Ana had just dropped off her son Eddie at her neighbour’s house for a sleepover. She was now free to go for her monthly hair appointment: a top-up of her highlights and a blow-dry with her usual stylist, here in her quaint village in Berkshire. It was Saturday afternoon and she was looking forward to spending the rest of the weekend in London. As usual, she had told her husband she’d be staying at her best friend Rosa’s flat. Of course, she would be seeing Rosa later that night at the Latino nightclub, but the whole truth was that she would be staying overnight in a hotel with her boyfriend Luis. This just-about-monthly routine had been going on for over 5 years now. With the passing of time, she no longer felt guilty about cheating on her English husband, Alex. Alex was a kind man, with a great career, with a matching great salary, but she no longer loved him. She hadn’t truly loved him for the past 8 years.
She hadn’t imagined that her life would end up like this when she got married 14 years ago. Of course she had loved Alex, but she had to admit to herself that she had not been “madly in love” with him (“enamorada” as people would say in Spanish). She had loved him but it wasn’t a deep, passionate love. Part of her knew that he was a good man who treated her well, unlike some of the previous men in her life. But she also knew that marrying him was a great opportunity. He was well-off financially, had a great career in finance, and he would be able to give her the comfortable life she had become used to. The lesson of “marrying well” had been taught to her by her mother, who really didn’t need a man to look after her financially, as she had made a decent living for herself, even as a single mother, but she still would not have married a man who didn’t have good financial standing.
Her mother had raised her with the help of her grandparents, as she had had an affair with a married man and he was no longer part of her or Ana’s life. Ana’s grandparents lived in a poor area of Quito, Ecuador, so this is where she had lived with her mother for the first 10 years of her life. Her mother was intelligent, a hard worker and had made the right connections in her job at Banco del Pacifico, one of the top banks in the country, so she was able to move up the career ladder. It was her mother who was able to eventually buy a flat in a middle-class area known as El Batan; thus, they moved up the class ladder that was so difficult to climb in that society. But her mother knew very well that she needed to find a well-off partner if she wanted to fulfil all of the ambitions of her life. When Ana was 13, she met Jan, a Dutch man who was working in Quito temporarily. He was 10 years older than Ana’s mother, divorced and, after a few years living as a single man, was looking to settle down again. He was handsome, well-educated, and had money. Her mother did fall for him, but the real clincher was his bank balance. So, Ana took on in her life the most important lesson her mother had taught her: money is more important than love.
Despite everything, she had not expected to fall in love with Luis, another Ecuadorean like her, living in this cold island of England, so far away from their homeland. They had more things in common than not. While she was well-off and he wasn’t, they both loved to dance to salsa music in the Latin nightclubs. She was happy to be with someone who understood her because they came from the same culture and had the same sense of humour, even if it was a part-time relationship. Of course, the sex was amazing - something that was underwhelming in both of their marriages. But their relationship would need to stay as it was for as long as they could maintain it. Neither of them would leave their respective partners. They didn’t want their children to suffer in any way; but, most importantly, they realised that living together would never work. Although they loved each other passionately, they sometimes fought passionately, as well. They also knew that the daily routine would kill their passion.
Now she was on the train, getting ready to arrive at London Paddington station. She texted Rosa, as usual, to let her know she’d arrived in London. Then she sent a WhatsApp message to Luis to say she’d be meeting him in the hotel in about 40 minutes. She flicked her long, highlighted hair and dragged her wheelie suitcase onto the escalator to go down to the tube platform. The hotel, as usual, was in the Elephant and Castle area, an area they frequented because it was full of Latino bars, clubs and restaurants. When her tube journey ended and she came out of Elephant and Castle station, she was annoyed to see that Luis hadn’t messaged her back. She could see that he had been off-line for at least 30 minutes. She walked the short distance to the hotel, checked in, went up to the room and sent Luis another message. “Are you Ok?” she wrote. He had said he might be running late if he had to collect his son from a friend’s birthday party, so she shrugged aside any worry, laid down on the bed, and proceeded to watch TV.
She had fallen asleep and woke up with a start because her mobile was ringing. She was shocked to see that 2 hours had passed and still no sign of Luis. Her mobile was flashing up Luis’ friend Jose’s number. She was still-half asleep but she answered the phone, wondering why the hell he was ringing her instead of Luis.
“Hi,” she answered. “How are you? I’ve been waiting for Luis. I haven’t heard anything from him.”
“Ana, where are you now?”
“I’m at the hotel…why? What’s going on?”
There was silence on the line for a short while.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“I don’t how to tell you…. Luis was in a car accident.”
“Is he Ok?” she asked.
There was again just silence on the line. Then, he said, “I’m so sorry Ana ….It’s really terrible….”
Ana felt she had no control over her body anymore and fell to her knees. “No! My God, no! How could this be?” Jose was trying to calm her down over the phone, to no avail, of course.
Ana had now fainted and was a sorrowful heap on the floor.
“Ana….can you hear me?.... Ana?! Her friend Rosa had rushed over to see her at the hotel after Jose phoned her to tell her the horrible news.
“Ana! Ana!” Ana started to come to, slightly moaning.
“Rosa? Thank God you’re here!” Ana started to sob uncontrollably. All Rosa could do was hug her and tell her she was so sorry.
Three months had now passed. She had gone to the funeral, despite the dirty looks she received from Luis’ wife. His wife had known very well about their affair, but had chosen to ignore the situation because she didn’t want to lose him. Now they both had lost him.
Ana had taken sick leave from work for the first month; she had been barely able to function day-to-day. Her husband Alex had been sympathetic in the beginning because he knew that a good friend had died, but now that three months had passed since the death, he was growing suspicious. There was no way that she could be in such bad shape if he was only a friend; something was definitely wrong. He didn’t want to, but he felt he had to confront her finally. So he took the opportunity on a Friday night when their son was at a sleepover.
“Ana, you’ve been in a bad way now for three months. You’re too depressed even to go to London and see Rosa like you used to … I know something’s wrong… I think…. I think you and Luis were more than friends…. You need to tell me the truth.”
She had been in so much pain during all this time, she wasn’t surprised anymore if more pain was coming her way now.
“I’m so sorry Alex…”
He had his answer. Despite the weeks of suspicions, having her finally admit to the affair felt like a kick in his stomach.
“Oh my God… How long was it going on for? Why would you do this to me?!”
Ana was crying, but she couldn’t speak. She just felt stunned now that the whole thing was coming out into the open.
“All these years since we moved here from London Ana… Were you seeing him all that time?! Didn’t you even think about our son?! I feel like such an idiot… I can’t look at you right now… I’m going to stay at Stuart’s flat tonight… I can’t stay here tonight…”
Ana was sobbing but didn’t try to stop him from leaving.
She sat frozen on the sofa for a while after he left the house. She really didn’t know what to do now. At least Eddie was away tonight so he wouldn’t realise that his dad had left. But she knew Alex too well and knew he’d be back at home tomorrow because he’d never risk upsetting their son in any way. She knew he had always said he didn’t believe in divorce; that he’d never want his son to suffer in any way.
The next morning Alex phoned her, saying that he would be picking up Eddie that afternoon and heading back home with him. “We will live under the same roof. You’re good at acting, aren’t you? So you need to act normally in front of our son, and I’ll do the same. I don’t want Eddie to know that anything is wrong between us, OK?”
“Ok, I agree,” she responded quietly. What else could she say to him? Another type of man would have possibly thrown her out after finding out about her betrayal. He would never do anything like that to her. She didn’t know though what was going to happen now. He seemed to want to stay, but only for the sake of their son. Could that even work? Maybe for a short time, she thought, but how could they live like that forever?
That night, after Eddie had fallen asleep, she spoke to him. “How can we just live like this as if nothing has happened? I did this horrible thing to you Alex… maybe this is why I’m suffering now, because I deserve to suffer.”
He didn’t even want to look at her now and just stared out the window.
“I need to know Ana, why? I know I’m not the most exciting man in the world, but I’ve given you love and everything else you’d want in life… No, you don’t have to answer… He was from your country so you could talk to him about things you couldn’t with me, and in Spanish, which I can barely speak.”
He went on. “Of course, he must’ve loved to dance to Latin music, just like you. Fucking hell, you must’ve gone with him all those times to different clubs and to those concerts you went to…unbelievable…”
He let out a huge draw of breath. “I was so trusting, really stupid to let you go to London at least once a month on your own. But you know I was never one to stop you doing things that you enjoyed and that scene wasn’t for me.”
He looked at her now. “Stuart thinks we should divorce, that this is too big a hurdle to get through, but you know how I feel about this. I never wanted a divorce; I can’t imagine living separately from my son. Another man in my place would be cruel and take our son away from you, but I won’t do that because doing that would hurt Eddie. So we should stay together, act normally around our son, but we can live separate lives. If you want to see another man, go ahead, just be discreet, as you very well know how to be. Maybe I’ll find someone eventually who is OK with this type of arrangement. At least like this, things are honest.”
Ana was shocked, but she had to admit that he was being more than reasonable. He was truly a good man, she thought.
“Ok Alex, I agree with you. This will be hard, but I don’t want our son to see us split up. I will try to sort myself out.” She looked into his eyes and said, “I’m truly sorry, Alex, for betraying you all this time. I never thought I would do something like this, but I felt that over the years we grew distant from each other. But I’m not excusing myself for what I did.”
“It’s good we agree then,” he said coldly. “We have our holiday booked to the Dominican Republican next month, at least it will be good to get away for two weeks.”
The day finally came when they arrived at the 5-star resort in Punta Cana. This was a holiday she had looked forward to so much when she and her husband had booked it several months ago. Now that they were finally there, she felt little joy. It was absolute paradise: luxury hotel, lovely people, gorgeous beaches, a warm sea and sunshine, yet she still felt empty. The man she had truly loved was dead, and the man she was with had to act like he still cared about her. During the day they’d be at the pool, swimming with their son. They’d go to the beach, where she’d lie sunbathing for hours, turning more tan by the hour, while Alex and Eddie played in the perfect Caribbean Sea. At night there were the live dance shows with beautiful men and women swaying to the tunes of salsa, merengue and bachata. The music she had always loved caused her heart to ache because it just reminded her of Luis.
One time, during a family dinner, she found Alex flirting with a gorgeous Dominican waitress as she was walking back from the toilet to their table. He looked like he didn’t have a single care in the world. She could see he was starting to move on with his life.
She had always been a big drinker, so she was drinking heavily every day to try and push out all the thoughts in her mind. Every night she would sit at one of the many bars on her own, as Alex would stay with Eddie and put him to bed. It was a good way to keep away from each other during the late nights.
During one of those late nights, at the end of their first week, after drinking more cocktails than she could count, she walked alone to the beach. She stared at the moon-filled sky without a cloud in sight, the palm trees swaying around her in the balmy breeze. She started to walk into the sea. She wanted the sea to swallow her whole being so she wouldn’t have to feel anything ever again.