1983, Cortona, Tuscany
Listen to me very carefully, because I am the only one who can hear her…so listen to me very carefully, because this ability has left me with the task to be the narrator of this tale about to happen…so listen to me while I listen to her.
When I reached her the first time where it was all happening she was sitting in the front like an inanimate stone sculpture and stiff like the bark of a tree as if there was never a time when life ran inside her. Her eyes were dry; there wasn’t a tear in them because the ache was in her heart, burgeoning from deep inside of her chest. It was the love of her life resting peacefully in the coffin staged only few feet away from her. She was just staring at it, numb, equally unresponsive as he was now. Was she waiting for him to get up any moment and tell her that it was just a nightmare? But when death walks away taking someone you love, they are gone forever.
Lorenzo died on 23rd February 1983 and it seemed that life asked of Meredith not to breathe anymore. She could not remember how many hours had passed since he was announced dead; time seemed to have stopped altogether. Life seemed to have stopped too and with that she had suddenly ceased to exist. She felt bared, homeless, extinguished, how can a mortal exist without its soul?
As I stood there, like an invisible entity that I am, I was waiting for her to surrender herself to her grief. I could not go further without her first letting it go; she was not allowing me to pass into the next moment. Her conviction was making me restless, and I am not designed to wait or stop for anyone. So in the end, I decided to glimpse inside her heart and witness myself what was happening in there. I did that thinking particularly nothing, but I never imagined it would force me to finally wait and witness her tale first hand that was about to happen, and when I heard the voice of her heart, which to my surprise was weeping a lot, this is what I heard…
I am bereft; life has strangled me once again. Where have you disappeared after making the promise to be together till eternity? Your voice, I can still hear it, it is still so close, just like my heartbeat, calling my name – Meredith.
I rush through the corridors of our house; from stairs to my favorite window, from our room to the unending silence that occupies it now, wanting to follow you through the whispers I assume to hear. But in the end, it hits me; all that is left of you is now silent and restful inside a coffin – you are never coming back.
Only a moment ago I had my whole life ahead of me waiting to be spent with you, but now remains just an endless wait to meet the end of it. I can feel you around me, searching me through your closed eyes. Are you still there?
And then I quickly pushed myself back. I was shaken; there was so much pain hosting it, and it had so much to confess. Had it somehow sensed I was listening to it? Was someone finally aware of my invisible omnipresence? And now it was asking me to hear it more, and I saw myself willing to wait, for the first time in my entire existence so far. No, it is not in your nature to hold for anymore, I told myself, No! And yet, the very next moment, I was drawn again into her. I was listening to her heart again, it was talking. I had taken a seat next to it, and submitted my commitment to this expedition. When it lasted I had given more than I ever expected out of me, for any human. Dedicatedly I decided to give in as the spectator; that was the deal for her to allow me to move further. I was asked to be the companion to her grief, walk hand in hand with her heart; otherwise my universal movement would have ceased to exist. So I heard more and the proceeding of the funeral took place. Then in the coming days and months, her heart wept more, and this is what it confessed further…
His coffin was staged near the altar, few steps away from me. Martha was reviewing the life of her son through the pages of her memory. I sat quietly and listened, picturing the day of Lorenzo’s birth through the voice of his mother, trying to gather prickles of joy by fooling my heart that Lorenzo is just a baby, that there were still twenty six years left of him.
Sister Lita tells me to move on. But I fail to understand this concept of forgetting and moving on. I don’t say this out of grief but because I cannot validate such a reality in my conscience.
Continue without Lorenzo? – I don’t understand it. He was a part of me in a man’s body.
How can a mortal exist without a soul?
I felt cold shivers when it said the same thing that I had deduced earlier. But her heart was in too much pain to account for my words and it continued calmly as before and slowly as an aged heart…
How can I exist without him? I ask this to anyone who has ever truly loved.
People think I am losing to my pain. They fear that I might end my life. But I assure them I wouldn’t. It would be an insult to Lorenzo’s grave. But yes, I also tell them that I’ll find my way back to love.
I tried to stop her and say that it can’t find its way back; it was against the nature of life. But I think the deal was only about me listening to her heart, and not the other way around, so it went on again, oblivious yet aware of her witness…
I know what life gifted me and now has reclaimed. For some ours was a mad love, though it never mattered what anyone perceived of us. Lorenzo & I were aware of our truth, two people bound to find each other in every life, and so did we again in this lifetime. Even though he is gone but his beautiful scent, I can still breathe it. It is all around me like …You are still with me.
He loved books. He said, words were his second love; of course first was me, and it always brought a wave of smile on my lips. But he won’t be there to tell me this ever again. It has become a fragment of numerous memories I created with him. Life is such a mystery; it unites people through a sacrament, only to later strangle its purity with pain and suffering…? What must I do lord? I only demand an answer from you now…
I never looked at death that way? Did it hurt them so much?
I look around and I find everything moving, but I wonder about my role in it. What more I have left to give? When the winds brush my lips, I feel as if you came along and touched me. Why our love has become so impossible? It was with us then and it is still there with me, it can never perish. Either you have to return or I have to leave, for you… one of the two is bound to happen…may be the latter should be more likely to be…but will the heavens take me?
Love? Why don’t I feel it like they do? Where I come from, everything is understood merely in one factor – continuity or movement. Is that the reason I am so different from them? Because I merely have one color to see everything with…
I listen to the wind carefully; who knows it might be carrying a message from you. It whispers in my ears. But then I realize it is only the hush of their course, and nothing else. Don’t you want to talk to me?
Mother says have faith, even though it seems the hardest thing to do…”have faith”
When I see a man with his woman, I don’t feel envy; it just reminds me of what I had with you. They say life inflicts a phase on everyone that changes them for the better…for the rest of their life. I am bound to change now… for the rest of my life. But will it be for the better? That is still unanswered.
I am holding on to you, I don’t want to change. Days are passing, but I am still…
The sound of the world holds no importance any more. The music of the wind, rain and clouds is what I long for.
I know you are equally incomplete without me as I am without you. Your state of unrest is not oblivious to me. I can picture you standing at the gates of god’s home, gazing at me through the distance of many realms.
I want to assure you of our love, deep through the flame of my heart…
Nothing helps me to see the next turn of my life. From where I stand, everything looks deserted. The illusions of the world can never fill the void of my life. I don’t live in my house anymore; I wander between its walls like a ghost. I close my eyes and hold on to a pillow; I try to think that it is him. The mind can be fooled for few moments but not forever.
Winters are passing, yet I feel cold, very cold, the only physical sense that tells me I am still alive. Sometimes I feel a pebble is stuck inside my heart, or has the flame of our love gone dark & cold? But then I recall the day when it was ignited. Was it only a year or so ago? It seems like forever...
And then she shared with me how they met…and after that I could not speak a word, I was too taken by all of it, I felt a knock of emotion, and then I only listened without any interruption.
I grew up in a convent and never saw the light of my biological parents. But above all, I never felt the need to know them either. I was raised among others like me. I held to the belief that I was nurtured by god himself, in his home. Often thinking about this, a faint smile would cross my lips, and then like always, I would find sister Lita looking at me with an equally soothing glance, as if she were reading my mind. I moved out of convent when I turned twenty, but I never lost touch with my roots, I visited it often. That particular day was one of many occasions when I needed sister Lita beside me.
12th October, 1981, it was my birthday. It began as a very calm day and I felt as if an unheard voice was whispering joyous songs in my ears. Sister Lita always said, God resides in Cortona disguised as solitude. Her words were dear to me, and even though I addressed her as sister; she was no less than a mother.
We were visiting the local church in the interiors of the town with our family of children at the convent’s orphanage. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but since morning I was sensing an unusual flow of happiness inside me. I pictured myself standing at the focus of the universe. It seemed as if the day was all about me, not because it was my birthday – so many must be sharing the same date in that respect – instead it surely was some other unknown reason.
Watching the narrow turns of my hill-side town Cortona was a pleasant habit of mine. Settled somewhere between the sky and the earth, Cortona stands like a drop of heaven. It was the
time of winter, my most friendly season. I felt my soul to be closest during this time of the year, as if it had taken a shift and now walked beside me, hand in hand, like a close companion. The winter of Cortona isn’t only cold but wet, just the way I loved it. At the wake of every morning I stood before my window and the smell of air brought hope inside me. Hope for what? I never really thought about it. For me it was an assurance of all the good things which are still a part of our world. It was a humble sign of pure life around and I found everything to be in perfect order.
I took the last empty row of the bus to contemplate nature in my own space. It began to drizzle when the bus took off, but I couldn’t see those glitters of rain as the thick fog engulfed them.
By 22 I had come across various colors of relationships that one witnesses in life – Friends, brothers, sister, parents, and confidante. In addition to this, there were some others that I could not identify with a name, few bonds whose color I could never decide. But be it definable or indefinable meetings, they added something to my life. Some stayed, few vanished and the rest are safe in the depths of my collectable past.
Life moves on and so it did for me too. To my siblings at the orphanage I seemed at peace with whatever I had. I believe them. There was no space inside me to allow regret of not having that I didn’t have. Life was a joyous song and my solitude was my gifted companion.
And yet there was one thing nobody knew, that shrouded behind my apparent completeness a part of me was still left untouched. There was one color I was yet to explore in the journey called life. Some say it is the color of god; others call it the home of truth. I wondered what definition I would have given then, if ever asked to. Later I came to know that it is a union formed by indefinite amount of sharing. Yes, love and its essence of my understanding were yet to arrive. But little I knew then, the moment had come…
I remember hearing it in a play, love and death knocks without a call. In my case, love did not knock – it bumped, and not with me but almost with my bus. It would have had been lovely having it brushed past me on some deserted road, or a walk along a serene lake. My friends said that I was quite melodramatic with my ideas; I guess I was back then. I only drifted my eyes towards the front when the driver ceased the wheels to a screeching halt. He had missed the sight of a man walking down the steep road in the cover of fog and rain. But we weren’t speeding, so he had plenty of time to carry out a judgment. Sister Lita got up to check if the man was alright. From the last seat, I only saw a faint figure somewhere before the bus, shaking his pants to push out the rain water that had got splashed on him.
“Are you alright, son?” sister Lita called from the exit door.
I worried that the man might call sister Lita angry names, and I could not take anyone raising a voice at her. I left my seat and rushed before the man could reply. I hurriedly reached the exit fearing him to burst his disdainful remarks any moment and provoke me on my birthday.
And then the man finally lifted his face and answered.
“Sister, I am alright, Thank you,” he said.
A smile marked him. Contrary to my judgments, he humbly thanked sister Lita for her concern. I was naturally surprised. When sister got down to get to him, I remained at the steps. When the man saw sister Lita approaching, he let go of his pants and straightened like a gentlemen, welcoming her. And it was only then I realized that I was blankly staring at him.
Even though it was very unlike of me to stare at anyone, yet it did not strike me not to. What
had made me freeze on those three little steps that day? I couldn’t figure it out right then.
The cold began to get to my skin, but somehow I least cared for it. I just wanted to know that
beautiful face. It wasn’t the first time I was seeing a gorgeous man, but yet I knew something
was unusual about him. There was a child-like innocence in those blue eyes, but when he smiled, it seemed the reflection of his true self had somehow been unlocked, as if I was allowed to look at the person resting inside him. For a moment I couldn’t believe he was for real. Capturing so much in that flicker of a second seems corny, isn’t it? Later I felt the same about my encounter. But whatever were my later impressions, I could not deny what happened in those short minutes, a distinguished feeling had crossed me for the first time in my entire life so far.
The strong winds pushed his hair to his sides. I found it hard to take my eyes off him, and it was harder to comprehend why. Even then one thing seemed sure; it wasn’t just his beauty captivating me. It was more, something deeper, it was a sort of recognition. Even today I wonder how spelled I must have had seemed standing all to myself on those three little steps of the bus. Sometimes an unknown moment can change the whole course of your life.
When Sister Lita reached him, I saw him waving his head to his sides, holding on to that same infectious innocence of his smile. I guess he was assuring her that it wasn’t our fault. The wind was ruffling heavily in my ears making it impossible to hear their conversation. In a way it was good because then I only had him and his humility to account. Will it be safe to say that I fell in love with him right there? However, I couldn’t have judged it then. Judged it in comparison to what? With what experience? I was a novice in love then. But one thing was true; I was struck by a very alien feeling, unheard and unspoken until now.
He pointed his finger towards the direction we were heading; I suppose sister Lita offered him lift. My mother brought him to me. He took my mother’s hands into his, gave an affectionate bow of gratitude and agreed for the lift.
While heading towards the bus, he once shifted his glance, and suddenly, our eyes met. My heart huddled when at the sight of me his smile reduced to a faint meeting of his lips.
Suddenly his pace seemed to get affected too. My mother had got ahead of him and he strode slowly behind her. His eyes said that he had seen something that had asked for his attention, but it was just me standing there before him.
Our eyes sustained the contact and then his lips, like before, spread to a humble short distance, unaware and smiling again. The sight of any man fixed at me like his would have left me uneasy, but then it was him, and all I could remember in the end was that it felt comfortable. But there was another question – did he feel the same?
The door was wide enough for sister Lita to pass through without nudging me to make space. I wonder why she never said anything; after all she must have had noticed my oblivious state. He followed and reached the bus and I still hadn’t moved an inch even though my good manners said otherwise, but I guess I had temporarily forgotten all such norms.
He was nearer to me than ever, close enough for me to notice the grayish blue emerald engraved in his eyes. My breathing was evident through the delayed movements in my chest. The tender meeting of his thin lips still claimed that same smile of recognition. Few seconds must have passed when he finally spoke.
“Hello,” he said slowly. It almost sounded like a whisper, as if just meant for me to hear. Those blue eyes shone more radiantly before his white skin and black thick hair. My friends always joked that he could easily pass as a Greek god; oh indeed he was a beautiful person.
I replied, curving my cheeks to a shining mount. I finally shifted to make way for him. He stepped on the stairs, brushed past me and was inside the bus. I closed the door, shrouding us both from the outside chill into the warmth of the bus.
When I turned to get to my seat, sister Lita glanced at me with that same glad look of
knowing it all. Coincidence? I don’t believe so. She literally seemed to know it all.
He took the last row, the window seat opposite to mine. Except us, the whole row was empty. None of us spoke a word as the bus hiked cutting the cold fog. I leaned my chin above my arms and kept gazing outside. But my vigilant mind was aware of any slight movement beside me at all times.
All I could hear was the buzzing of the bus engine dominating the grumblings of the heavy sky. I wasn’t anxious or uneasy, these were not the feelings I was struck with. Neither did I worry whether he liked me or not. Somehow these worries seemed to belong to a foreign trivial world, a world that I wasn’t a part of. I turned to face him and caught him looking at me from his reflection in the glass window. He did not shy away and nor did I. Was I placed in some new dimension? My reactions were unrecognizable even to myself. In that moment I just cared to be in the rhythm of our meeting.
“My name is Meredith, and today is my birthday,” I said. Even though my following
statement was completely irrelevant yet I added it without giving a slightest thought.
And then he turned to face me. His vibrant eyes looked at me instead of their mere reflection on the glass like earlier.
“Meredith,” he began, “Happy birthday, Meredith.”
It did not feel like coming from a stranger. It sounded more like a return of someone familiar after ages. Say more, I thought and then he spoke.
“My name is Lorenzo, I am a painter.”
We both exchanged a wide-eyed acknowledgement of our very first introductions. These very simple details, but we seemed utterly fortunate to have had received them. Such was the magic.
None of us shared another word after that. The next thing I heard was the brakes of the bus. His stop had arrived. Our bus had reached the heart of Cortona, Piazza della Repubblica. I loved this point of my town. It was the centre of Cortona where life gathered the most. With its cafes, shops and open sitting arrangements, it was the most active part of the town. Lorenzo slung the ties of his bag on his shoulder and stiffened under his long coat. He crossed the aisle of the seats slowly, almost as if he didn’t want to leave.
After he stood on the street and before the bus took off, he once again turned towards my window. I wiped the film of frost from the glass and found him looking straight into me. Those eyes said something. I was yet to figure out what. He then shifted his gaze slowly towards a building, asking me to follow it. I did and saw a hoarding which read,
The home of creative soul
The bus took off and our eyes remained locked till we vanished out of each other’s’ extent. Now I knew where to find him again.
How do we know when true love has found us? I had my own theories; sure that I would know when it will happen. With Lorenzo that surety was felt through a certain peace inside my heart. I was aware what adoration for someone meant, but with Lorenzo I realized there was another kind of love – a love that gives you home, love that tells you where you belong. His love demanded nothing from me but just to be me. In his eyes I saw a different reflection of me, an image of someone who was strong, one capable of loving unconditionally. It rarely happens that you don’t seek anybody’s approval anymore, because there are no doubts, because this time you know you have come across something beyond the mortals of
judgment. Love is such a thing and when it is pure, you know it, no matter how many times you have lost in your attempts of finding it, no matter how shallow you feel in your understanding of love, but when the destined one stands before you – you just know it.
And so I knew when I met him...
My birthplace Cortona – when the heavens wept and a drop of it fell on earth, it took the form of this small town. This is how I always viewed it. Now when I stand before the window to gaze at the life outside, everything still looks the same, but it doesn’t feel same anymore. My Cortona stands pretty yet soulless now. Cortona has become estranged. Soon it will be two years since our meeting on my birthday. That date will come again. Every year I had two reasons to celebrate it. This time I would have none. I think too much happiness doesn’t stay for long, or does it? I fail to see the motive of my life anymore. It isn’t a good feeling, especially when you know how it is to be on the other end – of faith, love and will for life.
I am meeting Martha today, Lorenzo’s mother. We haven’t met since Lorenzo’s funeral. But today is Sunday and we always visited her on Sundays. Now I have to do it alone. How will I face her? Her grief is no less than mine. She has lost her only son.
I sit before the mirror and as I tie my hair & stuff my muffler, it’s hard to recognize my own image. I turn around several times to look behind me, the way I used to, only to catch a glimpse of Lorenzo observing me affectionately. But he isn’t here. How can he be? Death has taken him away.
The walls threaten to topple down over me any second. The inside of my home is dark all the time. I don’t want to switch on the lights. I don’t need the heat of a small fire, and the passing winters are keeping the town dusky. My every move speaks of this miserable change. Everything echoes the loss of him. I never locked the door on our exits, Lorenzo did, but my hands have now replaced his.
It felt scary to be on the streets alone, as if I had no one left to call mine, as if anyone could claim me without my will. Living barred inside my dark home for several days, even the faint glow of sun now pricked my eyes. The ground was all wet and brittle. I released an absorbing glance towards everything in my sight and forced on myself, Lorenzo is gone, accept it. But my core still refuses to believe it. A tear drops and I sigh in disagreement, don’t cry. He
hasn’t left! He is just invisible, I tell myself.
I took the lane for Martha’s home. She lived in a different home, a smaller one. When I and Lorenzo bought a new home, we wanted Martha to come and live with us, but she refused. She said her home keeps her husband’s memories close. This was her very first home, built by their life savings. We respected her decision.
Will I ever feel again? It’s a question that haunts me all day. I think of it as a measure of my inner balance. I ask repeatedly but every time the answer comes as a dead silence. This silence flashes Lorenzo’s image in my mind and then I feel my heart sinking down towards
my stomach. I come close to becoming hysterical several times in a day. How do you comfort a broken heart? You do it by showing it hope. I tried to gather hope but I couldn’t find a source for it. Where will I find it? Should it be in a friend, a companion or in my own reflection? Where to look for it, or do I even want it now? Several questions have taken
shape, dark questions, questions that are denting my soul. Who am I now..?
Martha’s home came into view. I could see the row of flowerpots planted outside her window and they didn’t seem bright as they always did. The flowers had turned weak and dull.
Martha loved gardening and the health of her plants was something dearly important to her. Aching pain filled my body because I was aware of the reason behind their ignorance. They seemed to reflect the current state of her heart, and it shot me with painful guilt for taking so long to visit her. I apologize to you Martha; I couldn’t pull myself together with enough strength this time.
I faced the wooden door. There wasn’t any need to knock on it; it was unlocked, configurable by the thin clearance between the door and its frame. My hand reluctantly moved it in. The recognizable scent of the house reminded me of so many precious memories. The air of this house held the imprint of our past. How can walls be the bearer of such intense nostalgia? This house did, of our time as a family.
Crossing the door alone, it did not feel I was entering a familiar home. I never walked into this house without him beside me and it registered to me that very instant. When a person dies, a whole world disappears – a world made of bonds, dreams and lived memories. With Lorenzo’s death, a whole world ended for us too. A son, a friend and a love was lost
I found Martha sitting in the kitchen. Her hands cupped a coffee mug, her elbows spread on the table, tired and motionless. When she heard my approaching steps, she lifted her face. I stood outside the kitchen and she saw me straight across the hallway. Her state drew a sudden cry in my heart. Our glances met and tears filled my eyes. We stayed like that for several moments, contemplating what our souls were enduring. She bent to her right to look behind me, a gesture she made to receive Lorenzo who always appeared later after locking the main door.
Tears that I had managed to seize all this while burst out. Her grim hope of still finding Lorenzo walking behind me broke me completely. I ran towards her. I threw my arms around her head and closed her in my hug. I could feel her body trembling against mine. I tried to calm her by squeezing her close.
I held her tightly to convey that I was there, that she was not alone in this world. Lorenzo had left her to me, and I realized my responsibility. I rested my head over hers and we both wept silently, consoling each other in silence because words had failed us.
I looked above the chimney and saw a painting hanging there. It intensified my sorrow and my powerlessness over the situation. It was a painting of a beautiful door, recalling my second meeting with Lorenzo.
The Home of Creative Soul
I read the words on the board and knew that I had reached the right place. No part of me felt anxious or reluctant in moving ahead. I could sense the invisible hand of life wrapped around my wrist and taking me where I was supposed to be now. In such moments a peaceful sensation takes over your body. I held to that peculiar feeling and no mortal idea could question it. I existed only in that moment, not in the past or the future as I took the small staircase leading up.
I covered the first break of steps. There were few more to cover when I reckoned the possibility of a window just opposite to the landing. I knew this because a cold blur of wind hit me. I reached the floor and found myself in a small cold hallway. At the end of it was an illuminated arcade of large windows. One of them was indeed open and it had made the hallway chilly. While locking it, I glanced at the street lights outside that were dimly lit in the cover of wet fog. To my right was a room and when I turned towards it, I discovered a pair of blue eyes looking at me.
At the sight of him, my feet completely seized.