They sat in the car side by side as they had so many times, so many years before. Minus the faint wrinkles at the corners of their mouths and the more distinct ones circling their eyes. They sat side by side and almost, just almost appeared as they did then.
Without turning to read his face because she knew his voice so well, despite the distance created by time, she asked him the two questions born in the peace that only the distance of time permitted her soul and her mouth to emit, “Are you happy?, Was it worth it?”
He didn’t know if he should look at her because as she asked the questions he felt her heart quiver and the tears that began to burn the rims of her eyes. And she, she felt his heart sink to his stomach, she felt his dread and in the silence she heard him swallow, a deep and sorrowful swallow of regret. And she waited.
When the silence seemed as if it would split them in two, she asked him again, “Are you happy?, Was it worth it?”. His answer crept from the depths of his soul, like a prisoner once trapped there with the remnants of what once was their love 7 long years ago. It crawled from his belly, up and up to the top of his throat and got stuck there. All she heard was a croak, a hesitation to her ears. A reminder of the betrayal. She inhaled. And she waited.
He began again. “I…” A clear vocal, a sound, the start of closure.
How did they even get here? They were never perfect, but theirs had been one of those fire burns so hot you’ll burst into flames loves. Sometimes it burned them, sometimes they had to back away, but it never kept them warm, it was never a sink into you and snuggle up kind of fire. Maybe that was their undoing. The flames had turned them to ash that the winds of time had scattered.
“I... “ hung in the air. She inhaled. He started again. Steeled his resolve to form words and be strong, be the man she had always hoped that he would be. “I’m…she’s… happy”.
She exhaled. A nervous smirk, a twitch. “She’s.. happy? I didn’t ask about ‘her’. I asked if YOU were happy? Are you happy?!” As her voice raised, so did her frustration with his insufficient answer, his insufficiency and disappointment, her desperation for a real answer, a real moment, one glimmer of hope to let her know that it, that they, hadn’t all been in vain. Now her words crept, warily from her throat. “Are you happy?” It was almost a whisper.
He waited. “I think... I... am.” Uncertainty and hesitation hung in the air.
She exhaled. It was a start. In the spaces between the pause she found a certain satisfaction. A justification that despite the rollercoaster and upheavals, it had all once been real. His mistake had been just that, a mistake, confirming that it was she and not her who was at fault. Even as the satisfaction of hearing the answer that she already knew moved into her spirit, she couldn’t help but close her eyes and see in her mind’s eye the blurred image of the source of his happiness. Two brown babies. A girl and a boy. A pair once destined to be theirs to share. She inhaled as she opened her eyes. “Was it worth it?” As she asked the question, she felt the weight of a 100 years lift from her. Four words arranged just so and loaded with all the ammunition of a world power.
He waited. “No”
Dr. Aisha Z. Cort is a full-time lecturer at Howard University, where she teaches Spanish grammar and culture and Afro Cuban film and literature. As an Afro Cuban Bostonian who currently resides in Washington, D.C., she has a vested interest in transnational culture and art as well as travel and entrepreneurship.