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First pages

 Chapter One

 

 

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Giulia, happy birthday to you...Happy birthday to you...happy birthday to you....

Holding the receiver far from my ear, I keep quiet as Great-aunts, Fema and Drina, continue to chant. The singing lowers to a hum, then ceases abruptly. There is a moment of silence, followed by a tentative:

“Who's there...?”

I'm about to say: 'this is the answering machine, please, leave your message, I’ll call you as soon as I can’, but I realize that the sentence is too long and that I won’t get beyond the first words without them noticing that something's wrong with my voice.

“Maybe it's her Italian boyfriend,” speculates Drina “He can't speak Vlah.”

“She doesn't have a boyfriend” says Fema, and explains why “She's has got that unfriendly manner, and that stern expression that puts men off.”

Fema's observation doesn't leave me indifferent.

I put the Great-aunts on speakerphone, place the handset on the console table, and turn towards the mirror.

With a loose bun, sitting askew on the top of my head, those sunken cheeks and pasty complexion I look slovenly and unhealthy rather than stern. I turn sideways to appraise the profile view. If not at my face, men would certainly look at my breasts, for the simple reason that they appear so out of proportion on my lean body. I twist to look at my behind. It’s firm, I must note, firmer than a year ago, when I was doing a sedentary job as a high-flying sales manageress in one of the internationally best known companies, manufacturing high quality printed fabrics.

On the other end of the line, the debate between the Great-aunts has got into the swing. Sorry, but it's not their problem if I won't get married because of my 'temperament ' and my being 'too choosy, unapproachable and aloof'.

Shaking with rage, I bend over the phone and shout into it.

“I lost the case!”

“So it’s finally over!” Ester pipes up from somewhere in the background.

“Don’t you get it!” I snap at her “I lost.”

In response, Drina gives a little whoop and informs me that she and Fema are going back to the kitchen to fry doughnuts for Ester, and that she is passing the phone and an apple to Ester.

“That’s not a reason to feel wretched,” Ester takes over, with a tone of detachment “I told you not to pursue it. Making passes to a pretty co-worker doesn't really constitute sexual harassment in Italy.”

“I hate that fat, ugly, perverted swine!” I hiss wrathfully to my reflection in the mirror.

“Thank God that you're done with him,” mumbles Ester between mouthfuls “Now, you can relax, and what better place to do that than at home, with your family.”

I sigh with resignation.

There is no point in continuing this conversation with Ester, or trying to eke a bit of empathy from her. My sister is a pragmatic and a realistic person and, as usual, not listening when eating.

“Ester, quick!” Fema calls out.

“Coming!” Ester shouts back.

The Great-aunts’ favourite Turkish soap is beginning and they need Ester to read the subtitles.

“Speak to you later!” says Ester, reminding me to stay indoors.

As I hang up the phone, I regret having answered it at all. Momentarily, I feel like breaking something, like this stolid mirror before me, but I can't afford to waste time clearing away the mess.

I go directly to my bedroom, to change into more appropriate clothes for tonight's task: black leggings, black hooded sweatshirt, black running shoes, black baseball cap.

It's now or never! I’ve already dawdled three entire days, lurking idle behind bushes, processing frustration and releasing bad energy by littering the swine's eclectic garden.

On Monday, the swine was not in, so I ate my power bar and tossed the wrapping on his perfect lawn. On Tuesday, I returned to his estate with a pen knife, resolved to slash the tyres on his beloved Bentley Continental, which he usually left parked in the patio. I hung about until 11.00 pm, when he appeared with his new PA. She climbed out of the convertible, giggling tipsily and flourishing a bottle of wine. Perched on a branch of a nearby tree, I listened to them talking piffle through the open car window. The swine told the blonde to stay put where she was and watch how he would get his car into her garage. The convertible spurted forward, and disappeared from my sight. The next moment, the garage door slammed shut, dashing all my hopes of definitely settling old scores. Coming back with a prurient grin, while making obscene gestures, the swine grabbed the blonde, and they headed out to the house, laughing like mad. I slipped down from the tree, missing a branch and falling flat on my back. I also missed the last bus home. My back aching, leaned against a lamppost, I resigned myself to looking around for aid, mercifully sent by Providence, possibly a cruising taxi, but there was no living soul in view, except a scantily dressed woman on towering white pumps, sending me frantic unintelligible signals, while withdrawing into a dim-lit bar.

‘Did I know her...? Did she know me?’ I wondered, when a patrolling police car halted in front of me, and the driver rolled down the window. I knew him. It was a guy from my neighbourhood, heading home after work, he said, so he offered to give me a lift. He would have never recognized me in that cat woman costume, he joked, attempting a casual smile. I told him that I had been to a bash, given by a friend of mine, a budding fashion designer. Oh, that explained everything, sighed the cop, as if greatly relieved. He was glad I wasn't that kind of a lady and, said that, by the way, was the man gay or bisexual? It was a woman, I said, asking him to drop me off at the first takeaway eatery; I was hungry.

“You know, they might put stuff in food and drinks,” I added, confronted with the interrogative eyebrow -raising in the rear-view mirror.

Satisfied with my explanation, the conscientious policeman nodded his approval.

“You did well! Those celebrities are all crazy.”

On Wednesday, the swine was with his PA again. With the two them moving around the house, I couldn't carry out my plan for that evening - trample down all the flower beds and mangle the shrubs - so I only nicked a potted geranium and kicked the watering-can. Overwhelmed by guilt, I hobbled back, cursing under my breath my being such a coward. As I was replacing the blooms, a pizza guy arrived.

Hidden behind a bush, I wrestled with my conscience, undecided whether to leave my footprint on the swine's supper or take it away, while the whistling youth pissed in the swimming-pool. Why didn’t that occur to me? I could pee in the pots with the flowers, I thought, but then I remembered that they belonged to the swine’s wife’s, and I really sympathized with the middle-aged, childless lady of leisure, who was being continually despatched by her husband on cruises and trips to other continents, so that the latter could entertain his young mistresses at home.

Today is Thursday, and nothing – the imminent rain least of all - will hinder me from finally accomplishing my goal, because I am well prepared for every eventuality. I check out the contents of my crossbody sports bag. My rain poncho is there, to protect me from getting soaked through and, in case I'll have to wait longer for the bastard to arrive from work, I've packed a little snack - a packet of crisps and an apple. I pat the sling in my hoodie pocket; the instrument to cure the swine from his filthy habits is there, too, and my hand is more than ready to give him what he had been begging for.

I almost experience a moment of gloating triumph, as I lift the small plastic bundle from the window sill and drop it into a grocery bag. I’ve got two dead mice inside, slaughtered by my neighbour’s cat, who unfailingly deposits his pray at the front door of my house, in sign of appreciation for the titbits I treat him to. This time, instead of chucking the little corpses into the garbage can in the street, I’ll slip them into the swine’s letter-box.

Smiling to myself, I take out a bottle of chilled sparkling wine from the fridge and set it on the coffee table in the lounge. Later on, I’m going to create my own happy hour, after having turned the sexual maniac into a eunuch.

I turn off the lights and glance at the mirror to establish that I am perfectly camouflaged.

I sling my bag over my shoulder, and throw the door open to find my way out obstructed by two roundish figures, glued to each other like conjoined twins.

“Surprise! Surprise!”

I flick on the light. Lorena and Ofelia goggle at me.

“What!” I bark at them.

“You look so...”

Stymied for words, they blink at me softly.

What do I look like? I turn towards the mirror. I stand back and take a long, this time, a more critical look at my reflection, registering more subtle, yet visible signs of my appearance. In the full, ruthlessly luminous beam, I look like a criminal in the making. So what!

What the heck do they care about my looks, if I couldn't care less about what they look like?

I swing round and look steadfastly at the dressed-up, made-up, perfectly coiffed and perfumed unbidden guests.

“I was going out for a run,” I fib.

“Why don’t we go out together for a drink instead?” suggests Lorena.

Ciao, bella, ciao!” twitters Marisa, popping up at Ofelia's side, to fill the gap I was contemplating for an escape.

Ever since I got the news of the failed lawsuit and unwittingly mentioned retribution, they’ve been dropping in like a flying squad at most unexpected times to sabotage my goal.

Their arms full with boxes, they watch me unyieldingly. I realize that I can’t squeeze past that solid block. I drop my bags to the floor and motion them to come in.

“I feel too tired to go out,” I say, pulling off my cap “I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

“Lack of sleep may raise the risk of health conditions, such as heart disease and obesity,” remarks Ofelia.

“I’m not obese,” I point out.

“No, you aren’t, but, on the other hand, being too thin can hike your risk of osteoporosis.”

Ofelia and Lorena step forward and position themselves on my either side. They link their arms with mine and lead me to the lounge.

It’s been a tough year, they know. And did I know that a recent study showed that people with the most buddies lived longer? And that positive relationships are crucial to a person’s well-being? No, I didn’t.

In that case, we’ll take a deep breath and talk this through.

Chapter Two

 

 

Marisa places the box with the cake on the coffee table, Lorena deposits the boxes with pizzas next to the cake, and Ofelia gives me my birthday present. I peer inside the glossy fancy paper bag. It's a silk lingerie combo. What do I need it for?

“To help you focus on the present,” says Lorena, in reply to my unuttered question, whereupon the three of them make themselves comfortable on the sofa, and I sink in the armchair. Arms folded across their chests, the three active members of a number of charity organisations stare and smile at me.

I could have done without a psychologist, a social worker and a nutritionist for at least one day.

I spring to my feet and go to the kitchen to make coffee. I'll need energy to endure this reunion.

They launch into a discussion about my case and the way they see the whole 'unfortunate affair'.

I am ‘she’, the ‘bitch’ is my lawyer, and the ‘lech’ is my ex employer.

“How could the bitch lose the case, with four women testifying against the lech?”

“They were all his ex employees!” I yell from the kitchen “And the judge was a man!”

They don’t register my reply. I can’t shout louder. I'm unable to speak. I’m furious, seething, while recalling the merciless expression of the judge, accusing me of a premeditated scheme, intended to ruin the image of one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the region, and get rich quickly by taking advantage of the law.

“The bitch did it on purpose,” declares Marisa “The lech surely rewarded her handsomelyfor this job.”

I take the coffee to the lounge and resume my seat. They take their cups and sit back to continue to ventilate my current position.

“What Giulia needs right now is a programme to promote her recovery and rebuild her self-esteem. .”

I need to mentally disconnected from my main source of frustration and banish those senseless, vengeful thoughts, before they cart-wheel out of control, resulting eventually in serious health problems.

Ofelia mentions a lapse in that part of the brain which controls self-restraint and how lack of judgement can impair our normal behaviour.

Impacted by this statement, I review in my mind my ridiculous conduct in the past days. Considering it with impartiality, I can’t say that I’ve handled my situation with wisdom and dignity. I let out a bitter laugh, but I’d rather kick myself for being such a hopeless, obstinate fool.

“As you think so you are,” Ofelia’s voice cuts into my thoughts “Don’t view yourself as a failure. Don’t allow notions of revenge to corrupt your mind, don’t torment your brain mulling over past grievances.”

I glance at her. She is pacing up and down, her eyes now and then consulting the paper in her hand.

“Cut your losses and change your perspective. Start by hitting the delete button, then follow up by setting new, creative and stimulating goals. Surround yourself with like-minded people, spend time with your family, and, if you need that little extra time to lick your wounds, go to a place that evokes positive memories.”

Ofelia pauses in front of me and smiles. She's been talking to Ester, I think.

“A very informative exposition,” notes Lorena.

Ofelia turns to her.

“You think so?”
“Absolutely!”

Ofelia takes up her strolling around the room, addressing briefly disordered eating and the correlation between lowered appetite for more pleasing activities, such as sex, and greater food cravings.

She halts and points her finger at Marisa.

“Give up smoking! Kill the enemy before it kills you!”

Marisa stubs out her cigarette. We, the non-smokers, nod our approval to Marisa, then nod back to Ofelia to proceed. She gives us an apologetic shrug; she has finished, would just like to add that stress causes frustration, and frustration leads to depression and stuffing oneself with junk food, which leads to weight gain.”

“False!” I rebut “I’m in top form.”

“I didn't mean you. I was just rehearsing for my weekly meeting with single mothers and divorcees.”

“What about the unmarried smokers?” solicits Marisa “What do you recommend, as an alternative to smoking, to keep stress and hunger at bay?”

Ofelia glances over to me.

“Sex!”

I have no commensurate comment to that except that I'm against one-night stands.

Lorena gives me a pat on the back. I can do whatever else chills me out instead.

“Just call in sick and dedicate a whole day to yourself.”
“I’m not working!” I remind her.

“Then exercise regularly, ideally every day.”

“I do!”

They ignore my answers. I reach for the remote control and turn on the television. I have no physical strength left either in my voice or in my body to argue with them, so I sit meekly, listen absently to them prattle on, and watch them flutter about the room, take away the empty pizza boxes, pour wine, cut the cake, make more coffees, do stretching exercises, and skip from one subject to the next. I have a feeling that they’re going to stay until I go to sleep, to make sure that I don’t get out.

As I continue to press the buttons on the remote, a host of visions flash through my mind in quick succession, revealing to me a most horrifying future scenario: over the next months, during the day, I'm attending courses to learn how to promote resilience and resolve inner conflicts, or I'm sending out CVs, which are being regularly rejected, on the basis of verbal references from my former employer. In the evening, I am jogging or biking down to the swine’s house, committed to punishing him for having groped me, or I'm sitting in my lounge alone, stuffing myself with comfort food. At the end of the year, I am fat, broke, depressed and still unemployed.

I burst into tears, interrupting an animated debate about the righteousness of suing a man for being blinded by passion.

The Babel of voices stops.

I continue to stare at the television screen.

“She saw something that flustered her,” whispers Marisa, following the direction of my gaze “A naked man.”

Ofelia passes me a paper tissue, Marisa gives me a hug, and Lorena a glass of wine.

“We know, dear, loss of that kind of memory is simply demoralizing.”

They agree that I don’t realize the full extent of this particular problem, and go on to discuss men.

Ofelia wants to know what’s more advantageous to a woman's physical and mental health: having a lover or being married.

Marisa likes challenges, so she subscribes to the saying that 'variety is the spice of life' but, on the other hand, wouldn't turn down a proposal from some rich, gorgeous guy in his prime.

Lorena maintains that the best policy is getting married.

The sooner the better, better sooner than later, better later than never and, by all means, before our eyelids, our breasts and our buttocks start to sag. Furthermore, we’d better start facing the poignant facts that beauty fades, that a woman in her early thirties – our age – has already started to wither, that a man, as a rule, is not attracted to a woman for her being erudite, but because of her aesthetic credentials.

As I drink and reflect on my most recent experience with men, another indisputable fact in relation to my case begins to seep into my consciousness: apart from accumulating an overdose of stress, I haven’t achieved anything by hating the swine. Bother the revenge! I don’t really know if I still want to carry it out. I’m beginning to feel ambivalent about the whole matter.

I look up from my empty glass.

I’ve had enough of stressful hen evenings; I need a break and not a breakdown.

“I’ll go on that trip!” I say loudly, causing an eruption of cheers.

Ofelia rushes to the phone to call Ester, to let her know that I’ve come to my senses.

Ester calls back after half an hour. She has booked a plane ticket for me on the eight o’clock flight from Malpensa airport in Milan.

Ester and Ofelia reassess my present psychosomatic state and conclude that I need something really mind-blowing to get back on track. Yes, they will make sure that I boarded the plane and will stay to watch it take off.

Ofelia puts down the receiver, and turns to me with a question:

“By the way, what’s Ester been doing in that Vlah backwater?”

“The usual: clearing her mind,” I shrug, and immediately an afterthought crosses my mind.

Ester has been in the village for nearly seven months now, and all this time she has been asking, almost appealing to me to come. What if she has some problem? A health problem?

Suddenly, I feel the urgency to depart.

While I wash my hair, pluck my eyebrows, get dressed and make breakfast, my friends tidy up my flat and do the packing for me, selecting with care suitable garments - like flimsy blouses and tight dresses - for my stay in the countryside.

Smiling archly, Ofelia points at my birthday present, tucked in a corner of a suitcase.

“You’ll need it, so that you feel ready and up to the task when you encounter a temptation.”

At five o’clock in the morning, we stuff three suitcases and as many garbage bags into the boot of Lorena’s car. As we drive past the swine’s grand mansion, Ofelia pulls up. We confer briefly whether to scatter the rubbish over the lawn or spill it into the pool. Eventually, we reach a consensus: Marisa, who is the most agile and the fastest, will sneak into the yard and empty the bags on the porch.

We get out of the car and move stealthily towards the gate. The convertible is in the driveway. We’ll soil it properly, we decide. As we cluster at the wall, helping Marisa to climb it, a binman hops down from a passing refuse truck, snatches our rubbish and skips back to join his pal, both of them waving to us with big grins. My friends run after the lorry, gesturing to it to halt, and I stay behind to make a couple of farting noises, spit out a few swear words, and shout: ‘Go f..k yourself, you miserable f....r!’

As if by magic, the gate swings open. I can’t believe my luck. I feel thrilled and empowered. I bend down, grab a stone at hand, straighten up and take careful aim. I’m at the point of hurling the object at the Bentley Continental, but my exhilaration is rudely interrupted by a wailing siren. The next moment, an ominous shape appears from round the corner.

How I hate these last-minute snags, materializing out of nowhere to trip me up while I'm bracing myself for the final leap to breast the tape!

Gnashing my teeth, I drop the stone and sprint back to the car. I’d better disappear from the country before I get arrested for trespassing and vandalism. I'll never be able to prove that I was acting like a hooligan because I was emotionally and morally severely damaged.

“Police!” I gasp out, jumping into the back seat.

The girls let out shrieks of terror. There is no time for questions. Lorena puts the engine in motion and shoots forward. Clutching to our seats, our heads bumping against the car roof, we watch wide-eyed as Lorena turns corners, swings the car randomly into side streets, and finally emerges onto the motorway. We turn to look back. No police car is following us. I sigh with relief, and the girls thank God, Jesus, Virgin Mary, and all the saints whose names they can recall, whereupon Lorena looks at me. She wants to know one thing.

“Revenge! Where did you get that stupid idea from?”

What am I supposed to say? I don’t know. From some movie, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vlah: a dialect of Rumanian and a member of an ethnic minority, inhabiting a number of villages in Eastern Serbia

Chapter Three

 

 

I take out a photograph album from my handbag and open the first page.

There are childhood vacation snaps of Ester and me in summer hats, seated on Dad’s knees, our arms coiled around his neck. Dad used to say that he was a blessed man because he had a wonderful family, and that he was so happy to see traits of Mom and himself persist in his offspring, meaning that Ester was the one who inherited Mom's artistic genes and I was clever at figures like Dad.

I turn to the pages filled with photos of Mom.

Apart from her being the tenderest and the most affectionate mother, for me, Mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. Time and again, Dad liked to tell us the story of how he met Mom, always marvelling at how one's whole life can change in a matter of minutes. He joked and laughed as he recounted how, after seeing Mom in Piazza del Duomo in Milan, he was so mesmerized that instead of proceeding to join his friends for a drink in a bar, he followed Mom and boarded the bus with a gaggle of German retirees on a sightseeing tour through the city. Several months afterwards, my Italian Mom and my Vlah Dad got married. Mom left her job as a tour guide to continue a nomadic life together with Dad who, owing to his being in the estate business, kept moving from one country to the other, buying and selling properties for rich people. That's how it happened that Ester was born in London, where Mom accompanied Dad on one of his trips, and, twelve years later, I was born in Switzerland, where Dad was concluding a deal in Zurich.

Ester and I know where we were born, but we can’t really tell with precision where we were raised. Before our family returned to Italy because of Ester, who chose to study Architecture there, Ester had lived four years in Spain, three years in France, five years in Germany and six years in England. As for me, I remember only England and Italy, apart from the vacations in a Vlah village in Eastern Serbia, Dad’s birthplace and his favoured destination for summer holidays.

“Coffee or tea?” a voice jolts me out of my reverie.

I stare blankly at the air hostess, who repeats pleasantly if I would like something to drink.

“I'm all right, thanks!”

The young woman smiles and moves off, pushing her service trolley down the aisle, her gait causing a few male heads to incline sideways as she passes them by. Stifling the desire to stand up and give the gawkers each a slap on the head, I return to my browsing through the pictures.

My eyes alight on a snapshot of Ester and Ronny on their wedding day, with Ester snuggled up against Ronny’s shoulder and Ronny’s arms wrapped around Ester's waist.

It was the shortest courtship I’ve ever heard of or eye-witnessed. As soon as Ester and Ronny were introduced to each other at some party in Milan, they hit it off. Ronny chased Ester for two entire days, until she consented to go out with him. But then, she changed her mind and invited Ronny to our place to dinner. That evening the two of them found out that they had many things in common, in terms of travels, studies and events concerning their respective families. The day after, Ronny returned to our place at lunch-time, with a bagful of presents for me and a bouquet of red roses and chocolates for Ester. To thank us for the 'bang-up meal', he said, then he presented Ester with an engagement ring with a scintillating diamond and proposed to her. They got married a few days afterwards and lived happily until, half a year ago, Ester decided that she badly needed a respite from Ronny and her work, to do things that suited her and not Ronny, to pursue her hobbies, and spend some quality time with herself.

I leaf through the pictures, immortalizing the good old times when we were a family - Mom, Dad, Ester and I. Now, it’s just Ester, forty-three, and me, thirty-one. Until a year ago there was also our eighty-six-year-old paternal grandmother, but she passed away, leaving Ester and me her house in her Vlah village to look after.

My eyes dwell on a vintage photo of Mom, Dad and Grandma’, having coffee on Grandma’s veranda. I pass lightly my fingers over their smiling faces.

To remind us of our roots and origin, traditions and customs, Dad sent Ester and me twice a year to his native village. Dad was an only son and very much attached to his mother, who had been widowed young, when Dad was a little boy. What Dad had strived to accomplish in life had been all for his mother, to make her feel proud of him. That summer, when Dad departed this world, he promised Grandma’ that soon we would all come to live with her.

I turn the last leaf, containing a group photograph. It shows Ester, Cousin Rambo and me in the foreground, with Mom, Dad and Cousin Rambo’s parents standing behind us, all smiling at the camera.

On that day, we were celebrating Ester’s and Cousin Rambo’s graduation. After lunch, Mom, Dad, Uncle Voja and Aunt Lela went to town to meet with some friends, they said, but we knew that they were going to buy special presents for Ester and Rambo, and for me, of course. We waited until late, then Ester and Rambo sent me to bed and they went to play cards in the garden, where Grandmother and Great-aunt Fema were shelling peas. Listening to their laughter and the jokes Rambo was telling, I fell asleep, feeling happy and content, to be abruptly awoken in the middle of the night by anguished cries and commotion outside. I don’t remember clearly what happened that night or in the following days, apart from the shots I was given, the people coming to Grandmother's house to offer us their condolences and, ultimately, that keen, harrowing feeling at the graveyard, as I was separated forever from my beloved and loving parents.

Ester and I stayed with Grandmother for a whole year. Ester thought that being together and comforting each other would help us overcome our loss. It was the saddest period of our lives, with Grandmother looking disconsolate all the time, struggling not to let her grief show, for Ester’s and my sake, but try as she might, she couldn’t conceal her tears. To alleviate my trauma, Ester decided to take me on a trip. Leaving Grandma’ and Great-aunt Fema in the care of their youngest sister, Drina, Ester, Rambo and I took a whirlwind tour through Europe. After months of chaotic living, consisting of visits to our cousins and relatives in Germany, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, we got tired of knocking around foreign countries and returned to Germany to spend some time with Uncle Mita and Aunt Zina, who were like parents to us. There came the rude awakening to the reality that our real parents wouldn’t come back. They had ended their days in this world, and we would have to get on with our lives without them and settle down in one place. Rambo chose Munich, where he found a job as an ingeneer. Ester decided that she wanted to start her own business, as an interior designer, but she couldn’t make up her mind where.

“We’ll go on holiday first and reflect,” she said.

“What about Milan?” she asked me, while we were at the airport buying plane tickets for Mallorca “After all, it’s Mom’s home and all our friends are there. Would you like to go back to Italy?”

I nodded eagerly, although I didn’t really care where we were going, as long as I was with Ester.

I slip the album back into my bag, shut my eyes and let my thoughts travel backwards in time.

It’s a fine day and a warm breeze is streaming through the house, expanding the fragrances of late summer. Ester and I have returned for Grandmother, but Grandmother says that she can’t come with us to Italy. She can't leave Mom's and Dad's graves unattended, she whispers to Ester, who quickly hushes her, placing a hand over my ear.

But I am not listening to them, anyway. My head in Grandmother’s lap, I am thinking of that last day spent together with Mom and Dad. They are seated at a picnic table in a sundrenched meadow. I am running towards Mom with a bunch of flowers, she puts down her drink and opens her arms to receive me in a bear hug, but then Ester's breaks my vision by asking Grandmother in a loud voice what she is going to cook.

“Red bell peppers stuffed with rice and ground walnuts,” says Grandma’.

I sit up and rub my eyes. Ester inspects my face with a concerned look. No, I haven’t been weeping, I fell asleep for a moment, I say. Ester says that she is going to the orchard to pick some plums to make us a tart. Will I give her a hand?

No, I’ll help Grandmother in the kitchen.

“Your Mom and Dad love that cake,” says Grandma’, as Ester walks away “I'll take them each a piece tomorrow, when I go to pay them a visit.”

Chapter Four

 

 

Ester is meeting me at the airport. She appears heavier and fuller around the waistline.

Notwithstanding, she looks as irresistible as ever. Her bouncy, luxurious brown mane, her flawless complexion, impressive face features, and shapely legs are simply impossible to overlook. As we push through the crowd, men slow down to take her in and some, actually, stop and turn to gaze in admiration after her.

Once outside the airport building, Ester beckons a hunk with a pepper-and-salt hair, wearing a white shirt and blue jeans who, on seeing us, abandons two well-proportioned blondes in tank dresses and rushes over.

“Everything okay?” asks Rambo, giving me a hug.

“I’m fine,” I say.

As Ester and I settle in the SUV, Rambo loads my luggage, then he climbs behind the wheel and turns to smile at me.

“You look great!”

Rambo and Ester keep silent and stare at me as I repeat that I’m fine. I make an effort and quote some of their favourites.

“Live in the present. Don’t dwell on the past. Life goes on.”

Rambo reaches back and pats my hand.

“That’s the spirit!”

Ester pats my other hand.

“Giulia is a resilient girl.”

As Rambo starts the engine and manoeuvres the car out of the parking lot, he and Ester go on to talk between themselves. They do understand how I feel, I’ve been through a rough patch, but it’s over, all I need now is a relaxing holiday and scrumptious goodies that restore body and mind. Speaking of food, why don’t we have some? I must be hungry.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

My passion for languages took me out of my country, while I was still a high-school student. I've lived, studied and worked in England, in Spain, in Austria, in Germany, and since 1994 I've been living in Italy, where I had a language school for ten years until, due to one life-changing personal experience in the Dominican Republic, I decided to write my first book, Los Corales. I am of Vlah-Serbian origin, a freelance foreign language teacher and interpreter.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
The absurdly comical characteristics of the Vlah mentality. The term 'Vlah' denotes a dialect of Romanian and a member of an ethnic minority, inhabiting a number of villages in Eastern Serbia
Q. Why do you write?
A.
When I need a break from teaching and interpreting, I write. Writing is my me-time. N.B. Editing is not my forte. English is not my mother tongue I love writing stories in a foreign language - so far in English, German, Italian and Spanish.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
It just happened. In 2006 I went to the Dominican Republic, to help a friend sell his hotel. From day one, I felt there was something strange about that place, which I couldn't grasp, then one strange encounter clarified it all. I wrote Los Corales, a story based on true events.

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