Chance encounters

- How will I know it's you?
- I'm short, dressed in black, short grey hair, eyeglasses.
- Madonna!
- I used to be a creative director...
- You?
There must be something that doesn't help me to appear in the best of lights, when I introduce myself.

They come from Sicily. You can guess it from the way they talk, from their faces. You can say it when they address me, calling me Capo. Boss. There are few regions where you can still find men as short as I. And they are elders. Black leather jacket, black trousers, low-heeled boots, they usually take me for a boy. I like dressing in this way, I'm rather amused by this kind of misunderstandings. It's always been the same, but I'm surprised every time.

Milano, Sunday afternoon, September. Three young women, beautiful, tall, sexy, wearing stretch colorful short dresses. They are a little too Rubenesque and wide-hipped to be models, but their height and step are the right ones: they know the power of their beauty. They cross piazza della Scala in an oblong of light (underlined and defined by the long shadow of buildings on the pavement). At the same crossing, at the same time, at the same traffic light, comes in the opposite direction a woman their age, her legs encased in two prostheses, launching forward her body at every step, leaning her weight on both shoulders and crutches.

A bony woman, not pretty but with red hair I cant't stop gazing at. We have coffee in the kitchen, then everyone goes. I'm following her. She goes downstairs as if she were dancing. When she walks she's nondescript, but on the steps she dances. I remember her after years, and we met for no more than a quarter of an hour. Se was, is, Swiss.

Last summer in Grosseto when I couldn't find a room, not at any price, I decided to go home. Better to sleep on the train than at the station or on a bench. I was tired and angry, people unpleasant, especially the young lady at the tourist information office.
- I'm looking for a room.
- Good luck!
- Please?
- There are no rooms, the hotel association is closed, we're not supposed to help people finding if there is something available. (It really sounds something like We're not helpful.)
- That I can see.
I choose a good restaurant, the forced end of my summer holidays gives me at least this last little feast, and besides I'll manage to spend some time there. Anyway dinner ends very soon, the train won't come in for four hours yet (and it will be quite late too). I see a foreign-looking guy, long horse-tailed greying hair, boots, they talk English to him. I decide to approach him. I get up, go near him, ask if he can please keep me company for a while. Those at the table nearby and the restaurant owner, a woman, look at me suspiciously, doubting of my morality. He has spent nights in airports, as happens to any traveller, so he understands, and comes to my table. We have coffee together. He's been travelling for most of his adult life, three years in Egypt three in Japan and so on, now three years in Italy, two nights in a village three days in another. We talk about this, journeys, places, differences, goodbyes; when they close the place I take my backpack. As we go we introduce ourselves.
- By the way, my name is Joe.
- I'm Carla, bye.

At the station I meet a young man from Novara. He adopts me for the time of the journey. I think they'd like to have a mother like me, or something like that. Young people are often talking with me, when they see me travelling alone, with my backpack, grey hair and large comfortable breeches. They call me Signora and they discuss with me every matter at hand. If they are just boys, they show off, as with a good teacher or a nice aunt, one of those with whom one can be friends.

Myself at thirty at the bus stop near the railway station, mid-August, backpack jeans sneakers as usual, reading a thriller. A man with very thick lenses, he's scarcely seeing, waves a white stick like the ones blind people use and comes near me.
- How much?
- I'm not a prostitute - I answer after a short hesitation, looking up from my book.
- Have you seen one, can you tell me where she is?
- There's one down there - pointing at a nearby street where one is standing, dressed as a professional, very short miniskirt, very lownecked blouse, very high stiletto heels, the whole.
- I've seen that one, she's not my kind of woman.

Me at twenty or little more, unconscious and trusting, going through fog and rain in a winter evening. I choose the short cut that goes between trees, the university buildings, deserted that late, and the morgue. A fellow follows me, he's about thirty. He comes nearer. He says, I need a woman ,do you understand? I like you, maybe you can help me. Lamppost light falling obliquely on our hands. He doesn't take long.
I've never taken that road again. The morgue is not there anymore.

Summer evening, very hot, there is still a little light lingering. I'm waiting at the tramway stop and reading the morning newspaper. A car comes, two youngsters saying Come!, peremptorily. I lower the newspaper and look at them, Thanks, I'm waiting for the tram. I catch a look, the driver has a gun. I don't know anything anymore, I can't see anymore, just a shout filling my ears (do I really shout?). Terrible thing, fear. The tramway comes, they are on the tracks, they give speed and go away. I run to the nearby bar, I'm so pale they give me a glass of water, it seems it's the universal remedy against shock. Afetr that a nice good meaning guy, not endowed with much insight, takes me to a taxi on his scooter, saying You know, sometimes even taxi drivers can be quite dangerous...

Another summer evening. I've moved a few days ago. A boy asks me money, I say I'm walking the dog, I have nothing. He tears my necklace off. I'm angry because the dog was jumping around him, welcoming. My neck hurts, iIm frightened. That night I take the last half tavor pill of my life. After fifteen years if I see that man I'm still upset.

I have been living alone for years. Sometimes I need to share things with people, sometimes I need to be on my own. Now I'm also working alone. Silence, concentration, I need those. Some mornings I wake up and start working, at night I've not yet seen nor talked to anybody. So I go out, just to see faces, to hear voices. There are nights when taking a bus and going downtown is enough. I go, looking around me. I come back home, not having spoken to anyone.

There are also friends, of course. At times even a boyfriend, a lover.

Carla Della Beffa 1998

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