A BENCH FOR VECCHIETTA - PART 3
On the eve of my 65th birthday, I hope you don't mind if I write to thank you for being a part of my life.
When you came into it, another relationship, particularly a physical one, was far from my mind so what happened was as much of a surprise to me as it was to you. There were many differences between us – age (which you said didn't matter), marital status, language, culture, expectations of life (I expected transport systems, bureaucratic institutions and government to work; you didn't) and of course the fact that you had children and I didn't. Yet we hit it off, Cicciu and sometimes we just laughed through those lessons. A man who can make a woman laugh is already half way to winning her heart, especially when that woman has had her share of troubles. For your part, you once told me that you liked the fact that I listened to you – it was always my pleasure, Cicciu.
Even though I had studied Italian, had taught the language and loved the culture, I sometimes found, and find, life here frustrating and often overwhelming. With you, Cicciu, those things mattered less and I could laugh at them.
Thinking of you now, Cicciu, it's the laughter I remember - that and, as we're in Sicily, the food! You'd call to say you were bringing breakfast, or lunch, or a pizza and to the lessons you would bring pastries or other sweet delights. What woman could fail to be wooed by tiramisù and coffee, Cicciu?
And so it was that, on a Sunday afternoon after tiramisù, we became lovers, Cicciu. You did not recoil in horror at the thickness of my thighs, my cellulite or my hardly pert breasts. You were gentle and you demonstrated plenty of that Sicilian virtue, pazienza. Soon, as we grew more confident in that way, we couldn't keep our hands off each other. Perhaps it frightened you, Cicciu. I was too busy being happy to let it frighten me.
The physical side was less important to me than your thoughtfulness. I desired you, it is true, but your time, talking to you and just being held meant so much more. Having said that, I will always be grateful that you switched on something that I'd considered long dead in me – my sexual signalling. It's been alive, if not exactly kicking, ever since - I know because other men have taken an interest in me since you left. I don't want them but even at my age, it's a good feeling.
My clothes when you were around were a riot of Mediterranean colour – there was nothing calm, British or beige about me then and now that I come to think of it, there isn't now. I owe this late blossoming to you, my rainbow man.
You'd do little things for me, too, like collect packs of water from the supermarket. In you'd stride, swinging a heavy pack in each arm, tanned skin glistening and your eyes, when you looked at me, as soft as your Sicilian soft cap. I'd stand there and think what a beautiful man you were.
When you told me it was over, you seemed to imagine that it was the physical relationship that I needed the most but, I repeat, it wasn't. My most precious moments with you were the ones I've already described and three others in particular: do you remember the first time you came to my house for a meal? When you rang the doorbell I jumped so much that I cut my finger badly with the kitchen knife. Poor Cicciu – you ended up peeling your own potatoes! You bandaged my hand so tenderly and were so concerned that you made me feel cherished. Later, examining my wonky dining table, you asked if you could fix it and you did. You could never see anything broken without doing something about it, Cicciu and in the ensuing months you repaired my leaky taps, my computers and even my toilet. When I tried to celebrate the toilet repair, though, by pouring Prosecco down it and playing your favourite song, you said I had insulted the Sicilian folk group by playing their music in the bathroom. That was one occasion when my British brand of mad humour was too much for you. I'm sorry, Cicciu.
Do you remember the night you took me to Monte degli Agrumi? You had to do a job up there and you asked me to go with you. On the hour-long journey you listened to me in a way that Sicilian men often don't and that was the night I fell in love with you, Cicciu, because I realised I could trust you. When you finished your work, you took me to the strangest restaurant I've ever visited anywhere. It looked as though it hadn't been painted since the sixties – and it probably hadn't – and was erratically decorated with the owner's paintings. There were two trestle tables seating large family groups – always a good sign in Italy – and the aroma coming from the kitchen was tantalising. That night I had the best meal I'd eaten in Sicily and the company – yours – was wonderful too.
I'd always known, dear Cicciu, that a relationship like ours would have to end, at least physically and I told you at the outset that I'd be civilised about it. I hoped we could still be friends and so, I think, did you but you used some cruel words – which I didn't believe then and I don't believe now – to end it. Maybe you felt you had to. I want to tell you now that I understand and I hope you have had someone to listen to you during the time we've been apart. I used to hurry away when I saw you in Centochiese but I have longed to contact you, Mr Rainbow. It's just that my British pride has stood in the way until today, when I find I have this excuse to do so. Please understand.
When you left, it was much harder for me than I'd anticipated. There were days when I could not write, teach, cook or even make a cup of tea – so melancholy was I. But as time went on, I realised, as I have often realised before in Sicily, that as I could not change the situation I would have to change my reaction to it. So I learnt to look at your leaving as a gift too, and began to concentrate on what it had given me: there is something calming, you know, in not being on the alert all the time for a hoped-for message or phone call and I apologised to my dog, from whom I had been rather absent in spirit during our time together; I began to enjoy taking my makeup off in the early evening, without the fear that the doorbell would ring and I'd have to slap it on again before you could bound up the stairs; I found satisfaction in my work again, although it was not easy at first; I could pat the part of my body that Italians refer to as “down” and tell it, “It's all right – you can go back to sleep now.” And I had my memories of you, Cicciu.
But would I do it all again? Would I open the door if you came back tomorrow? Would I shed the security blanket I've had wrapped around my heart since we last held each other? You bet I would!
For all of the above and for so much more, I thank you, Cicciu the carpenter, who brought a rainbow into my life.
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time."
- John Donne
PS: I'm leaving you my books.
"I'm coming back to you, Vecchietta!"
To be continued