Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Adultery, Page 4

Paulo Coelho

  I remember every detail of my lunch with Jacob.

  I chant a mantra along with the other pupils.

  I wonder if my boss is right. Is Jacob being unfaithful to his wife? Is he being blackmailed?

  The teacher asks us to imagine ourselves surrounded by an armor made of light.

  "We should live each and every day with the certainty that this armor will protect us from danger, and then we will no longer be bound to the duality of existence. We have to find a middle path, where there is neither joy nor suffering, only profound peace."

  I'm beginning to understand why I keep skipping my yoga classes. Duality of existence? A middle path? That sounds as unnatural as keeping my cholesterol level at seventy like my doctor is always telling me I should.

  The image of the armor lasts only a few seconds before it's shattered into a thousand pieces and replaced by the absolute certainty that Jacob likes any pretty woman who comes anywhere near him. So why am I bothering with him at all?

  The exercises continue. We change posture, and the teacher insists, as she does during every class, that we should try, at least for a few seconds, to "empty our minds."

  Emptiness is precisely the thing I fear most and the thing that troubles me most. If she knew what she was asking ... But then who am I to judge a technique that has lasted for centuries?

  What am I doing here?

  I know: "De-stressing."

  I WAKE up again in the middle of the night. I go to the children's bedrooms to see if everything is all right--it's a bit obsessive, but surely something all parents do now and then.

  I go back to bed and lie staring up at the ceiling.

  I don't have the strength to say what I do or don't want to do. Why don't I just give up yoga once and for all? Why don't I go to a psychiatrist and start taking those magic pills? Why can't I control myself and stop thinking about Jacob? After all, he never suggested he wanted anything more than someone to talk to about Saturn and the frustrations that all adults face sooner or later.

  I can't stand myself any longer. My life is like a film endlessly repeating the same scene.

  I took a few classes in psychology when I was studying journalism. In one of them, the professor--a very interesting man, both in class and in bed--said that all interviewees go through five stages: defensiveness, self-promotion, self-confidence, confession, and an attempt to put things right.

  In my life, I've gone straight from self-confidence to confession. I'm starting to confess things to myself that would be best left unspoken.

  For example: the world has stopped.

  Not just my world, but the world of everyone around me. When we meet with friends, we always talk about the same things and the same people. The conversations seem new, but it's all just a waste of time and energy. We're trying to prove that life is still interesting.

  Everyone is trying to control their own unhappiness. Not just Jacob and me, but probably my husband, too. Only he doesn't show it.

  In my dangerous confessional state, these things are beginning to become much clearer. I don't feel alone. I'm surrounded by people with the same problems, all of whom are pretending that life is going on as normal. Me. My neighbor. Probably even my boss, as well, and the man sleeping by my side.

  After a certain age, we put on a mask of confidence and certainty. In time, that mask gets stuck to our face and we can't remove it.

  As children, we learn that if we cry we'll receive affection, that if we show we're sad, we'll be consoled. If we can't get what we want with a smile, then we can surely do so with our tears.

  But we no longer cry, except in the bathroom when no one is listening. Nor do we smile at anyone other than our children. We don't show our feelings because people might think we're vulnerable and take advantage of us.

  Sleep is the best remedy.

  I MEET Jacob as arranged. This time, I choose the place, and we end up in the lovely but neglected Parc des Eaux-Vives, where there's another awful restaurant owned by the city. I once had lunch there with a correspondent from the Financial Times. We ordered martinis and the waiter served us Cinzanos.

  This time, we don't have lunch in the restaurant, we just sit on the grass and eat sandwiches. He can smoke freely here, because we have a private view of everything around us. We can watch the people coming and going.

  I've decided to be honest: after the usual formalities (the weather, work, a "how was the nightclub?"/"I'm going tonight" exchange), the first thing I ask is whether he's being blackmailed because of, how shall I say, an extramarital relationship.

  He doesn't seem surprised. He merely asks if I'm speaking as a journalist or as a friend.

  At the moment, as a journalist. If you say it's true, I give you my word that the newspaper will support you. We won't publish anything about your personal life, but we will go after the blackmailers.

  "Yes, I had an affair with the wife of a friend, which I imagine you already know. He was the one who encouraged it, because we were both bored with our marriages. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

  The husband encouraged it? No, I don't understand, but I nod and remember what happened three nights ago, when I had multiple orgasms.

  And is the affair still ongoing?

  "No, we lost interest. My wife knows about it. There are some things you can't hide. Some people in Nigeria photographed us together and are threatening to publish the pictures, but that's not news to anyone."

  Nigeria is where that metallurgical company is based. Didn't his wife threaten divorce?

  "She was pretty annoyed for a few days, but no more than that. She has great plans for our marriage, and I imagine that fidelity isn't necessarily part of them. She pretended to be a bit jealous, just to show that what happened was important, but she's a terrible actress. A few hours after I'd confessed, her mind was already on other things."

  It would seem that Jacob lives in a completely different world from mine, where wives don't feel jealous and husbands encourage their wives to have affairs. Am I missing out?

  "Time heals everything, don't you think?"

  That depends. Time can often make things worse. That's what's happening with me, but I came here to interview, not to be interviewed, so I don't say anything. He goes on:

  "The Nigerians don't know this. I've set a trap for them with the Ministry of Finance and arranged to record everything, exactly as they did with me."

  At that point, I see my article go out the window, and along with it my big chance of rising up the ladder in a dying industry. There's nothing new to be told--no adultery, no blackmail, no corruption. Everything is following the Swiss pattern of quality and excellence.

  "Have you finished asking questions? Can we move on to another subject?"

  Yes, I've asked all my questions, but I don't really have another subject.

  "I think you should have asked why I wanted to see you again. And why I wanted to know if you were happy. Do you think I'm interested in you sexually? We're not teenagers anymore. I confess that I was surprised by what you did in my office, and I loved coming in your mouth, but that isn't enough of a reason for why we are here, especially considering we can't do that kind of thing in a public place. So don't you want to know why I wanted to meet you again?"

  The jack-in-the-box of that question about whether or not I'm happy springs out at me again. Doesn't he realize that you don't ask that kind of thing?

  Only if you want to tell me, I reply, in order to provoke him and destroy, once and for all, that arrogant air of his that makes me feel so insecure. Then I add: It's because you want to go to bed with me. You won't be the first I've told "no."

  He shakes his head. I pretend to be unfazed and point at the waves on the normally calm surface of the lake below. We sit looking at them as if they were the most interesting thing in the world until he manages to find the right words:

  "As you no doubt realized, I asked if you were happy because I recognized myself in you. Similarities attract. You may not fee
l the same about me, but that doesn't matter. You may be mentally exhausted, convinced that your nonexistent problems--problems you know are nonexistent--are draining you of all your energy."

  I had that exact thought during lunch; tortured souls recognize each other and are drawn together in order to frighten the living.

  "I feel the same," he says. "Except that my problems are more real. Since I depend on the approval of so many people, I am filled with self-loathing when I haven't resolved this or that problem. And that makes me feel useless. I've thought of seeking medical help, but my wife doesn't want me to. She says that if anyone found out, it could ruin my career. I agree."

  So he talks about these things with his wife. Perhaps tonight I'll do the same with my husband. Instead of going to a nightclub, I could sit down with him and tell him everything. How would he react?

  "Of course, I've made a lot of mistakes," he continues. "At the moment I'm trying to force myself to look at the world differently, but it's not working. When I see someone like you--and I've met a lot of people in the same situation--I try to find out how they're dealing with the problem. I need help, you see, and that's the only way I can get it."

  So that's it. No sex, no great romantic affair to bring a little sunshine into the gray Geneva afternoon. He just wants a support group, the kind of thing alcoholics and drug addicts have.

  I get up.

  I look him straight in the eye and say that I'm actually very happy, and that he should go to a psychiatrist. His wife can't control everything in his life. Besides, medical confidentiality would guarantee that no one would find out. I have a friend who was cured by taking pills. Does he want to spend the rest of his life haunted by the specter of depression just to be reelected? Is that what he wants for his future?

  He looks around to see if anyone is listening. I've already done that, and I know we're alone apart from a group of drug dealers on the other side of the park, behind the restaurant. But they won't bother us.

  I can't stop. The more I talk, the more I realize that I'm hearing myself and it's helping. I say that negativity feeds on itself. He needs to look for something that will give him a little joy, like sailing, or going to the movies, or reading.

  "No, that's not it. You don't understand." He seems startled by my response.

  I do understand. Every day we're bombarded with information and images--with adolescents in heavy makeup pretending to be grown women as they advertise miraculous creams promising eternal beauty; with the story of an aging couple who climbed Mount Everest to celebrate their wedding anniversary; with new massage gizmos, and pharmacy windows that are chockablock with slimming products; with movies that give an entirely false impression of reality, and books promising fantastic results; with specialists who give advice about how to succeed in life or find inner peace. And all these things make us feel old, make us feel that we're leading dull, unadventurous lives as our skin grows ever more flaccid, and the pounds pile on irrevocably. And yet we feel obliged to repress our emotions and our desires, because they don't fit with what we call "maturity."

  Choose what information you listen to. Place a filter over your eyes and ears and allow in only things that won't bring you down, because we have our day-to-day life to do that. Do you think I don't get judged and criticized at work? Well, I do--a lot! But I've decided to hear only the things that encourage me to improve, the things that help me correct my mistakes. Otherwise, I will just pretend I can't hear the other stuff or block it out.

  I came here in search of a complicated story involving adultery, blackmail, and corruption. But you've dealt with it all in the best possible way. Can't you see that?

  Without thinking, I sit down again and grasp his head so that he can't escape. I give him a long kiss. He hesitates for a fraction of a second, then responds. Immediately, all my feelings of impotence, fragility, failure, and insecurity are replaced by one of immense euphoria. From one moment to the next, I have suddenly become wise, I have regained control of the situation and dared to do something that before I could only imagine. I have ventured into unknown territory and dangerous waters, destroying pyramids and building sanctuaries.

  I am once again the mistress of my thoughts and my actions. What seemed impossible this morning has become reality this afternoon. I can feel again, and I can love something I don't possess. The wind has ceased to bother me and has become instead a blessing, like the caress of a god on my cheek. I have my soul back.

  Hundreds of years seem to pass during the short time the kiss lasts. We separate slowly, and, as he gently strokes my hair, we look deep into each other's eyes.

  And we find exactly what was there before.


  Now with the addition of a stupid, irresponsible gesture that, at least in my case, will only make matters worse.

  We spend another half an hour together, talking about the city and its inhabitants as if nothing had happened. We seemed very close when we arrived at the park, and we became one when we kissed. Now, however, we are two complete strangers, trying to keep the conversation going just long enough so that we can each go our separate ways without too much embarrassment.

  No one saw us--we're not in a restaurant. Our marriages are safe.

  I consider apologizing, but know it's not necessary. After all, it was only a kiss.

  I CAN'T honestly say that I feel victorious, but at least I've recovered some self-control. At home, everything carries on as usual; before I was in a terrible state, and now I'm feeling better. No one asks me how I am.

  I'm going to follow Jacob Konig's example and talk to my husband about my strange state of mind. I'll confide in him, and I'm sure he'll be able to help me.

  On the other hand, I feel so good today; why spoil it by confessing to things I don't even understand myself? I continue to struggle. I don't believe that what I'm going through can be put down to a lack of chemical elements in my body, as I've read online about "compulsive sadness."

  I'm not sad today. It's just one of those phases we all go through. I remember when my high-school class organized its farewell party; we laughed for two hours and then, at the end, we all sobbed because we knew we were parting forever. The sadness lasted for a few days or weeks, I can't quite remember. But the mere fact that I don't remember says something very important: it's over. Turning thirty was hard, and perhaps I just wasn't ready for it.

  My husband goes upstairs to put the children to bed. I pour myself a glass of wine and go out into the garden.

  It's still windy. It's a wind we know well here; it can blow for three, six, or even nine days. In France--a more romantic country than Switzerland--it's known as the mistral and it always brings bright, cold weather. It's high time these clouds went away. Tomorrow it will be sunny.

  I keep thinking about the conversation in the park, that kiss. I feel no regrets at all. I did something I'd never done before, and that in itself has begun to break down the walls imprisoning me.

  It doesn't really matter what Jacob Konig thinks. I can't spend my life trying to please other people.

  I finish my glass of wine and refill it, and for the first time in many months, I feel something other than apathy or a sense of futility.

  My husband comes downstairs dressed for a party and asks how long it will take me to get ready. I'd forgotten that we'd agreed to go dancing tonight.

  I race upstairs, and when I come back down, I see that our Filipino babysitter has arrived and has already spread her books across the living-room table. The children are in bed asleep and shouldn't be any trouble, and so she uses her time to study. She seems to have an aversion to television.

  We're ready to leave. I've put on my best dress, even at the risk of dressing to the nines for a laid-back party. What does it matter? I need to celebrate.

  I WAKE to the sound of the wind rattling the windows. I blame my husband for not shutting them properly. I feel the need to get up and perform my nightly ritual of going into the children's bedrooms to check that
everything's all right. And yet something stops me. Is it because I had too much to drink? I start to think about the waves I saw earlier at the lake, about the clouds that have now dissipated and the person who was with me. I remember very little about the nightclub; we both thought the music was horrible and the atmosphere extremely dull. It wasn't long before we were back at our respective computers.

  What about all those things I said to Jacob this afternoon? Shouldn't I take a little time to think about them myself?

  This room is suffocating me. My perfect husband is asleep beside me; he doesn't seem to have heard the wind rattling the windows. I imagine Jacob lying beside his wife and telling her everything he feels (although I'm sure he won't say anything about me). He's relieved to have someone who can help him when he feels most alone. I don't really believe what he said about her--if it were true, they would have separated. After all, they don't have any children to worry about!

  I wonder if the mistral has woken him up, too, and what he and his wife will talk about now. Where do they live? It wouldn't be hard to find out. I can find out when I get in to work tomorrow. I wonder: Did they make love tonight? Did he take her passionately, did she moan with pleasure?

  The way I behave with him is always a surprise. Oral sex, sensible advice, that kiss in the park. I seem like another person. Who is this woman I become whenever I'm with Jacob?

  My provocative adolescent self. The one who was once as steady as a rock and as strong as the wind ruffling the calm waters of Lake Leman. It's odd how whenever we meet up with old school friends, we always think they haven't changed at all, even if the weakest has grown strong, the prettiest has ended up with a monster for a husband, and those who seemed closest have grown apart and not seen one another for years.

  With Jacob, though, at least in the early stages of this reunion, I can still go back in time and be the young girl who isn't afraid of consequences. She's only sixteen, and the return of Saturn, which will bring maturity, is still a long way off.

  I try to sleep, but I can't. I spend an hour thinking about him obsessively. I remember my next-door neighbor washing his car and how I judged his life to be "pointless," occupied by useless things. It's not useless: he probably enjoys himself, taking the opportunity to get some exercise and see life's simple things as blessings, not curses.