it all her own way, but leaving her beloved home filled her with dread.

Seb had reached the decision that if she agreed to return with him, he would have no alternative but to be honest and tell Jenny the truth, face the music, and then say goodbye to her.

Sarina did not know what to say to her husband. She did know that there was no way that she wanted to go to England with him, but on the other hand she also knew that her marriage was in danger of failing if she chose not to go.

Why, oh why did I have to marry someone who wanted to leave our home? she asked herself.

She was trying very hard to be a good wife to him, and mother to their children, and was conscious that she must make up her mind one way or another sooner rather than later.

So Seb’s wife decided to talk to her mother-in-law about it all, and when the moment came for the two to speak privately, she was told in no uncertain terms that her place was with her husband, wherever he chose to go in the world.

Sarina knew that she could not argue this point, and that she must quickly decide what she was going to do.

She was distraught at the thought of what she was planning in her mind to say to her husband, and feared his response.

After sleepless nights and with only two days to go before Seb was due to fly back to England, she stopped him in his tracks when she told him, ‘I cannot return to England with you, Seb. I know you will think me selfish, but I would be so very unhappy and our lives would be miserable, please forgive me. I just wish that you would consider trying to find work here, so that we could all be together and happy once more.’

Although surprised by this revelation, he quickly replied, ‘In that case I think it may be better if we get a divorce, Sarina. That way we will both be free to start again.’

She looked at him searchingly and said,

‘There is no way on God’s earth that I will let that happen. You are stuck with me for always. That’s the way it must be.’

The holiday came to an end, and as Seb said farewell to all his relations, he looked into the faces of his wife and his boys for a very long period, fearing that he may not see them again for some time. He quietly said goodbye to his children and told them softly how much he loved them.

Then he turned to Sarina and said, ‘This may be goodbye for good.’

He moved away quickly, not looking back at his family, who were waiting to see the plane take off.

On the flight home he resolved to tell Jenny the truth, and tried to prepare himself mentally for the repercussions these revelations would undoubtedly bring. In his heart he hoped that Jenny would be understanding, that she might even forgive him, and that life would go back to the way it was before he left.

 

 

 

 

 

9 THE TRUTH

 

 

 

Jenny

I waited at the airport for my man’s return. I had been there for around three hours before the plane was due to land. I could barely contain the excitement I felt at the prospect of seeing Seb again.

When I eventually did see him walking down the long, cold walkway, I felt a very special sense of joy. We fell into each other’s arms, he could not speak, and I cried.

As I drove us back to the flat, I said, ‘Seb, I am so happy you are back home, I’ve so much to tell you and have such good news for us. Seb, I am going to have a baby.’

He put his head in his hands and his eyes filled with tears.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked in surprise. ‘You should be happy for us, darling, why on earth are you crying?’

‘Of course I’m happy, but it’s a bit of a shock,’ he told me. ‘I thought that you were on the pill.’

‘Don’t you remember when I had food poisoning? Well it was then, when I vomited so much, that the pills must have come back too. Honestly I am as surprised as you are, Seb, I didn’t expect this to happen yet. But we love each other, so I don’t see any problem darling, do you?’

I realise now that Seb could not muster the strength to tell me the truth on his first night back. Instead our reunion was wonderful, and we made passionate love to such a degree I felt I would melt away into his whole being. I always felt that way when we made love. It was as if instead of being two people we became one.

The next morning when I was getting the breakfast ready I sensed that something was wrong. Seb was so much more emotional than usual, with tears welling up in his eyes. He kept on wiping them away on the sleeve of his sweater.

On the other hand, I reasoned, his emotional display was probably because he was delighted to be back with me again.

I didn’t say much, as I didn’t want him to think that I was noticing his unusual displays of feeling.

The next day was like those we spent together before he went away, and when the night-time came we talked long into the small hours of the morning.

I asked about his family:

‘Did you tell them about us, darling? And what was Kathmandu like? And when are we going back there together?’

‘Oh, Jenny, stop asking so many questions,’ he told me. ‘We must get some sleep. We can talk again in the morning, it’s so late now and I’m exhausted.’

Seb had great difficulty in sleeping that night. As for me, I slept better than I had for the whole time he’d been away.

Over breakfast, Seb said, ‘Jenny, I must talk to you. It’s not good news, and I want you to promise that you won’t hate me.’

‘Don’t be silly, darling,’ I replied in surprise. ‘How on God’s earth could I possibly hate you?’

I was aware, however, of a feeling of panic starting to rise up my body. My mouth went completely dry, and I began to shake.

‘What is it, Seb? I wondered if there was something wrong. You’ve not been quite the same since you came back home.’

Seb blurted it out in a rush:

‘I have a wife and two boys back home. I cannot be free to be with you right now. I felt that my responsibilities were weighing heavily on me when I was with the whole family, and so I asked my wife to come and join me here in England. Jenny, she said no, so I asked her for a divorce, and she said no to that too.’

I was speechless for what seemed like forever.

And when it was possible for me to speak, it was to say,

‘I cannot believe what you have done to me. What on earth were you thinking of when you moved in with me, and with no hesitation at all? What on earth is my mother going to say? She warned me of the difficulties that we would be likely to face by getting together, but I don’t suppose that anything like this even entered her mind. You bastard! You are nothing more than a fucking bastard!’

Seb could not believe his ears – he had never heard me talk this way before.

‘I hate you,’ I spat at him, ‘and I’ll hate you forever! Get out of here, and get out of my life! I never want to see you again!’

He tried hard to console me, but to no avail. He went into the bedroom and started to pack up his things. I had locked myself in the bathroom and was sitting on the floor, sobbing. I stayed there until I heard the door slam hard, as the man I had given my heart and soul to left my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 LOSS

 

 

I returned to work after a couple of days. I thought about going back home, but decided against it, knowing that Mother would start to defile our previously blissful relationship and start saying to me

‘I told you so.’

After he’d gone that night I stayed put in the bathroom for a long time. The landline phone and my mobile started to ring but there was no way I was inclined to answer as I feared it would be him, and I so dreaded talking to him or seeing him again. I was content in my self-pity and misery. When I did finally get up off the bathroom floor I decided to give Mother a call.

When I went back to work I told them that I had been ill with some kind of virus. That excuse always went down well, as it was a difficult one for others to define. I did not hesitate to make contact with the Sister in charge, and told her that I wished to have a transfer to another area of the hospital.

‘But why do you want to leave us?’ she asked in surprise. ‘You are so popular with your colleagues here, and I thought you were happy.’

‘I must have a change of scenery, Sister,’ I told her. ‘I don’t want to be here anymore. Please don’t ask me why, the reason is something I don’t want to discuss. I want to change jobs as soon as possible, please.’

‘Well it won’t be done today, Jenny, I have too much on, but I will look into the matter next week. Is that all right with you?’

I just looked at her and decided to leave the department and head for home. Shortly afterwards I said to a friend,

‘I don’t feel very well, please will you give my apologies, and tell Sister I’m ill, and will be off for a while?’

When I got back to the flat, I started to vomit, and had really bad pains in my stomach, the type of pain that makes you want to curl up and die.

I managed to get a hot-water bottle, and then got straight into bed. It wasn’t long before I was up again vomiting and hanging onto my stomach. I suddenly felt very sick again, and was experiencing agonising pains, similar to those associated with birth contractions. For a moment I wished that someone, anyone, even Seb, was there to help me, for I felt absolutely dreadful.

I soon realised that I was miscarrying.

All the upset I had experienced was the likely cause. I began to be thankful that it was happening, as heaven alone knew how I would have been able to bring up a child alone. I knew how wrong these thoughts of mine were, for I was a good Catholic girl.

My mother would have been of little help, since she was a staunch believer that single parenthood, for any reason other than death of the father, was not in any way acceptable. Adoption would have been her answer to it all.

At that moment the doorbell rang. I called out,

‘Who is it?’

‘It’s me,’ came my mother’s voice in reply.

I struggled to the door and collapsed as I unlocked it.

‘Good Lord, whatever is the matter, Jenny?’ she asked. ‘You look terrible.’

I heard her, but I couldn’t answer.

Then I saw Mum go over to the phone, and heard her call for an ambulance.

By this time I knew that I was haemorrhaging quite severely, and drifting in and out of consciousness. Mum was sitting close by me on the floor and I remember the smell of her perfume, and that made me feel even worse.

I can recall the ambulance men talking and trying to reassure me that all would be well.

Then I must have been taken to theatre in the hospital where I worked, which I imagined would give the efficient hospital grapevine plenty to get their teeth into.

Oh, just look at her now! She’s not so high and mighty now that she’s lost her doctor friend.

And,

Who’d have thought she would get herself pregnant? She must have been so sure that she could rely on him. What a mistake that turned out to be.

When I woke up and found myself back in a hospital bed I was relieved to see Mum there.

‘Is it all over?’ I asked. ‘Was I very ill? I don’t remember much about it, Mum.’

‘Yes, dear,’ Mum reassured me gently. ‘It’s all finished with now.’

‘Just like my relationship then.’

I think she chose to ignore that remark.

‘Darling, you have had a miscarriage, and they had to take you to theatre for an operation. Oh, Jenny, I thought that there must have been something wrong. I’ve been trying to get hold of you for so long and you never picked up the phone or answered your mobile.

That’s why I came to your home, because I was so worried. Where is Seb? He should be with you. Has he come back from Nepal yet?’

‘Mum, sorry, but I don’t want to talk about it now. I don’t feel well enough, but you do need to know that we’re no longer together.’

When I said this, my mother became persistent, wanting to know every gory detail of our break-up, just as I knew she would. I raised my voice and made it clear that I did not want to have a conversation about anything right now.

With that I turned over in bed, so as not to be facing Mother.

‘Please leave now, Mum,’ I begged. ‘I’m tired and I want to sleep.’

Mother got up to leave, kissed my forehead and said, ‘I love you so much, Jenny. I want you to know that.’

Before I fell asleep I wondered to myself what she would be thinking as she made her way home. I felt that she would be pleased that my relationship with Seb was all over, but probably felt sorry for me now that I was alone, and had the knowledge that the child who had been conceived in love, was now lost, and my partner had gone forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 REAlisation

 

Since I was being treated in the hospital where I worked, many of my colleagues wished to visit, but I didn’t want to see anyone, including Mother. I had asked the nurse in charge to stop all visitors. And I asked the ward sister to ring Mother and to tell her not to visit.

‘Jenny, are you sure you don’t wish to see your mother?’ the kindly Sister asked me. ‘After all, you need her at this time. Surely you’ll go to stay with her when you get out?’

‘Please, Sister, my mind’s made up; will you just tell her that I will call her after I get home?’

I knew that Mother would be of little comfort to me, as she had always been slightly uncomfortable around Seb. Even though the man had good prospects, and would have been able to give me a privileged life, her wariness of him remained. The truth was that she didn’t approve of inter-racial partnerships, and would have much preferred that the relationship between Seb and me had never happened in the first place.

 

  • * *

 

Oddly enough I could still smell the perfume Mum had on when I was stretched out on the floor in the flat, and each time I smelt it, it made me retch. Fortunately it didn’t take me long to recover and I left hospital after three days.

When I arrived at the flat, the place seemed cold and unwelcoming.

I put the heating on, made a cup of tea, then went to bed.

The phone kept ringing in the hallway but I chose not to answer it. Later that evening, when I could no longer stand the sound of it, I took the phone off the hook.

After a fretful night, tossing and turning, I put the phone receiver back onto its cradle. I felt some pangs of guilt about my feelings towards Mother, and was not proud of the way I had treated her.

It didn’t take long before the phone started to ring again.

‘Oh, Jenny, how are you?’ I recognised Seb’s voice. ‘I was told about what has happened. Oh, my love, I am so sorry for everything that’s gone on. But I have to talk to you, Jenny. I have made a decision.’

I said nothing, afraid of what her my reaction to seeing him again would be.

‘Are you still there, Jenny?’ he asked.

‘Yes, I’m here. Sorry, but I don’t wish to see you, Seb. Just go back to your family and leave me alone. You have broken my heart and probably wrecked your family’s feelings for you as well.’

‘I have to come, Jenny, because things are moving so fast. I have decided to go back home. Please let me come round and explain it all to you.’

‘I’m sorry, Seb, but you have treated me appallingly, and I’ll never forgive you for it. I have nothing more to say to you.’

And with that I put the receiver down, and left it off the hook again. Still feeling tired and exhausted from all that had happened, I decided to go back to bed.

The following day there was a loud knock on the door. When I answered it I was surprised to see Seb standing there, looking very red-eyed and weary.

‘We need to talk,’ he began urgently. ‘I know that you hate me and I can understand why, but I have to leave and soon, and we need to sort out what is happening about the flat.’

I could hardly believe my ears! After the disgusting way he had behaved he still wanted his pound of flesh!

‘Jenny, please, it’s not for me, it’s for my father. I borrowed the money from him when we first bought the flat, and I have to pay him back. He didn’t know what I needed the money for; he just lent it to me in good faith. Also, I am going back to my family. I don’t know if the marriage will work, but I have to try. I can understand that you don’t want me around you anymore, so it’s better that I disappear from your life, so that you can be free and take a different path now.’

‘Oh and when did you make this magnanimous decision?’ I demanded angrily. ‘Was it before you left England or on the way back?’ I added sarcastically. ‘Not only do you cheat and lie, but you also withhold the small detail that you intend to leave me homeless. How could you have stooped so low?’

‘Jenny, I know how you must feel about me, I feel terrible enough about myself and what I’ve done. It seems that I’m no good as a person. But I have tried to be a good doctor, and I care deeply for my patients. I’m just not so good at the personal, romantic side of life.’

‘Well, Seb, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about all those you have hurt. What does your wife have to say about it?’

‘I haven’t told her about us. I know it’s cowardly of me, but I could not bring myself to tell her.’

‘But you found it easy enough to tell me about them, didn’t you? I cannot believe you have done this, and I want you out of my life forever. Please go now.’

‘But, Jenny, what will you do? We must sell the flat. Where will you go? Will you return home and live with your mother?’

‘Don’t worry about me,’ I snapped, ‘after all, you haven’t done so up to now, have you? I shall not live with my mother. I’ll find my own way in life, without you.’

‘I will go, Jenny. Here is my address back in Nepal.’ He handed me a piece of paper. ‘And please will you let me know about the flat? Will you sell it, and you can send my share of whatever you get for it there. I hope to find work at the hospital in Kathmandu, where I trained.’

I turned to face him, and with all the anger I was capable of mustering I half shouted, ‘Now get out of here! I really don’t want to see your face anymore!’

Seb looked me straight in the eye, and said in a frail, soulful tone,

‘Jenny, I want you to know that I have never loved anyone as I have loved you. Of course you must find that hard to comprehend now. My only hope is that one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me.’

‘Love? Don’t you dare to talk to me of love! You know nothing about what love is!’

Seb left with his head and shoulders stooped, and said nothing more.

As he walked down the familiar hallway, I had the impression that he must feel so ashamed of all that had happened and of the terrible things he had done to those he was supposed to love. He probably was also afraid of what kind of life awaited him back home.

Was he going to tell his wife about me and the baby? Or would he do his usual trick of avoiding the facts?

 

  • * *

 

When I felt well enough to venture outside, I set off to the town and into the estate agent, where I discussed the matter of putting the flat on the market. As I entered I couldn’t help but notice how shabby the place looked. Not the usual bright, spic and span décor that you usually see in an estate agency. They didn’t seem to be doing much business either, in fact I got the distinct impression that they were preparing to close down. That hardly mattered to me, since all I cared about was getting rid of the bloody flat.

‘It should make about a hundred and fifty thousand for a quick sale, Miss Hilliard,’ said the eager salesman. ‘Is that what you were hoping for?’

‘I didn’t give it any thought, to be honest. I have no idea about what it’s worth,’ I said.

‘Well, we shouldn’t have much difficulty in selling it, as flats with two bedrooms are hard to come by, and sought after in this town. I will set things in motion today, Miss Hilliard, and we will keep you informed and let you know when we have people wishing to view.’

The estate agent was rather surprised at my apparent lack of interest in the project, but must have decided that it was none of his business, and chose not to ask any questions about the circumstances of the sale.

I called Mother, whom I had not seen for some time. I supposed that all this time she had been sulking because of my refusal to let her see me when I was in hospital.

‘I’m sorry, Mother,’ I tried to explain, ‘It’s just that I didn’t want to see anyone at all. I asked the Sister to stop all visitors. Mum, please, can you forget about it and listen? Can I come and see you tonight? I want to talk to you.’

At the thought of me opening up to her, Mum forgave me for everything.

‘Yes, of course you can come over, dear, but I still feel upset at not being allowed to see my own daughter when you were so ill. The Sister should have overridden your decision. After all, I am your mother.’

I cut her short and said, ‘So I will see you at about seven. Goodbye ’til then, Mum.’

I drove the two-mile journey to Mum’s house, thinking along the way that it was going to be a difficult evening. Once I got there I’d worked out how I was going to tell her about all the extraordinary events that had occurred.

I was welcomed in with a kiss on the cheek and a long hug that struck me as a bit over the top.

‘How are you darling?’ Mum said, and immediately went on to ask if I liked fish these days.

‘Yes, Mum, fish will be fine,’ I said. ‘And I’ve brought some white wine, so that goes well with fish.’

However, despite the pleasant start, our meeting was a somewhat strained encounter.

‘Jenny,’ Mum said accusingly, ‘when did you start drinking? You never used to care for alcohol.’

‘Well, I have developed quite a liking for it these days. And I haven’t found much else to like, if I’m being truthful.’

‘Sit down, dear. Dinner won’t be long. Are you feeling better now?’

After sitting for a while, I got up from my favourite ‘comfy’ chair, and went into the kitchen, where Mother was putting the last touches to the meal.

‘Mum,’ I began. ‘I have something serious to discuss with you.’

My mother took her eyes off what she was doing at the stove, turned to me, looked me straight in the eye and started the conversation that I think she had long anticipated:

‘Jenny, I knew that all was not well. What happened?’

‘There is no easy way to tell you this. Seb has left for Nepal. He has a wife and children there, and I have to sell our home. I shall have nowhere to live, and was hoping that you could put me up while I look around for somewhere else.’

Mother was open-mouthed, and with a look that spelt out ‘I told you no good would come of this’, was wise enough not to articulate it.

Instead she said to me, ‘Oh, Jenny, I’m so sorry. Come with me, let’s sit down and talk it through.’

The food was almost ready, and soon we ate the prepared meal, and decided to settle for me coming to stay as soon as possible.

‘You can have your old room back,’ Mum said brightly. ‘It’s pretty much as it was when you left it.’

Mum seemed to be overjoyed at the thought of me returning home. But having felt the freedom of having my own place to live, I knew that my time sharing Mum’s home would not be very long.

As I drove back to the flat that night, I was grateful for Mum’s kindness, and the way I had treated her was not something I was proud of. But having lived away from home for some time now, I felt pretty nervous about returning, as if I was somehow going backwards in my life.

It did not take long for the flat to sell, and I made sure that Seb’s share of the investment was returned to him promptly. I felt that the sooner the business was dealt with the better, so that I would erase my memories of him as a matter of urgency.

I moved back home with Mother and busied myself with work and looking for another place to live. Fortunately I was able to get my old job back. I was well aware of the clandestine looks and furtive glances that accompanied my return. However, I said nothing of what had actually happened and let them carry on surmising their own screwed up versions of events. I just didn’t care what they thought.

And I heard through the grapevine that Seb was settled back in his original home and his new job. He apparently had come highly recommended from the UK, and had effortlessly managed to impress his seniors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 the foreign homecoming

 

Sebastian

He talked of Jenny to his wife frequently, carefully omitting to tell her about the baby and the subsequent spontaneous abortion. She had great difficulty coming to terms with his revelations, and chose to be absent from the home on many occasions when he returned from work.

It was clear that they were both unhappy, but she had no intention of giving him the divorce he was still anxious to obtain, almost certainly out of spite.

‘Why should I let him have it all his own way?’ were Sarina’s sentiments. She seemed to be content to live a sort of separated existence from him. Seb and Sarina came and went as they wished, seldom spending any time together, and when they did it was either to quarrel or not to speak at all.

Seb, however, did get to know his boys very well, enjoying the pleasure of their company. He found that he was spending practically all his free time with them and not with Sarina.

His work was the main focus of his life now, and at this at least he had become very successful. With his sons growing up fast, he realised the importance of coming home to be with them, and in some ways did not regret the decision he had made to leave Jenny and the life he had shared with her.

His thoughts about Jenny unfailingly returned, and he wondered where life had taken her. Was she happy? He hoped that one day he might have the opportunity to return to England, and perhaps see her again.

He did know a little of Jenny’s whereabouts, and that she had married and had a son, as he made contact with a mutual friend in England from time to time.

Little did Seb know then that the day he did return to England would come far sooner than he could have imagined.

 

  • * *

 

As the years passed by, Seb and Sarina’s boys’ academic abilities were becoming evident, and both of them had considerable potential. One had decided to take after his father and study medicine. The other focused on engineering. Both left home to go to university, and to begin their own successful careers. They no longer needed the nurturing or guidance of their parents.

The rift after the boys left home was becoming an embarrassment for other family members to witness. The void between Seb and Sarina increased.

One day Seb’s father said to him, ‘What are you doing, boy? You know that marriage is for life. It’s a pity you chose to play around in England. Had that not happened you would have settled back in with your family the way you should have done in the first place. The easy way of life over there in England, and the loose women have brought you down to this level. I think you need to behave like a husband should and buckle down and stay with your wife. Your mother is almost frantic with what is going on between the two of you.’

Eventually over supper one night, Seb said to Sarina, ‘Sarina, how much longer do you want this miserable existence that we have to continue? You are no happier than I am.’

She replied, ‘I have been thinking things over lately, and have changed my mind from the way I felt before. With the children away from home I have had plenty of time to reconsider. Our families will not be happy about our failed marriage. To be honest with you, I think the only reason I have stayed in this relationship for so long was to avoid the shame that will be brought on them. But I am going to let you go, Seb. I shall go away to stay with my sister in the south. That will give you time to decide what you want to do. I think you would be better off going back to the UK and to her. After all, your heart has never really left that place and that woman, has it?’

Seb was amazed that his wife should be thinking like this, and in many ways was delighted that he would once again be free.

He had taken a long time to truly grow up. Now, at the age of forty, he had started to take stock of what his life had been like for the last twenty years.

The doctor was well aware that when he was working in the States and in the UK, for some reason he had enjoyed acting out the playboy image.

Marriage to him was just a formality that he could not escape. Even when his children were born, he could not identify with the magnitude and responsibilities that went with fatherhood.

Perhaps this was down to the fact that his parents were more than generous with their money. As a result he had no need to be concerned regarding financial support for them. Sarina and the boys were well catered for, and he was aware that they always would be.

His parents’ encouragement to go abroad to study had not helped, as this meant that his attitude was ‘out of sight and out of mind’. He reflected on the fact that his mistakes were all of his doing, nothing to do with his parents or the rest of his family. It was he and he alone who had taken such risks with his life.

Now he knew that he was to be free again, he had an overwhelming desire to turn back the clock. Perhaps if he could have met Jenny before his marriage, then they could have been together, and none of the mess that had been his lot in life over the past years would have come about?

He felt pain and anxiety every time he thought about the girl he met all those years back. In fact he was now thinking about her every day, and realised that this had been going on most days, ever since he had returned to Kathmandu.

He also knew that it was highly unlikely that he would ever see Jenny again, or that if he did that she would want to see him. But he remained positive and hopeful that after all these years she may have given him the odd thought.

 

  • * *

Jenny

I had married, and now had a little boy of five.

It was when I took him for a walk to the park to feed the ducks that I could not shake off the fact that I was thinking about Seb. This was most odd for me, as I had not given him much thought at all since the early days after our parting, as remembering him was far too painful and brought back too many memories. In fact I couldn’t recall the last time that this had happened.

Because now I had so much going on in my life.

Apart from anything else, I was only too aware that my son was so young to have lost his father, who had died from cancer just over a year ago.

I had met John when he was a patient of mine. I was not in love with him when we married, but he was besotted with me.

We married two years after Seb had left for Nepal. John was aware that I still thought about a man that I had known and who could not be with me. He hoped that over time I would grow to love him. John was a kind, hard-working and honest man, with a gentle nature and a softly spoken Irish lilt to his voice.

Once more Mother’s prejudices had surfaced when she showed signs of displeasure regarding our union. She made unpleasant comments such as,

‘His background is not of the best’, and ‘After all he is an Irishman.’

I carried on working during the early years of our marriage up until when our son Joe was born.

Joe was the apple of our eyes and we were a complete and happy family. I remained reasonably contented with my lot, even though I knew that I would always have the nagging feeling that something was missing in my life. Our existence had become inextricably ‘suburban’, with a degree of boredom setting in. I wondered if it was the same for most couples after a few years of marriage. What I did know was that this was not something that I’d experienced when I was with Seb, but then again I hadn’t had the experience of spending that much time with a partner before my time with him.

John had been working as a senior bank official when his illness first began to present itself. For some time before he was diagnosed he felt that something was seriously wrong. After being told the dreadful news that he was terminally ill, he decided to get his affairs in order as a matter of urgency. He had first started to show signs of illness in the late summer of 2000, and after a multitude of various blood tests, X-rays, and other procedures, he was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

For some time we discussed plans for the future, concerning the pragmatic aspects of family life after he had left us. It was agreed that Joe’s education would be paramount and secure.

Everything had been clearly laid out in John’s will, and I knew that I would have no worries about the financial side of things.

I nursed John at home with the help of the local hospice, and the amazing Macmillan nursing staff. I had grown to love John and now I was about to lose him. It seemed as if I wasn’t supposed to have a man in my life. That’s what I seriously began to think, that my life was to be one of loneliness, apart from the pleasure of having my son to care for.

Eventually, when the pain became more than could be correctly controlled at home, John went into the hospice, and, aged just forty-two, he departed this life.

John’s funeral was a quiet affair, with only his colleagues from work and his close family attending. We hadn’t made a great many friends since we were married. The wake was held at Mother’s house and we bought in food and drink from the local supermarket.

Joe was just three years old when his father died. I was devastated at the thought of yet another major upheaval in my life. Perhaps this was worse than before, since this time it was not just me I had to think about, but also my little boy.

Joe spent the afternoon of the funeral with a friend of mine who I had known for many years, from when we had worked together.

Later that day I could not help but feel sad that a young man’s existence could pass from this world virtually unnoticed. John had only distant relatives still living, with the exception of his father, who was in a nursing home back in Ireland. After his father’s last stroke he had been bed-bound and needed twenty-four-hour care.

John’s death hit me intensely. I had not worked since Joe was born and did not know how I was going to manage as a single mother. Throughout this difficult time my mother had been a great comfort to us. There were no sarcastic comments from her these days, and I thanked her for her kindness towards Joe and me. And for the first time in our lives Mum and I became very close.

  • * *

Why was it that today I felt so uneasy, I wondered? Maybe it was because I was thinking back to the time when it was my deepest wish to go to Nepal with Seb, to meet his parents and family. I even began to wonder about going there now, and having a holiday. Of course I knew that was wishful thinking. I needed to concentrate on returning to work. Although at the moment I had no money worries, I did need to have a raison d’être in my life, something that had been missing up to the time that John became ill – once he was diagnosed my duty was very clear, to look after him.

But if I was to start work I could hardly ask immediately for three or four weeks off to go on holiday.

That day I tried hard so hard to shake off the feelings I was experiencing, and could not for the life of me fathom out why they wouldn’t go away.

I cleaned the three-bedroomed house that John and I had shared from top to bottom. I called a friend to ask if they would like to meet up for coffee in town and maybe do a bit of shopping. After that it was time to pick up Joe from school.

As Joe and I wandered home I had a strong desire to call Mother. I couldn’t think why that was, since nothing out of the ordinary was happening. That was until I called her later that evening.

‘Mum, how are you?’ I began. ‘I have been thinking hard about going back to work. What do you think, Mum? Is it a good idea?’

I was interrupted by Mum hurriedly saying to me,

‘Jenny, did you know that Seb is back and has been asking after you? He phoned me earlier today. He didn’t say much, he just wanted to know if all was well with you. He said that he had returned to England to take up a post in Leeds. Did you know that he was coming back here?’

I was dumbfounded and could not speak at first. When I did it was to say,

‘No, Mum, I had no idea about it.’

‘Jenny, do be careful, love. You have been through so much over the last three years, I don’t want you to suffer any more pain, and I think that Seb may be very keen to see you again. I didn’t tell him where you lived or anything about your life and what has happened.’

‘I will wait to see if he contacts me,’ I answered. ‘I don’t think he will, but you never know. Joe and I will see you tomorrow, Mum. Take care and I love you.’

When I put the receiver down, I was overwhelmed with a desire to hear from Seb. He was the one man who once had meant so much to me, and yet he was also the one who had treated me so badly. How could I want to see him again? After all he was a cheat and a liar, and a selfish brute. I was annoyed with myself for feeling this kind of emotion and for desperately wanting to see him again.

Although I was extremely lonely in those days after John’s death, up until now I had not had any desire to start any sort of new relationship.

Perhaps he did wish to see me again? If he didn’t, why would he have called my mother to find out about me and my well-being?

That night I tossed and turned for hours on end, unable to sleep.

What was the future to hold, I wondered? Did I really think it possible for this man to come back into my life?

The answer had to be no. After all, he had a family back in Nepal.

I must have eventually dropped off, as when I woke I had seriously overslept. Never before had I needed an alarm clock, for I could always rely on my habit of waking up at six-thirty each morning, yet it was now eight-thirty. I rushed into Joe’s room and hurriedly helped him to dress in his school clothes.

‘Don’t worry about a wash,’ I told him, ‘just do your teeth, you can have a bath tonight.’

‘But, Mum,’ he asked, ‘where is my sports gear? I’ll get told off if I don’t have it.’

‘Don’t worry, Joe, I’ll make sure you have it, I’ll bring it up to the school later on.’

I’d forgotten to wash his sports kit since the last games day, when he’d was brought it home in a filthy state. After dropping him off at school I rummaged around the drawers hoping that I could find some clothes that were suitable for Joe to wear for the after-school activities. He loved sport and I felt absolute awful for forgetting to wash his gear.

He of course complained bitterly about me being a rotten mother, and I told him to think himself lucky that he had a mother at all.

I could not settle to anything that day. I was fretting about the minutiae of life. I couldn’t help wondering how I would react if Seb walked into my world again.

Strangely, I no longer felt hatred towards him. Instead I found I pitied him. He was living a life of unhappiness with a woman he had never loved. He had been caught up in an eternal triangle with which he clearly could not cope. This vacuous existence must surely have taken its toll on him.

I reflected on how I felt on the day he had left me, and those many sad days that followed. I thought my world had come to an end and that the sun would never shine for me again.

It was a good thing that I had Mum, as I think she stopped me from coming off the straight and narrow. I could so easily have become some kind of delinquent.

  • * *

It was not until a month later that Seb made contact with me. He realised that my mother was not going to co-operate in helping him to find me again. Instead he managed to locate a girl who used to work with me. Seb and this girl had become good friends when he had worked at Leeds General the first time round, and they had always kept in touch with each other. He managed to persuade her to let him have my telephone number.

When he phoned me the deathly silence on the end of the line must have made Seb shiver. Until now he had probably not known how he would react when he finally managed to make contact with me. He knew now, and the thought intimidated him.

Eventually I spoke, but only to say,

‘How are you, Seb? It’s been a long time.’

‘Yes, Jenny, too long. How are you?’

‘I am well. You know, jogging along.’

‘Jenny,’ he went on urgently, ‘are you with someone?’

‘Yes, I am. I’m with my little boy. My husband died just over two years ago.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that, Jenny. Can we meet up? I have so much I want to talk to you about.’

At first I protested that I couldn’t meet him, using a number of futile excuses. But then I decided it was better to meet him and let him have his say.

‘But you will have to come to me,’ I told him, ‘as I find it hard to get a babysitter these days. Mum has her own life and goes to a church choir practice every Saturday night, otherwise she might have done it for me, but I doubt it.’ I paused for a moment.

‘I have to tell you, Seb, that she really doesn’t want me to meet you. You need to know that she was the one who had to pick up the pieces when you wrecked my life. She would rather die than see me hurt that way again.’

When the day of our meeting arrived I was beside myself, not knowing how I’d feel or what to say. What on earth would we find to talk about? I didn’t think we would even recognise each other ten years on.

Sure enough at the appointed time the knock came on the door that evening, and Joe rushed to open it. He had been told nothing of the situation and he was a little boy, fascinated with people. He loved it when guests came, something which didn’t happen very often.

Seb looked at Joe and I heard him say, ‘Is your mummy here, little one?’

I took a deep breath, gathering all the courage I could muster and came into the hallway to greet Seb. When our eyes first met I was quite shocked at his appearance. He had changed so much that I would not have recognised him if we had passed in the street. His hair was a greyish white and he looked tired, while his eyes were quite sunken and he had grown a moustache. I hated moustaches, because it seemed to be a symptom of bone idleness: worn by the kind of man who couldn’t be bothered to shave properly.

He looked at me in sheer amazement and said,

‘My goodness, Jenny, you have not changed a bit in ten years!’

‘Before you say anything else, come into the front room,’ I told him. ‘I will make us some tea, or do you want alcohol?’

‘Yes please – wine would be fine, if you’ve got it.’

‘This little boy is my son Joe,’ I explained. ‘He was six last month.’

When we were in the front room, Joe was welcoming Seb enthusiastically, asking him so many questions:

‘Where have you come from? Your skin is so dark compared to mine. Here look!’

Joe rolled up his sleeve.

Seb squatted down to talk to my son.

‘Hello, Joe, you’re right, my skin is a lot darker than yours – that’s probably because my family comes from a very hot country, and our skin’s like this to protect us from the sun’s strong heat. My name is Seb, and I was a friend of your mum’s many years ago. Long before you were born.’

I came into the room, where my son and Seb were getting along fine. It was warm and cosy as I had lit the wood-burning stove. I gave the glass of wine to Seb and said,

‘I have not been looking forward to this moment, Seb, but I want to say something to you that I don’t ever want you to forget. Joe, go up to your room and you can play on that new computer game just for a while, as I want to talk to this gentleman.’

After Joe had gone, as I stood in front of where Seb was sitting, I looked down at him almost with contempt, and without fear or hesitation said,

‘When you left me, you broke my heart. I thought that I would never get over it. If it hadn’t been for my mother and a couple of close friends I think I might have gone out of my mind. The sun went out of my life, and although people said to me that it would shine again one day, I didn’t believe them. Please don’t think that you can walk back into my world, and do it all again, because you can’t. I am a different person now. I have nursed a dying husband and raised my son. But all the hurt and difficulty of my life has done something positive. It has made me strong and resourceful.’

I could not help but notice the defeated look in Seb’s eyes. I sat in a chair opposite him and could clearly see his reaction to my words. He held his head in his hands, and for a moment I even thought that he was weeping.

When he finally did look up at me it was to say,

‘My life has been utterly miserable for the past ten years. If it hadn’t been for my boys I think that I would also have been tempted to opt out, as you so aptly put it, go out of my mind.’

‘Sarina and I were forced into marriage – you see that is the way it works where I’m from. When I went back to her, she was unhappy from the start, and so was I. I did have a good job, but it did not fulfil me enough, so I threw my energy into caring for the boys and taking an interest in their lives. When they left home to go to university Sarina clearly wanted us to part, and she told me so. I have been back here in a consultancy post at Saint James’ Hospital, not too far from here. It was a while before I plucked up enough courage to call your mother, and when I did she was very curt with me, and of course I fully understand why.’

I said nothing, only breaking the silence when we were interrupted by Joe, who had come down and was pestering me for food, saying,

‘Please, Mum, I really am hungry.’

I took him into the kitchen and found him something to eat, then came back into room and said to Seb,

‘Well, what is it you want from me now?’

‘Jenny, please believe me,’ he went on, ‘not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about you. You became my world all those years ago. In no way did I think when we first met, that I would come to love you so much. When I did realise it, I was in far too deep, it was too late, and I wasn’t thinking straight at all.’

‘No,’ I answered him bitterly, ‘you were thinking of yourself as you always have done, and only yourself. We were going to have a baby, our baby, one that was conceived in love. How could you have done what you did? The heartless way that you demanded your share of the money from the flat. You must have known that I would not only lose you, but also end up homeless. What is unforgivable is that after I lost the baby, you didn’t even come to see me. Anyway,’ I continued, struggling to keep control,

‘I want you to go now. I can’t talk to you about it. I need time to think about the things you’ve said. Please go, Seb.’

He got up, put his half-finished glass of wine onto the coffee table, and he tried to come close to me, but I moved away and said bitterly,

‘Just go!’

‘I shall go, Jenny. But I hope so much that you will call me some time. Let me leave my card, it has my telephone and my mobile number on it. Please believe me that I have never stopped loving you. Say goodbye to Joe for me.’

With that he left.

I was so mad with myself in the hours that followed our meeting. I knew in my heart that I did not hate him, and possibly had even forgiven him. Yet I just could not avoid this display of emotional anger when I saw him in the flesh.

I took a long time to decide if I wished to see him again, which wasn’t helped by my mother frequently advising me not to.

Mother had tried hard to dissuade me from starting another relationship with Seb, or anyone else come to that.

She said that I should get a job and bring Joe up and that would be enough to fulfil me and that my choice of partners was hopeless, because I always managed to pick the wrong kind of man. How helpful was that? She reminded me regularly of the heartbreak he had caused.

‘Whatever he tells you now, Jenny,’ Mum advised, ‘It’s unlikely to be the truth. I don’t think that you should ever trust him again. How do you know what is really going on back in his home life? I would be inclined to keep a safe distance and protect yourself.’

I found myself completely distraught at the end of these sessions with my mother. How could I expect her to understand the strength of feeling that I now knew I still had for this man?

My mother had been unable to demonstrate any form of tactile love or affection towards Dad, or if she ever had it was never displayed in front of me. I sometimes wondered if she had ever loved him at all.

In fact Dad had been a lovely man, so kind and considerate. Mum made numerous demands on him and he always tried to fulfil her wishes.

After several weeks of soul searching, and effort in trying to convince Mother about the profitability in forgiveness, I decided to call Seb, and ask to meet up with him again.

I also began to think about getting in touch with Seb’s family, to find out the truth. I wondered, was he being honest about what had happened?

Maybe I should try to contact his sons, and ask them about their parents. And again, I even thought of going to Nepal. Could I afford it? Although I wasn’t yet working, there was money in the bank, but not for short-sighted ventures such as this. All these questions kept on rolling around in my head; so much so that I felt as though it would explode.

Eventually I lifted the telephone receiver late one evening and called the Nepalese phone number I had written down for Seb all those years before, when his mother was trying to make contact with him.

When it was answered a female voice said,

‘Who is this?’ She had a very strong Nepalese accent.

‘My name is Jenny,’ I began nervously. ‘I am a friend of Seb’s. Who am I speaking with, please?’

‘I am Seb’s mother. Where are you calling me from? Is he all right? We haven’t heard from him for a while now.’

‘This I can well believe, he certainly does seem to be rather elusive and unreliable, Mrs Jaywardine.’ And then I began to tell this woman who I didn’t know, the long saga of the romance with her son ten years ago. I told her how I had not known about Seb’s wife and children at the start of our friendship. When I eventually finished talking the voice at the end of the line said,

‘Well, my child, I am truly sorry that my son has treated you so badly, he has not always been the son we would have wished for. But I have to tell you something now that you may not be aware of. He is alone again. Sarina left him. We thought that the marriage was not a happy one, and were surprised that it lasted as long as it did. Arrangements such as this do not always work out, you know. Even so, most do, and we hoped that after he returned to this country, they might make a go of it.’

‘Jenny,’ Seb’s mother went on, ‘I am also sorry that we never did get to meet you, I often thought that maybe there was somebody else in his life, but he never said anything about his personal life to his father, or to me. What I do know, my dear, is that I have never seen my son as solemn as he has been these past ten years. He never seemed to smile or care much about anything, except his boys. His father and I were very concerned for his health as he has lost so much weight, and seemed to age far beyond his years.’

‘I did see him recently,’ I told Mrs Jaywardine, ‘and thought he looked unwell, and not the smart, well-turned out man that he always was when we were together.’

‘Perhaps you will find each other again, if it is what you want, and if it is meant to be. After all he has a very good position now, and his financial responsibilities to his boys are over. They are both in their twenties, and soon will very likely have families of their own.’

‘Thank you so much for listening to me, Mrs Jaywardine. I was afraid to call you, as I didn’t know how you would react towards me.’

‘Well, now you know. Good luck to you, Jenny, and if you do see our son again, please to tell him to call us once in a while.’

‘Of course, I will do that, and thank you again. Goodbye.’

‘Goodbye, Jenny, and good luck,’ came the reply.

When I slowly lowered the receiver, I could not help but think what a stroke of luck it was that I had kept that telephone number for all these years, and that Seb’s family were still living at the same address.

When I did make contact with Seb again, it was to say that I wished to meet up with him.

‘Perhaps we could go for a drink,’ I suggested.

He was unashamedly amazed that I had called him, and a little astonished by it. After all the venomous words I’d used the last time we met, I knew he really didn’t think it would ever happen.

‘I am more than happy to do whatever you want to do. I shall be delighted to see you again, Jenny,’ he said happily.

We did meet up at the arranged time and set off to a pub we had always enjoyed going to, and frequented when we were together before. I said little as we walked the short distance to the hostelry. After we settled down to my dry white wine and he took a sip of his British beer, he kept on looking at me and finally said,

‘I’m so pleased that you called me. I was afraid that when we last met you were so angry that it would be the last time I ever saw you.’ His words were contrite.

‘Perhaps we need to spend more time together, and try to iron out our differences. I know I said hurtful things before, but it is what I felt and still do if I’m being honest with you.’

I know that I kept on looking up at him often through the evening, I just could not stop myself.

Seb asked me why I was looking at him in that strange way, asking,

‘What are you thinking about?’

‘I cannot help but see how much you have changed, Seb, you look tired and ill. Is there something the matter with you?’

‘Not to my knowledge. I lost interest in my appearance a long time ago. Anyhow I don’t want to talk about me. You look lovely, just as you always did.’

Seb may have changed in appearance, but had lost none of his charm and ability to be bold, and said to me, ‘Is there any chance for us to go back and start over again?’

‘It’s unlikely. How would I ever be able to trust you?’ I told him. ‘After all, once trust has been broken it is almost impossible to mend.’

‘Let’s take it one step at a time, Jenny. Perhaps we could go out together once in a while and just see what happens? How do you feel about that?’

‘To be honest with you, I don’t know. Let’s talk tonight, and we’ll see.’

It was impossible for me to bring myself to make any sort of commitment to Seb, even though he was clearly trying hard to impress me and persuade me that he was a different man now to the man I once knew.

His work was exacting, and he was not able to spend much time with Joe and me. He was a popular doctor, working as a general surgeon, and the general practitioners of the district were keen to refer their patients to him. He also had a thriving private practice, leaving him with very little spare time.

I was pleased that this was the case.

I had decided to embark on my old career, and managed to acquire a position in my local doctors’ surgery as a part-time practice nurse. This suited me down to the ground, as I was able to fit work in with the school timetable.

Seb made contact with me when he could, and we were managing to meet up at least once a fortnight. I looked forward to these times, but with some trepidation. I didn’t think that he would stay alone for long: he would be a good catch for some pretty young thing, fluttering her eyes at him over her surgical mask. The truth is that I distrusted him totally and who could blame me, the past events had made me over-cautious when it came to any man. It was a long time before I accepted marriage with John because of this distrust. It was a miracle that he didn’t give up on me.

I was seeing quite a lot of Mother these days, as I needed to enlist her help in collecting Joe from school on the occasions when I had to work a longer day. The hours originally set out for me had increased, and I was often asked to work beyond the afternoon shift and into evening sessions.

This particular night when I arrived at my mother’s home to collect Joe, I didn’t think she looked very well.

‘What’s the matter, Mum?’ I asked her. ‘You don’t look at all well.’

‘I don’t feel it,’ she replied. ‘I’ve been having a lot of pain in my gut. I thought it was my old problem back again.’

She had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, due to a condition known as diverticulitis, from which she had suffered for many years.

‘I think perhaps we should call the doctor out,’ I told her, ‘or I’ll take you up to the hospital.’

‘No, no, good Lord, that won’t be necessary,’ she protested. ‘I shall make a hot-water bottle and go to bed. I’m glad you came back a wee bit early tonight though.’

‘Mum, are you sure that you will be all right? We will be more than happy to stay over with you.’

‘No, love, you get off, I just want to go to bed. I’ll be feeling better come morning.’

‘I’ll make your hot-water bottle, Mum, you just go on up to bed.’ I took up the bottle and made sure she had enough to drink. ‘Keep on drinking, Mum,’ I instructed. ‘You know you mustn’t let yourself get dehydrated.’

With that Joe and I left for home.

Joe said,

‘I hope Nanny will be all right, Mummy, she’s not ill much is she?’

‘Nanny will be fine, darling – she’s a tough old bird.’

I hadn’t been asleep very long when I received a call from the hospital at about two in the morning.

‘Is that Jenny Hilliard?’ said the voice in my ear. ‘Your mother has been admitted with severe stomach pains. Can you get up here as soon as possible? I’m sorry to say that she is very ill.’

I left Joe with a neighbour and drove to the hospital. Once I arrived I seemed to be waiting for ever until a junior doctor finally arrived. He examined my mother, and said, ‘I’m sorry, but your mother is in a bad way. How old is she?’

‘Seventy-six,’ I told him. ‘I feel terrible because I left her earlier as she didn’t want me to stay – she just wanted to be on her own and to try to sleep.’

‘You weren’t to know. Look, my boss is on his way, you’re in safe hands.’

‘How did she get here?’

‘I don’t know, you had better ask at reception. We’ll let you know as soon as there’s some news.’

When I asked it appeared that Mum had managed to get to the phone, called for an ambulance, and then passed out. She had been floating in and out of consciousness ever since.

It seemed like so long before the registrar came to see us, and a further age for the on-call consultant to arrive at the bedside.

I couldn’t help but feel a degree of relief when I saw who came through the doors of the Accident and Emergency department. He joined up with his team and after consulting with each other for some time he came over to Mum, giving me a knowing nod.

After examining her, he turned to me and said,

‘I think she has a perforated diverticulum, Jenny, and you and I both know how serious that is. I will first get X-rays and the blood results and then it seems certain that we shall need to take her to theatre and I will do my very best to save her.’

‘Oh, Seb, I can’t believe this is happening,’ I said miserably. ‘Please help her; she is all that I have got apart from Joe.’

Seb took hold of my hand and walked me away from the trolley that Mum had been lying on for at least three hours. He then whispered to me,

‘Jenny, you can have me, any time if you want me. You have known that ever since I got back here.’

This remark prompted no reply from me.

‘But don’t talk to me about it now,’ he went on. ‘It’s Mum you should be paying your attention to.’

With that Seb turned to his colleagues and asked that the theatre staff be made aware, and prepared for the pending surgery.

After all the preliminary investigations were quickly carried out Mum, who by this time had been given morphine which seemed to have held her pain at bay, was taken to theatre.

Since Joe was in safe hands with my neighbour, I decided to stay at the hospital until the surgery was over.

‘You look so tired, Jenny,’ said one of the nurses. ‘Why don’t you go home for a while and get some rest? We’ll call you as soon as we know anything. The surgery could take a long time.’

‘No,’ I replied, ‘I would rather be here until I know the outcome.’

‘Why don’t you go down to the canteen? They should be open by now and you can get yourself something to eat and drink.’

I walked slowly to the canteen, and on the way there I ran into a friend I used to work with. We started to chat and to my amazement, she told me about the contact Seb had made with her at various times, for almost the whole ten years he had been away.

‘He would phone me from time to time, Jenny,’ she explained, ‘and always the main topic of conversation was you, with him asking how you were and what you were doing. He also told me how he was missing you, and how he really wanted to be with you. He was obviously very lonely and in a miserable marriage, but said that he needed to make the best of it that he could, for the sake of his children.’

This revelation made me realise that he must have known about my marriage and Joe’s birth. My friend went on to say,

‘Yes, I did tell him all the news of you when I had any. After all, even though none of us had seen you for a long time, you know how hospital news travels, so that I did get a few snippets now and again.’

Now it all made sense. This was why Seb had not shown a great deal of emotion when I told him about my husband and his death, and all about Joe’s arrival on the scene. He wasn’t surprised, for he already knew it all!

The sun rose on a fine morning. It was one of those glorious English summer days, with the brightness of the hospital gardens and the flowers in full bloom making everything look absolutely splendid. I wandered out into the hospital grounds and sat on one of the garden benches, donated by a grateful family of a dearly departed loved one. I stayed there for longer than intended, when suddenly in the distance I saw Seb on the horizon, walking swiftly towards me.

Panic set in and I quickly stood up and started to move towards him.

‘I have been looking for you everywhere,’ he said in a rush. ‘Jenny, I have good news. We have managed to save your mother. She is still seriously ill, but she’s also a tough woman and it looks like she’ll make it. Do you want to come up and see her? She’s in Intensive Care.’

With that news I flung my arms around Seb and hugged him so tightly that he almost could not breathe.

‘Jenny, you are strangling me,’ he gasped, laughing. ‘Do let go.’

I could not speak. Seb took a step back, looked into my face and saw the tears streaming down my cheeks. He leaned forward, kissing them away and said to me, ‘You are still the loveliest woman I have ever known.’

He then kissed me full on the mouth, and once again I melted away in his arms. The arms that I had been missing for such a long time.

 

  • * *

 

It didn’t take long for me to realise that the old feelings I once had for this incredible man were flooding back like a tidal wave, allowing time’s pendulum to swing again.

Mother recovered relatively quickly for an older lady, and was not as vocal as in the past about her condemnation of the rekindled romance that was unfolding before her. I wasted no time in telling her that the man she disliked so much was also the one who so very recently saved her life. In many ways she was grateful to Seb for his skill as a surgeon, and had to admit to herself that she had not seen me looking as happy as I now did for many, many years.

When Mum was discharged from hospital I took Joe and went to care for her in her home. I stayed for two weeks and then we went back to our place.

Mum was back on her feet now and quite capable of caring for herself again.

It was then that Seb and I began to seriously rekindle our lost love for each other.

When the two of us went over to see Mum and told her our news, she was not altogether surprised, for she realised that if ever two people were meant to be together, it was her daughter and this man, whom she had loved for so long.

59


Times Pendulum Swings Again

Jenny is working as a nurse when she meets Seb. She is young, living with her mother, and has had a strict religious upbringing. Seb is a handsome successful surgical registrar that Jenny is incapable of resisting his charms, and eventually falls in love with Seb. They buy a flat and move into together much against Jenny's mother's wishes. It is then one day Seb confesses to Jenny that he is already married with two young boys. Jenny is left heartbroken with her mother to pick up the pieces. It is now the story really hots up.

  • Author: Little Acorn
  • Published: 2017-02-03 10:20:11
  • Words: 22802
Times Pendulum Swings Again Times Pendulum Swings Again