Becka is soft. As soft as a cloud must be. As soft as cotton wool that you squeeze between your fingers.
Becka is white, at least when she is clean. Then, she looks like a little pile of moving snow. When she is dirty, she becomes smaller, her hair matted here and there.
Becka has black eyes. So very black, the only point of darkness in her whole body. But it is a special darkness, a darkness that is also light. Bright and attentive, always looking in the right direction, not missing a detail of what is going on around her.
Becka is loving. She always knows when somebody needs her company. She follows her owners everywhere, offering herself as a warming cushion.
Becka adores food, all kinds of food, but especially human food. When presented with a bowl of kibble, this soft toy turns into a ferocious lion.
Becka hates baths. Why make oneself wet, when being dry is much more fun and a lot safer? In the bathtub, she wriggles and splashes. She goes around like a little windmill in a blustery day.
Becka is fond of walks. In the street, her nose to the ground, she behaves like a furry detective, following scents that lead nowhere.
Becka enjoys sleeping most of all. She curls up small and warm on the rocking chair and dreams that she’s climbing up a tree or chasing a bunny.
Becka can do all this and more, because she’s a huge smile trapped in a dog’s body.
I hate exercise. I know this is a politically incorrect thing to say, but it’s the truth. Let me explain…
Now that everybody is talking about their New Year’s Resolutions, you can hear the word gym on every corner.
And while it makes me feel guilty, it’s not enough to send me sprinting to the above mentioned building to buy my membership.
I’m not a total couch potato, though. I’m a very active person and walk to work every day. I don’t mind doing it if I’m going somewhere, but walking or running just for the sake of it seems pointless and boring.
My eldest son is a long-distance runner and the fitness guru in the family. This Christmas he tried to coach me and succeeded for a few days. Don’t be under any illusions though, my efforts won’t get me an entry in the Guiness Book of Records, but still…
When he went on holiday, the youngest made me (yes, there was force involved) play basketball with him and came to the conclusion I’d better stay at home writing nonsense on my computer. And don’t think he bothered to spare my feelings… maybe he was trying to motivate me (police academy style).
You mustn’t think I feel proud of my attitude, but I’m sure it stems from some childhood trauma or other.
Back when I was in high school, P.E. wasn’t considered an important subject. For many of my classmates it was a time to have fun, for me it was a nightmare.
Even though I had a lovely figure back then, I was fearful and clumsy. While some of the other girls, jumped, climbed and turned cartwheels, I tried to make myself invisible.
My gym teacher didn’t like me and I guess the feeling was mutual. I’ve never forgotten her though, her name was Angustias Bocanegra. Let me try to translate that for you: Sorrows Blackmouth. No, don’t laugh. I’m not kidding.
Maybe I’ve finally found myself a scapegoat. Next time I feel ashamed of my lifestyle choices, I’ll blame her… It’s easier than taking responsibility for my actions.
Friday’s life was boring. Friday, if you must know, was a turtle.
When she was little, she lived in a huge tank in a pet shop with lots of other tiny turtles.
One day, a red-haired lady with two children in tow came into the shop.
‘Come on. Choose one,’ the lady said.
Friday saw a little finger point at her and then a net lifted her out of the water. She shook her legs in fear. What was happening?
A moment later, a huge hand put her into a plastic bag. She floated the best she could and tried to maintain her dignity. Yes, believe me, baby turtles are very dignified.
Friday started a new life that day. They put her in a room they called the kitchen, inside a small aquarium that had a plastic island in the middle.
The children fussed over her and took her out all the time. She enjoyed her walks along the floor and the constant attention. She also enjoyed the abundance of prawns they fed her.
Time passed and Friday grew. The children grew too. The aquarium became small, but nobody bothered to buy a new one. The children still fed her, but they didn’t fight over her. And they never took her out.
Friday started missing the shop and the other turtles. Then one day, a smelly animal walked into the house.
‘Why did you buy a bunny without asking for permission?’ the lady shouted at the girl.
‘Because if I had asked, you would have said no.’
Friday had never seen a bunny before and was fascinated. For a few days, she watched the creature non-stop. The girl even introduced her to the bunny. Maybe she would start loving her again.
More time passed and Friday grew even more. Then a wonderful day came. She got a new home! A huge one with lots of water to swim in. She felt free again. Neglected, but free.
And then the girl bought a dog! Friday didn’t know if that was good or bad. After all, their paths hardly ever crossed. She was inside the aquarium and the dog roamed the house freely.
From time to time, they talked, the way animals talk to each other, but the exchanges were short.
‘How are you, Friday?’ Becka would ask.
‘Bored as usual. You?’
One day, Becka asked Friday, ‘Why are you bored?’
‘I spend my entire life in this aquarium. And it’s got too small for me again. I’d love to see the sea or at least a lake.’
Becka thought for a while and said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’
That afternoon the girl filled the bathtub with water and then went to her room to wait for it to cool.
Becka had an idea. She climbed onto a chair next to Friday’s aquarium and told her to jump on her back. Friday did as she was told. Remember this is a turtle in a story and animals in stories can do almost anything.
Becka ran to the bathroom and told Friday to jump inside.
‘It’s not the sea, but it’s the next best thing.’
‘Thank you, my friend. I’ll never think badly of you again,’ Friday said smiling. Yes, story turtles can smile as well.
I should tell you the girl came into the bathroom later and screamed at both Friday and Becka for misbehaving, but let’s leave it at the happy ending. Why spoil our friends’ enjoyment?
It’s eleven-thirty and the classroom is silent. My students are writing an essay and I’m enjoying the unusual peace and quiet.
I walk around and offer some help here and there. I open a window and look outside. Just one more hour till lunch time.
‘Miss, what do you call an animal that goes woof, woof?’
‘Dog, Arvik. You should know that by now.’
‘Arvik is a nitwit. Arvik is a nitwit,’ one of the other students says throwing a paper ball at him. Another one jumps on his table and shouts unintelligible words. Chaos and mayhem reign in my class once again.
‘Sit down and be quiet!’ I say, trying to keep calm, but nobody listens.
After a while, I give up. I’ll have to go and get the headmistress. Who would have known teaching English to aliens would be this challenging!
On Friday morning, Cora decided to walk to work instead of taking the underground. She thought the exercise would do her good.
She hadn’t seen John all week and she was feeling antsy. Even though they hardly ever spoke at work, knowing that he was there was enough for her. She wondered if he was travelling, but the truth was she didn’t even know if he travelled for work.
Once at the office, she took off the blue coat Michael had made for her birthday and hung it on a hook behind her desk.
She saw three other typists whispering in a corner and wondered what they were talking about.
‘Good morning, Joe. Do you know what that’s about?’
‘The girls? They must be talking about John.’
Cora’s heart started beating faster.
‘What about John?’
‘They say he’s been fired.’
‘I don’t know. It might not even be true. I’ll tell you more, if I hear anything.'
When Joe left, Cora tried to work, but she couldn’t concentrate. The other girls had sat down, but they were still whispering. Now she wished she had been friendlier to them in the past, so that they would include her in their conversation, but she had always thought they were lazy and shallow and avoided them as much as possible.
Cora didn’t see Joe again that day and she didn’t find out what had really happened. By the time her shift was over, her nerves were frayed.
She got herself home as in a trance. On her way to the underground, she bumped into a homeless man because she was lost in thought. And her thoughts were driving her crazy.
‘Look where you are going, young lady.’
‘Sorry. I didn’t… I didn’t see you there.’
Outside her home, she noticed a lonely figure. It was a middle-aged woman. Her hair reached her waist and she was wearing a long skirt. For a moment, Cora forgot her troubles, wondering who the woman was. She looked so totally out of place, it was as if she had escaped from another era, or at least another place.
As she approached the stranger, apprehension took hold of her again.
‘Are you Cora?’ the woman asked.
‘Yes, who are you?’
‘That doesn’t matter.’
‘What do you want?’
‘John has sent me.’
‘John? Is he okay?’ A hint of hysteria crept into Cora’s voice.
‘Yes. He wants you to know why he wasn’t at the office this week. His girlfriend…’
‘What? I thought I was his girlfriend.’
‘Don’t interrupt me. I don’t have all day,’ the woman said, not bothering to hide her irritation.
‘Well, as I was saying, his girlfriend is dying and as they have a child, he’s marrying her tomorrow.’
‘John has a child?’ Cora felt as if she had been punched. She could hardly breathe.
‘I just told you.’
In years to come, Cora wouldn’t be able to remember if she had said goodbye to the woman or if the conversation had just ended like that. In fact, sometimes she even thought it had all been a dream. When she told her daughters about the mysterious stranger, they never believed her.
Whatever the truth was, she never saw John again. It took her months to get over him. At first, she cried herself to sleep every night, but little by little and thanks to her mum and her sister she started smiling again.
And then the day came when John, the man she had considered the love of her life, became just an anecdote.
The first time I saw Alistair, I thought I could get lost in those blue eyes of his. Then I remembered getting lost wouldn’t be such a good idea because my husband would come looking for me. Or so I hoped…
We travelled to and from work together every day and as the train ride was long, we had time to talk about all sorts of things. Soon, I started considering him my friend, but that didn’t stop me from getting all flustered when his hand accidentally brushed mine.
After a couple of months, our conversations got more intimate. He told me he had had several affairs, even one with a student.
‘I can’t help myself. I’m in love with my wife, but she loves her job more than me.’
In hindsight, I find all his excuses ridiculous, but back then, when I was under his spell, I totally empathized. His wife was some kind of executive hotshot and she travelled all the time while he was a hands-on dad. That was another thing I loved about him.
We started flirting openly and our co-workers noticed. Some didn’t say anything, others made jokes, but Julio, a Spanish guy I was also friends with, told me to be careful.
‘You’re too naive, Amy. He just wants to sleep with you. You have your husband and your kids, don’t play with fire.’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s a good guy. He gets me.’
Time went past and nothing much changed. At home, I was my usual self or so I thought. My husband, Ron, has always been one of those silent types, never sharing his feelings, so if he thought something was going on, he never said.
And then it was Christmas. You know what they say about Christmas parties. I had always thought the hooking up and the kissing only happened in films, but I found out otherwise.
I told Ron we were going dancing after the dinner and I would get back home late.
‘Okay then,’ he said kissing me on the cheek absent-mindedly. Sometimes I wished he showed some jealousy, some possessiveness, but he didn’t have it in him.
At the restaurant, I sat next to Alistair. He looked at me approvingly, those piercing eyes resting on my shoulders like a caress.
‘You look stunning,’ he said.
I blushed. His words meant the world to me. Even though I know I’m not ugly, I’m quite low on self-confidence. I knew he was buttering me up, I knew what he wanted, but I didn’t care.
Julio was right, I was too naive. A year earlier, if somebody had told me I was going to be unfaithful, I would have thought they were mad, but now I was ready to take the plunge.
The sad part is I believed I was in love and maybe I was… but I rather think it was just infatuation.
I drank too much during that dinner. I talked with my co-workers and we laughed. All in all, we had a great time. And then, I went to Alistair’s home with him… His wife was traveling and his kids were staying with his mother-in-law.
What happened next was different from what I had with my husband. It was exciting because it was forbidden. The guilt I felt, that shred of guilt, didn’t manage to dampen my excitement. But there were no fireworks… and as soon as it was over, Alistair suggested we should leave.
‘We have to wake up early tomorrow and I bet you’re missed at home.’
He was gentlemanly enough to drive me back to my husband. In the car, we were silent, as if something had been broken and could never be fixed.
‘You know this was just a bit of fun,’ he said.
‘Of course,’ I answered, grinning. It was a grin that hurt.
When I got into bed, Ron turned around to kiss me.
‘Did you have a good time?’
He seemed satisfied and, in a few seconds, he was snoring. Oh my God, how much I hated him just then! I wanted him to confront me, to shout at me. But he didn’t.
The next few days were the worst in my life. I had never hidden anything from Ron before. We were best mates. I needed to tell him.
People say if you have an affair, you must enjoy the fun and never tell your spouse or you’ll be hurting them. However, that’s not who I am. I had to tell. So I did.
And there were shouts. He said he would never be able to trust me again. I cried and I begged. I don’t know how much the children heard. For a few months, the atmosphere at home was nightmarish. And then one day we started smiling at each other again. Holding hands. It was like dating all over again.
Maybe you’re thinking I don’t deserve it, I think that myself most of the time, but I got a new chance, a new beginning.
They say marriages can’t survive an affair, but we have proved them wrong.