Like the generations who had gone before her, Neela was a woman of secrets.
On the outside, she did it all – ran the house, loved her family, took the dog for walks, worked part-time in an office. The calm she projected was a rock that anchored multiple lives.
But unspoken longing haunted her. Asshe drove to work she imagined her fingertips brushing the sandpaper skin of a hammerhead shark. As she dished up meal #8,267, she felt the bite of burning sands as she staggered across the ancient deserts of Tunisia. As she walked the dog, a dark-eyed man whispered in dulcet accents, admiring her great accomplishments and heart-stopping courage.
On Valentine’s Day she had a candy treat ready for everyone. Her husband, Jeff, remembered enough to bring home a slightly scraggily bouquet – but it was the thought that counted.
And the years drifted by. The children left, the dog died, the husband retired.
At last the secrets claimed her. Neela stood in her perpetually tidy living room and realized she had become a stranger floating through time. The years of silent yearning rose up like bile in her throat. She was getting old. Her knees ached and her skin was as dry as if she had spent a year or two in that desert after all.
“I’m not dead yet,” she told her husband. Bewildered, Jeff looked up from his crossword puzzle and blinked a few times.
“Glad of that,” he finally answered. They had been married a long time, and so he put down the paper and waited.
“I’m not dead,” she repeated. “And I want to live.”
“Okay,” he answered. “We’re still breathing, so what kind of living do you have in mind?”
Neela laughed shakily, and then without any preparation, the decades of dreams poured out of her. She talked about the sharks and the desert sands and the romance of…she replaced the dark-eyed stranger with the Tuscan landscape.
Jeff stared at her in silence, apparently not recognizing the passionate stranger before him.
“I’m not crazy,” Neela cried. “But I can’t do this any more! I need a real life – something bigger than this!”
Her husband slowly got up and left the room.
“Aren’t you going to answer?” she screamed after him. She wouldn’t cry…she wouldn’t. “Say something!”
“Do you like Piña Coladas?” he yelled back.
Neela plumped back into the chair, fighting tears. Beating down the sobs. He had to listen – he had to take her seriously.
A moment later he came back and laid a tattered paper in front of her.
“My bucket list, sweetheart.” Jeff reached over and took her hand in his.
Swim with the dolphins
Follow in Laurence of Arabia’s footsteps
Climb Machu Picchu…
“You never said anything,” he told her. “I thought you were happy and I was afraid you wouldn’t go adventuring with me…and it wouldn’t be any fun without you.”
Silence lingered between them, then Neela cleared her throat and gave him a watery grin.
“Looks like we have places to go.”
Jeff chuckled, his voice soft and admiring. “Secret adventures, Neela, for two old lovers like us.”