Milan 15 November 1995
It’s nearly 5 o’clock in the evening, the sky is dark and the dampness of the rising fog is settling in small drops on Barbara’s face mixing with the tears falling from her eyes. Luckily Francesco, her five year old child, doesn’t realise she is crying. He is holding her hand tightly while trying to keep up with her fast pace through the road leading to the Maggiore Hospital in Milan. Her breath is getting increasingly laboured when her child’s voice stops her dead on her tracks. “Mum is uncle Daniel very sick?” “Yes, darling. Very sick”. “Will he still come to the beach in the summer? I do remember that he always played with me. He always carried me on his shoulders. I do want him to come. Maybe if I pray Jesus really hard he’ll make him better”. When he turns around and see some people coming towards them he exclaims: “Mum look! Here comes uncle Angelo, aunt Magda and Lucia and there is also grandmother Angela”. “Yes darling there’s nearly everybody here”
Barbara and Francesco have arrived at the Oncology ward. In the corridors, all the members of the Salomone family are waiting to go and see Daniel. Well, those closest to him.
Grandmother Angela goes toward Barbara: “Hello Barbara, we are waiting for the doctors” and while saying that she hugs her and they both start crying. Francesco is concerned: “Please grandma don’t cry. Tonight, I’ll speak to Jesus and I am sure he’ll listen to me”. Angela smiles through her tears and wipes them away. She moves over to her grandchild and bending down to kiss him she whispers: “I’d love to pick you up in my arms but grandma is old”. “Grandma who are those men dressed in white?” while two men in white coats holding a medical note folder get closer. One of the two asks them: “Are you Mr Salomone’s relatives?” “Yes, I’m the mother and these ladies are his sisters and this is his brother” pointing at the people standing near her. “I am really sorry, unfortunately your son’s condition has worsened. He has pneumonia so we cannot administer chemotherapy. His leukaemia is progressing rapidly: he has a growing number of metastatic deposits throughout his body. We had to do a blood transfusion earlier on to support him. He needs a miracle”. Uncle Angelo asks: “How long do you think he’s got left?” “A month at the most. Please when you see him try not to cry but to be supportive and encouraging”. Francesco pipes in: “Doctor can I go and see my uncle?” “Well, you shouldn’t even be here” says the consultant “but I’ll pretend I haven’t seen you. I am sure your uncle can’t wait to see you”. “Thank you doctor for all you’ve done”, says Barbara. “I’ve only done my duty and after all these months treating a patient we grow attached to them and wish we could do something to cure them or at least to alleviate their suffering. It’s hard for us too to see people losing their lives and I feel close to you all at this time”.
Francesco rushes through the ward to get to uncle Daniel’s room. He sees him lying there on the bed with a stretched arm where a large plaster holds in place the needle of the drip. He has the other arm free and, raising his hand, Daniel invites his nephew closer. A minute later, Barbara, grandmother Angela, her son Angelo and the daughters Magda and Lucia all enter the room. “Crikey, you’re all here!” says Daniel. “Had we come with husbands, wives, fiancés and all the children, we would have been kicked out of the hospital. How are you today?” says Barbara. “Not too bad today and, apart from learning that I probably have more or less a month to live and having a blood transfusion, I’d say there could be a lot worse. Don’t you agree?” Everybody is trying to talk at the same time to the point that it is impossible to work out what each one is saying until Francesco shouts out: “Can you please keep quiet! Uncle can I come onto your bed?” “Francesco can’t you seen uncle Daniel is not well” says Barbara concerned. But Daniel is happy for the boy to come and sit on his bed: “Come on Barbara lift him to the bed and put him next to me.” Barbara gently lifts Francesco to the bed and he immediately jumps into his uncle’s arm. Everybody gets worried: “Francesco be careful!” Daniel kisses the boy and with the free arms draws him closer and says: “Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with me. When I get better get ready to play football with me.” Seeing the boy behaviour in that evening heavy with sadness seems to lighten the atmosphere and everybody now wants to talk about everything: the weather, where to spend the Christmas holidays and who with. They talk about the past, of when they were young and they go back to discuss why Angela had called her daughter Barbara instead of giving her the name of some family member. “Your father and I had used up your grandparents’ names and had run out of ideas. Anyway, I always loved the named Barbara, so I decided she should be called so. I.t always sound like you are envious!”
It’s now nearly 8 pm and a nurse enters the room and stopping their conversation says: “Are you aware the visiting time was over half an hour ago and anyway there are too many of you in the room. Only one person is allowed to stay. What is that kid doing here?” Grandma Angela tells the nurse the doctor allowed it, but the nurse says: “Fine, but now you need to go”. Angela turns to her children: “Who is going to stay with Daniel tonight?” “Please Barbara, will you stay a little longer?” asks Daniel eagerly. “What about Francesco?” asks Barbara. Magda intervenes: “Come on Francesco. You can come home with me and stay the night. Your cousin Sergio would be happy to see and play with you. Barbara you can pick him up anytime”. Francesco strangely agrees without protesting as he usually does. “I’ll see you tomorrow mum” says he and after kissing his uncle’s cheek he continues: “Please be good uncle and take all your medication so that you’ll get better. Love you lots.” “Love you lots too, be good and say hi to your cousin Sergio”. Francesco gets down from the bed and makes room for the others to go and kiss Daniel before leaving.
Once everybody has gone, Barbara takes off a gold chain and pendant from around her neck and as she is fastening it around her brother’s neck she hugs him and says: “I want him to have this. You are with me all the time, you’re in my heart”. “Don’t worry Barbara, I’ll always be with you. How’s things?” “Oh Daniel, it’s so hard! I’ve separated from my husband only three weeks ago and it’s hard to cope with the sense of void I’ve been left with having to leave Francesco and Marta with their father, but he has threatened me so much and I was afraid he might hurt the kids, so I’ve had to allow them to stay with him. I am lucky he lets me sees them often enough. I have signed everything over to him so he won’t torment me for money and anything else is now under the care of my niece. I will make it on my own.”
Daniel, instead of telling her she’s mad for what she’s done, like everybody else has, says: “If that’s what your heart tells you to do, then you have to listen to it. You are strong and you will succeed in anything you set your mind to. But are you sure you want to get the licence to drive lorries?” “Absolutely. In December I have to sit the driving test for the dangerous good licence and in the spring of next year I will do the one for the articulated vehicles.” “I still can’t believe you want to drive a truck? Do you want to do international transports?” “It’s what pays the most and it’s the quickest way to make some money. I don’t want to depend on anybody and I want to travel through Europe and meet other women like me, do something big to help women in difficulties and families with handicapped children. This pain must be turned into something good.”
Although Daniel is dying, it is Barbara who needs the most support at present.
“How’s Marta doing? She is turning eleven next year. Is the carer still with her full time?” “Yes of course, otherwise her father could not cope. I miss her so much and I hate not being able to kissing her goodnight every night, but as you say I am strong and I have to make it.” Daniel uses his free arm to hug her. He kisses her on the cheek and tells her: “I will cuddle you tonight. I love you and I know you will achieve all the things you are planning to do. I will always be near you. Who am I?” “
You’re my golden brother. I wish the time stood still and be able to stay close to you forever.” “Sis I will be with you always”, says Daniel while tears stream from his and Barbara’s eyes.
The lights in the ward are dimmed and they can hear the nurses talking in the corridor mixed with the moans of a patient that cannot settle for the night.
“Would you like an armchair, madam?” asks a nurse entering the room. She brings in a small armchair and puts it next to Daniel’s bed. “It’s not much, but better than spending all night on one of those hard chairs. Hope you have a good night and please call me you if need anything.”
Daniel tries to find a more comfortable position in his bed and Barbara is ready to help him with pillows and covers. As she bends over him, he kisses her on the cheek and holds her hand even after she has sat down on the armchair. They stare into each other eyes and while Daniel lays back on the bed exhausted, a tear runs down her face and although the tiredness takes over and her eyes close, she never let go of his brother’s hand.
The bedside lamp casts a dim light on their faces - how many more nights will they have left to spend together?
Little did Barbara know that this was the beginning of something special in her life. One day, she would be looking back at those times and realize she got her inspiration and the will to succeed from those dramatic events.
Munich, 2 May 2006
The traffic is getting more and more congested. The E52/99 orbital route around Munich is partly blocked due to road works and all the traffic can only use two lanes instead of the original four and the speed is reduced to a crawl.
There is a blue station wagon in the queue and a man unwrapping a chocolate bar soon realizes he’s been observed by a woman driving a lorry SCANIA R580. He turns around and looks at the back of the vehicle thinking it is just the engine but he sees it’s an articulated vehicle. The cabin is bright red with the image of boys on the driver’s side and a tank bearing the firm name: Van Der Waals Logistiktransport. He looks at the woman again and she meets his eyes. All of a sudden, he turns on the indicator and swerves to the right trying to overtake the lorry and directs towards a parking area. The woman on the lorry follows suit.
It’s half past three in the afternoon, the sky is heavy with clouds and a fine rain is coming down steadily. The area is surrounded by trees, there is nobody about. The engines are switched off and the door of the station wagon, with a German car plate, opens and the driver gets out. He is a tall man wearing a pristine white shirt with long sleeves. He is absolutely fascinating. He moves towards the driver’s side of the large vehicle; the window is winded down and the man speaks to the woman in English. “I’m Italian, I don’t speak either English or German” she answers. He walks around to the other side and tries to open the door. When she sees what’s he’s doing and realising he wants to get into the vehicle, she shouts: “No, don’t. I’ll get down”. Although the man does not understand Italian he still works out what the woman is saying. She gets out of the lorry and both go towards his car, get in on the front seats. Inside she can see a number of cleaned and ironed shirt hanging in a clear bag. They’re both a bit embarrassed and he, in order to break the ice, turns on the navigator and this shows the motorway they’re on and the exact place where they’re Thomas 20 km further away. He explains all this in English to her, but she goes: “I can see there is traffic, but I cannot speak English. What’s your name? Your name? Mine is Barbara” and while she is saying this she stretches out her right hand to shake is. He shakes her hand and still holding it he says: “Frank”. Barbara lets his hand go and gets out of the car following his clumsy attempt to kiss her. He follows her out of the car and kisses her on the cheek. “See you” she says and he smiles and returns “Ciao Barbara”. She walks away from Frank and the noise of her steps act as the soundtrack of her thoughts. “I know I might live to regret this moment. I know he wanted a fuck and he would have had it if it wasn’t for the way I am!” She opens the lorry door and gets up into it and through the windscreen she sees Frank standing by his car. Maybe he’s hoping in a change of mind on her part, but it starts raining and he decides to get back in his car but before he does that he brings two finger to his lips and blows a kiss towards Barbara. He gets into the car and drives off.
Barbara turns the key; the dashboard lights up. As she starts the engine the phone rings and from the display she sees the caller is “Francesco 3”. “Hi there, you’ve just saved me from a temptation” she says. Francesco 3: “What type of temptation?” Barbara: “I’ve just turned down sex with a German guy really good looking. He looked like a cinema actor”. Francesco 3: “Why did you turn him down?” “I’ve told you time and time again that if I can have dialogue with a man and don’t have a mental attraction, I don’t feel attracted physically, therefore no sex.” “Really?” pipes up Francesco3. “Unfortunately I don’t speak any foreign language. I’ve been driving through Europe for the past ten years and spend 3 to 5 days a week abroad, but all depots are the same, the rules are similar and a little with gesticulating and pictures I get understood. This has never given me the incentive of learning English. You know I’m lazy”. Francesco3: “I don’t believe you! What’s this tale you’re telling me?” “Why should I tell you a lie? I have no interest. You’re not my man I don’t have to lie to you!” “True. By the way, when are you coming to Florence?” “I’ll be coming on 19th May and will stay until the 21st. On Friday evening I’ll be at Palazzo Vecchio for an archaeological conference as it is the 25th anniversary of a magazine on the subject. They have invited all the readers to take part and there is free entry. Later on I’ll meet up with the all they boys in Florence. They are getting their degree in archaeology. I think we’ll be going for a beer in some pub”. Francesco3: “Busy at the weekend?” “yes, I am meeting up with some friends from Rome. One of them, called Rebecca. It’s her birthday, so we’ll be celebrating. She ‘adopted’ me as her mother. Four years ago her mother died. She invited me to go to the beach two years ago and while there she told me I was a lot like her mother, not physically, but I have the same sort of energy. She said: “You’re so sunny, I am going to call you “Mom Sun”; so since then she is my “other daughter”. Lately I’ve been hearing the same sort of things about me from friends and from my nephews and nieces. They all say I have a contagious good humour and that I manage to make them all feel happy. They call me Zia Sole.”
All is silent at the other end of the line, not because it has failed but when Barbara starts talking it is impossible to stop her. She realises she has overtaken the conversation, so she asks: “Francesco are you still there?” “I was listening to you. It is a pleasure listening to what you’ve got to say.” “Sorry, but when I start I cannot stop.” “I’ve told you. I like listening to you. Well, let’s say you’ll call me when you arrive in Florence. I hope you’ll find the time to have a coffee with me and finally manage to meet face to face.”
“Sure. Gotta go now. I kiss you.” “Kiss me where?” “On the cheeks for now”. Francesco3: “Kiss you back.”
Barbara was still excited after the encounter with the German man and she needed to share this with her girlfriends in Italy. She turns off the engine and still holding the mobile phone, she thinks about Francesco and when she will eventually meet him. She has been using the chat function of her phone for the past few months. That’s how she got to know Francesco. They exchanged pictures and made some video calls. They like each other, but Barbara is not happy with just one friend, so she has contacts with other three guys from Florence and she has planned to meet all of them on that weekend in May.
Her love for Florence comes from her passion for Botticelli’s paintings. She feels that sooner or later she will meet the man of her life right there. She can see the soul of this future man of hers reflected in the Primavera and the Venus paintings. “Chatting” is just a pastime for her. It keeps her entertained in the long waits at the firms where she loads and uploads her lorry. She feels like a teenager and many men are more than willing to contact her when they see on her profile that she is a lorry driver. She is absorbed now but these new friendships, especially since her great love story with Francesco, a French man with an Italian mother, ended in 2002.
It's strange. She keeps meeting men with the name Francesco and she has met many called that in her life. Her 16-year-old son is called Francesco and the strange think is that both her son and lover were born on the same day and month and hour, although in different years. In order not to create confusion on her phone, she has registered them as “Francesco1”, her son and “Francesco2” her ex boyfriend. Both were the same astrological sign, Libra, and she agreed with her friends that both shared the same shortcomings. It was hard job to share her life with someone born under that sign and she had promised herself that should she meet another Libra man, there wouldn’t be a second date. The end of her story with Francesco2 has left her empty and since then she has not been able to have sex with anybody.
The noise of an incoming text on her phone bring Barbara back from her reminiscing.
She was still holding her phone and when she hits the menu button the name “Rebecca” appears. The message goes: “Hi Mom Sun, how are you? Please, please, when you have time, will you read my tarot cards?” Barbara smiles and she punches in the reply: “Call me stupid. I’ve just met a guy, let me explain.” ” Motorway from Munich, heavy traffic all in line. A handsome man noticed me looking at him. He cut through my lane and ends up in a parking area. I follow him. When he gets out his car, it felt like I was in a film scene: him tall, smart with touches of grey in his hair. He wanted to get on the lorry, but I stopped him. I greeted him, but could not go further. Did not feel like having a one night stand”. She is about to send this off to Rebecca, but then she decides to send it also to a number of other of her friends: Laura, Lori and the niece called Dede. Their ages vary between 31 and 37. Few seconds later the phone rings incessantly announcing a number of texts coming through. Rebecca: “Mom Sun you’re stupid!” Laura: “I would have slept with him, you’re thick”. Dede: “Oh yes Zia Sole, you are a jerk!”
Barbara cannot believe men can like her especially after spending most of her life fighting with the scales. The only thing in her favour is her face reminiscing a picture by Botticelli. She takes good care of her long, blond hair. Has large eyes that can be green or light hazel depending on the light. When the sun shines on her face the light reflected on her hair matches that in her eyes. Her full lips are hart shaped and when she wears lipstick there is no man or woman that won’t stare at her.
The ring of the business phone on the dashboard brings her back to reality. She puts her own phone down and looks at the time. It’s 5 pm and she thinks: “God, it’s so late”. She answers the phone and put the speaker phone on so that she has her hands free and can start the engine. “Hello” says Barbara. On the other end a woman with a strong German accent. It’s Giulia Mahler the international traffic secretary. “Hi Barbara. Where are you now?” “I’m on the circular motorway near Munich. I’ve been stuck in traffic for the last hour.” “Do you think you can make it to Freiburg for tonight, around 1 am? I would like you to catch the Freiburg-Novara train. The Brenner pass is closed for road works.” “Oh God, it will take me at least 5 hours to get there. If I can’t make it in time, I’ll call the railway line and delay the booking.” “Ok Barbara, call me tomorrow and let me know how it’s going. Safe journey. Ciao”. “Speak tomorrow. Ciao Giulia”
Barbara started working with the “Van Der Waals Transportlogistiktank”, a Dutch transport company back in 1999. Among all the branches spread throughout Europe, they have one in Pomezia, which is where Barbara works. They are specialised in the logistic transport of chemicals both dangerous ones and non. In the end, the Van Der Waals family moved to Rome. The eldest of 3 brothers Henry, a 55 year old short and stout man married with a beautiful Italian woman from Rome for the past 15 years. Simon who is 45, is a tall, blonde, green eyed typical Dutch man and the best looking of the three brothers. He’s married as well with an Italian woman and then there is Adrian who is 38 and unmarried. Henry is the director of logistics and Simon is the CEO. Adrian is responsible for the vehicles and ground maintenance.
It’s nearly 8 pm, it’s now dark and the head lights of Barbara’s SCANIA light up the motorway lane she’s travelling on. It will take nearly 3 hours to get to Freiburg and while driving Barbara thinks of her son Francesco. She grabs her phone and finds him under Francesco1. The line is free and then he picks up. “Francesco how are you?” “Hi mum, I’m fine. Where are you?” “Unfortunately, they’ve changed my route so I’ll have to come back by train tomorrow night. What did you do today? Did you go to your father’s?” “I did, but got there late. I missed my bus so I had to catch a train and I got there at 10”. Barbara asks: “What did he say to you?” “He was angry, but what could I do?” “We’ll talk when I get back. Eat your fruit and vegetables”. “Ok, mum I will”. “I know that when I get home I’ll find a hell of a mess and loads to stuff to throw away. I’m sending you a kiss. Good night, love you”. “Love you too mum. Good night”.
It's hard to grow your son on the phone rather than in person and Barbara feels guilty for not being with him all the time, but the fact that he is a sensible young man and he has an elderly lady that takes care of him, cleaning and cooking his meals makes her feel a bit more at peace with herself. Also, Francesco lives in a small provincial town where everybody knows everybody and are happy to help one another, not like in a big city.
Barbara a careful driver. It’s raining and she finds driving at night relaxing, but she can’t wait to get to Freiburg. She loves listening to music while she drives. Her hours are made more bearable listening to a movie greatest hits disc with all the famous recent soundtracks, from Madonna to Eminem. She loves movies, international music both pop and classic and has a special passion for operas. Her tastes are the same as those of teenagers and young people. People never get bored when she’s around.
She separated from her husband in 1995 and she worked hard to restart her life and she has finally managed to be herself.
Freiburg, 6th May 2006 01:30 am
In the past ten years, the transport on road has had to deal with the increasing cost of the diesel fuel. The motorway taxes in Switzerland and Austria have increased in order to reduce the volume of heavy traffic on their roads and redirect all freight via train. All transport firms have had to pay the price of this and conform in order to survive. They also have to fight the competition and manage to survive with reduced earnings and higher costs all around. In the past few years the train lines devoted to freight transport, including those with driver, have been developed and boosted in all possible ways. Of course, those bearing the consequences of all this have been the drivers. They have to travel far afield to the four corners of Europe and beyond. They have to deliver their cargo and then rush off to catch a train when tired and dirty as they did not get a chance of a shower before boarding the train. More often than not, when the train is packed they have to share 1 cabin among 4 people and you can bet your bottom dollar the toilets and bathrooms are nearly always out of order. This turn their journey into a real odyssey. An 11 hour journey without air con in the summer and of course it’s incredibly hot and if you keep the windows open you get eaten alive by the mosquitoes. Of course, when it’s freezing cold the heating does not work. Although this life is hard, Barbara has never thought of changing career.
The rain is falling harder now. After loading her truck onto the train, Barbara puts on a rain jacket with a hood, closes the rucksack where she usually carries a sleeping bag, a pillow and a paper bed sheet in order for the cotton sheet not to touch the mattress of the bunk. She also carries books and a bottle of water. She locks the door of her lorry and dismounts her beast. It is pouring with rain but Barbara is not bothered by it. She puts the rucksack on the side of the wagon where her lorry is, wears a pair of gloves and grabs some metal wedges to block the wheels of the lorry. These are things that every driver has to do before leaving their vehicle. Once her gloves are off, she collects her rucksack and she rapidly walks toward the sleeping car. Each of her pass is accompanied by a constant thought: “Why do I carry with this job? Why don’t I get a man that can support me and I then leave this shitty job and have a normal life?” She knows the answer to this. She remembers far too well what her husband kept repeating to her for 11 years. He wasn’t violent or vulgar; he always provided for her and the kids. Perhaps for other women someone like him could be enough, but she never felt loved. No matter what she did, he criticized her constantly. She couldn’t get out of her minds his words: “If it wasn’t for me you and the children would be like tramps!” She has mixed feelings about her work: she hates it but she loves it at the same time. She loves it as it guarantees her independence and to pay for her kids. She loves her job as it allows her to live a life far from the monotony of the everyday life, something she had to put up with until she was 33. It granted her freedom from the narrow mindedness and hypocrisy of the small town life. She dreamed of moving to the UK and learn English. She wanted to understand how the social system worked in that country. She wanted to meet other women like herself and create something new and big, something that hadn’t been seen yet. But in the same breath she hates her job as it keeps her away from her children. She had chosen her job only due to the difficulty in finding any other job and the fact that it paid good money. She really loved her family and all she wanted was to spend time with her son and daughter, take care of the house and cook hearty meals for her family. When she can, she spends those few Sundays she has free baking biscuits. She always bakes 8 kg of them and she divide them in packets and then gives them away as presents. There is not a single firm where she loads or delivers her cargo that is not familiar with her biscuits. She always has a packet for everyone, whether it is the receptionist or another driver. She has taken to doing this since she split up with Francesco2. Before she would bake only for him and her children, but when that relationship failed, the void it left within her was too large to fill.
The sidewalk by the track is not lit and it’s not easy to walk along it. The rucksack on Barbara’s shoulder is soaking wet. Luckily it is made of military fabric so the water does not penetrate through. She has just arrived at the sleep car door, her hand already on the handle and ready to raise her foot to the step, when she lifts her face and she sees a man standing inside the car who reaches out to her and says: “Would you like some help?”. She grabs his hand and leaps up to the carriage. This nearly throws her in the arms of the stranger if it wasn’t for the rucksack that stands between them. “Thank you”, says Barbara. “What’s your name? I’ve never seen you before”. He smiles: “Nice to meet you then. I’m Thomas”. “Mine name is Barbara”. “Are you Italian? I’ve never seen a woman driver on this train before and in the whole 20 years I’ve been a driver, you must be the third woman I meet that does this job.” Barbara: “If it was meant to be a compliment, thank you. I am dead tired and I’m going to sleep, providing I can be on my own in the cabin. Tomorrow when I wake up I’ll be happy to chat with you”. “If you don’t mind, I’ll wake you up with a coffee”. “Lovely” says Barbara; “but please wake me up only when we’ll be in Italy, not before”. “Which is your cabin?” “It’s number 9. Good night.” “Good night Barbara.” While he’s saying this, Barbara walks along the corridor to reach her cabin. She gets in and with a sigh of relief she thinks: “At least there is no one else in here”. She puts the rucksack on a seat, she opens it and gets out the paper sheet and lays it on the mattress and then lays the cotton one, followed by the sleeping bag that she unzips. She puts the cushion in place and she takes off her wet jacket. She is about to start undressing herself, but seeing that the cabin door does not lock, she takes off only her cardigan. She then takes out a pair of dry cotton trousers and she takes off the ones she’s wearing that got wet in the rain. Luckily the place is nicely warm. She turns off the light, gets into her sleeping bag on the bed and plumps the pillow before resting her head on it. The train starts moving, slowly gathers speed. The noise of the engine is mixed up with the voices of other lorry drivers talking in the corridor, but she’s so tired and Barbara quickly falls into a deep sleep.