THE WEDDING PARTY GIRL
The Wedding Party Girl
I would see her four or five times a year, usually in summer, as I sat writing in the bar on the corner of my street in Centochiese. Once, I saw her in the hairdresser's, on a Saturday like all the other times, and once in the run-up to Christmas – always with the same group of friends and even in winter, when it gets cold and windy in Sicily, seated outside the bar where those who wished to could smoke. She had the kind of easy elegance that every woman secretly covets and I noticed her first not for the beauty she undoubtedly had, but for this. When she moved she glided, her long dark hair seemed effortlessly in place and her clothes, simpler in style than those of her friends, seemed smarter because of the way she wore them; few, but perfect, accessories, make-up applied by a painstaking beautician to look as if it wasn't there and, most importantly, she wore them with confidence.
Beauticians do rather well in Centochiese – there are six within a five-minute walk from my house – and they do especially well on summer Saturdays, for when there is a wedding, not only the bride, but every female guest will have what we would call in English “the works” and will be made up as if for a television appearance. An Italian beautician can make anyone look stunning, including, on occasion, I like to think, me.
So it was that I knew they were a wedding party from their attire – the women in evening dress or at least what used to be called “cocktail dresses” in the early afternoon, and the men in their expensive suits teamed with trainers – yes, trainers – that had probably cost as much as the rest of the outfit. It made a stylish combination. The other clues were the group's general celebratory mood and the time of day: I would see them at around 2pm or between 6pm and 8. You see, in Sicily, people don't just have their wedding photos taken in and outside the church or at the reception, but the bride and groom leave their guests, sometimes for several hours, to go off to a specially chosen location – often the beach - with the photographer. What do the guests do in the meantime? Well, those who live near enough sometimes go home whilst others, such as this group, repair to a favourite bar to smoke, gossip, have an aperitvo and share a plate of struzzichini while they wait for the real celebration to begin, at perhaps 8.30 or 9.30 pm. This will go on until the early hours, comprise many courses, the viewing of the wedding video or perhaps a clip or montage of the couple's story, dancing and high jinks and possibly – something which frightens me to death – the lighting of paper lanterns which fly dangerously low over the guests' heads. Yes, these friends would have a good time later.
The wedding party girl, as I called her in my mind, never seemed to be with any of the young men in particular, though some of the others were obvious couples. She seemed of them, yet a little aloof, never smoking, never talking or laughing loudly but smiling, graceful and usually acknowledging me with a little nod. “Signora”, she'd say quietly if I passed her.
Several summers went by like this and after the first one, I'd notice a couple missing from the group so I'd guess it was their wedding day. Then the next summer they'd be back, the young woman perhaps with a definite bump, and another two of the group would be missing. Yet it never seemed to be the wedding party girl's turn to absent herself from the group.
Then one summer I didn't see her at all. On the first Saturday I thought that she might have been the (non-blushing) bride but when she didn't appear for the second or third time the group were there, I wondered if she had moved away, as so many young Sicilians do, for university or for work. I didn't know the group well enough to ask and if I had, my British reserve would have got the better of me. I didn't see her the summer after that either, and then I suppose I stopped thinking about it as after all, what business was it of mine?
That New Year's Eve, for the first time in eight or so years, it snowed in Centochiese, an event which was greeted with joy rather than dismay, for there were children who had never seen such a thing. And I had to admit it was pretty, although I shivered indoors more than I ever had in England, where houses are built to shelter you from the cold rather than the summer heat. On New Year's Day I awoke to that silence that seems to fall everywhere along with snow when it first comes. “The silence of a convent”, I thought as I ventured out, as apartment-dwelling dog owners must, that morning.
|Picture by kind permission of Oreb - Libri & Sacro, Modica|
We walked slowly, my dog and I – she because, like the children, she had never seen snow
before and I for fear of falling. Thus it was that when we came to the Catholic book store, we paused for a moment to look at its beautifully decorated window, which won prizes every year in the Centochiese Christmas Window competition. Suddenly I became aware of a woman treading lightly in the snow towards me, dressed in an ankle-length grey skirt of thick material, a mid-length, heavy raincoat that could have been British and what in my far-away country we would call “sensible shoes” - probably much more suitable for the snow than mine - and yes, a wisp of wavy black hair escaping from under her wimple. I don't know why she was outside or why her hands were bare on this freezing day but they were, and as she stopped to admire the crib in the window she gave me a fleeting smile and that familiar nod. “Sorella”, said I, nodding back. There was just a hint of a wave as she left, enough for me to register the glint of her nun's ring in the Sicilian sun which was beginning to peep through the unusual grey of the sky. Then she melted away as the snow soon would and to this day, I have not seen her again. The wedding party girl had had her wedding day.
Cross-posted at Sicily Scene