The past was a long time ago, but it found me again the other day. Later, I reflected on the absurdity of the situation and wondered how many of life’s big moments occur when you’re about to pop into a café for an ice cream? It might not be many, but it’s what happened to me.
I had one foot over the threshold of the café, when I heard a sound from my past in the street behind me. It was the suppressed giggle of someone who had recognised a famous person and didn’t know whether to acknowledge them or not. I had heard it many times before and I imagined the person pointing and sniggering to their friends.
I wasn’t the famous person, but when I turned around to see what the commotion was about, I recognised the celebrity. I knew that dark hair and hazel eyes and his slightly rugged face – I knew him rather well, as it happened. In fact, although few people even remember, we were once married.
Our eyes met as he made his way along the street and I instinctively looked down at the diamond band that I now wear on my right hand instead of my left. Despite how it ended, we were happy in the beginning. We thought we had it all, until it turned out that we didn’t.
That was when the blame started because he thought it shouldn’t happen to someone in his position. I never blamed him, but he certainly blamed me because, of course, nothing could ever be his fault. I had told him we should talk to someone else. He didn’t agree with me. Maybe if he had, we could have done something. And if we hadn’t been able to? Then I would have said it didn’t matter.
As he looked away from me that day, I knew that he had recognised me. It was obvious from the change in his demeanour and the diminishing of his characteristic swagger. What I found perplexing was the look I had glimpsed in his eyes before he had turned away. It was a look that I had never seen there before, even though I had lived with his face every day. I wondered if it was anger or regret.
“That man looks very sad,” a little voice piped up from beside me.
And that was it – sadness. It took a child to recognise his sadness. Sadness caused, I suspected, by the fact that, in those few brief seconds when we had faced each other, his whole perception of his life had changed. Briefly, I wondered if he wished he had listened to me in the past? Perhaps we could have fought for what we had. But he had walked away.
I watched his back as it disappeared down the road and for a moment, but only for a moment, I thought about all the ‘what ifs’.
“Mummy, who was that man?” the little voice wondered.
I forgot about the ‘what ifs’ and returned to the present.
“Nobody special, darling,” I replied. “He’s just someone I once knew before I met your daddy.”
“But why did he look so sad?” the little voice demanded, tugging persistently at my sleeve.
“Because looking at you means he has finally seen the truth,” I sighed. “He knows I wasn’t to blame.”
But it was all in the past and my golden-haired daughter had far more important things on her mind that afternoon.
“Come on, your daddy’s waiting for us,” I said, squeezing her hand tightly. “Let’s choose that ice cream.”
The past was a long time ago.