Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.—Neruda
Maya sits, still except for the slow deliberate turning of pages on her desk. Most of the Knightsbridge consultants have already left for the day. She’d closed her door quietly after opening the large envelope. It was heavy with documents from a solicitor’s firm, delivered via courier earlier in the morning. She’s been there for hours already, reading each page of tedious legalese again. And again. Again, she tells herself. Read it again.
Dear Miss Bailey…on behalf of Mr. Hewes…
all properties deeded in perpetuity…
his deepest regrets…further correspondence…
Inquiries directed to our Geneva office…
Best regards…difficult situation…Sincerely….
Underneath the stack of attested instruments is a smaller envelope that holds a handwritten note in Berry’s sweetly archaic script. It’s obvious to her that he struggled with what to say. Piercing clichés about how he’s too old for her, how he’s not made to stay in one place with anyone, how he's deeded everything to her, how it’s all for the best. She half expected him to close with “Here’s looking at you, kid.” But he didn’t. He ended with a single word that sounded the end of Maya’s world. Farewell.
“You fucking idiot,” she says. She means it for the both of them, for his letting go and for her inability to see it coming. The long assignments, the distance in him each time he returned, his oddly formal gentleness with her. She’d chalked it up to his being tired and still adjusting to home. "You won’t break me, viejo," she’d laughed into the crook of his shoulder after he’d gingerly rolled off her and smoothed a lock of hair back from her face. Maya lets the pain wash over her until it chokes her, understanding now that he already knew what was coming. What she’d seen in those doleful gray eyes was his absolute regret that he would, indeed, break her.
The way he’d held onto her in sleep like a sorrowful little boy, the way his voice faltered when he reached down to pat Oso on the way out the door, the insistence with which he said he loved her several times over before he left. She’d thought it was because he didn’t want to go. She’d reassured him that he would be back soon. How could she have been so blind? Most of the time she can’t avoid the secrets of others even when she tries. Why did she not know? Every touch, every look, every single goddamn word—none of it had been a homecoming. It had all been a despedida.
Maya gathers the papers back into their envelope, carefully placing it in her bag. She forces herself up from the desk and moves toward the door. The familiar lonely ache from her old life drapes itself once again around her shoulders. La chica invisible. Her heart settles in her chest like a stone and she walks down the stairs, reminding herself to breathe. Breathe and move. One foot in front of the other. Move, Mayita. Breathe, Mayita. Move. Breathe.
She is so focused on making it out to the street that she doesn’t see Mihai Stroi at his desk until it’s too late to avoid him. He stands in her direct path. Maya tries to act as if everything is normal but it only serves to make her look smaller and wounded. She can’t bring herself to meet Stroi's eyes. She tries to get words out. “I am…” Her voice trails. He’s the last person she wants seeing her this way. Her mouth is dry as cotton and she immediately regrets speaking at all. She hates the way he looks at her. She doesn't want to know his secrets and she loathes the thought of him knowing any of hers. Maya shakes her head and tries to move past him before the awful ache in her throat finds its way out her eyes. “Don’t,” she whispers hoarsely, as much to herself as to him, “just don’t.”