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Author: Francesco BrunettiTitle: HEYOUGenre: thriller romancePublisher: Liberodiscrivere ® EditionsEbook edition: March 2014ISBN: 9788873884958Copyright © Liberodiscrivere ® EditionsBuy this book on: www.Liberodiscrivere.itSynopsis:A young woman whose destiny seems to be reflected in the bubbles of the same vibrant and generous red wine that helped her conception; a dark family secret. Heyou is sweet and reserved, sentimental and passionate, but also restless and attracted to danger. And indeed danger is going to find her, to bite into her flesh and soul. After years of estrangement she makes up for lost time with her socialite, fatuous mother, now terminally ill; an intense relationship that will bond the two women even beyond death. She chase the men of her life: the one she rejected and the one who got away from her.Soon, her life will intertwine with the intrigues of politics, diplomacy and the hidden dangers of the intelligence services, while a mysterious figure from her past will try to take his revenge on her. Heyou wants a simple life and yet she realizes she's also a thrill seeker. In this mirror-like duality she puts her life at stakes with bravery and the necessary recklessness.FRANCESCO BRUNETTI, MD, lives and works in North-west Italy. He has previously published six poetry books: "Lune di Mare" (2003) , "Frammenti di luce" (2004) , "Arsura" (Liberodiscrivere Publishing, 2005) , "Viola della sera" (Gammarò, 2006), "L'ombra del verso", (with Guido De Marchi, Liberodiscrivere, 2008) and "Strane idee" (Liberodiscrivere, 2010). In 2007 he co-authored in two collective novels: Tr@mare and Il volo dello Struffello, both published by Liberodiscrivere.
She was born, let’s say, by mistake as the result of an encounter on a full-moon night with the help of the little bubbles of a generous and vibrant red wine.
Her early life experiences had been rather normal, but how could she understand if a quick kiss on her forehead and a light caress as a goodbye from her mom, always-in-a-rush, elegant, scented and careful-not-to spoil-her-makeup, were to be deemed as normal?
You'll probably ask yourself: “What about her father?”
Well, he was really nowhere to be found, just a perfect stranger smiling from a framed photograph half-hidden by pictures of, her mom at her eighteenth birthday party, mom at the sea side in Sharm-El-Sheik, mom standing in front of the refuge at the Pordoi Pass in the Dolomites Mountains, mom at her latest (vernissage) reception in her art gallery.
At home her father was seldom mentioned other than to remark that he lived far away because of his job, out of pure necessity to make ends meet.
In any case, she never understood this situation and all of her questions, even the most direct and specific were left unanswered until eventually she either forgot to ask again or gave up asking entirely.
Things had to be accepted the way they were so nothing else was to be discussed.
In spite of all of this, she lived her life intensely: first there was school, then her language class, gym activities, homework, little or no TV and many free hours to spend alone with her thoughts.
Nevertheless she was not sad; in fact she was quite the opposite. She would often smile while looking at herself in the mirror. At first she did that by chance but then she started doing it with growing curiosity until finally she began to view it as a game.
Standing by that mirror she would review her day; she would dramatize her own fantasies, perhaps unknowingly looking into her deep dark eyes in the reflection of the mirror, and waiting for the answers to her unspoken questions to appear.
Almost all the time, Minuses was there, close to her, or on her shoulder, or in her arms. Minuses was a sweet, reserved and mischievous Soriano cat that would turn prickly and miffed if she didn't cuddle him whenever she made her way back home from school.
By the way, her name was, well, actually is…
Because sometimes she would indeed call herself, address herself, looking at her own reflection in the large glass mirror of her mother's immense AD designer living room.
“… Hey… you! Hello…? Hey, you… hello! Hey, you!” “You,… Hey!
She would greet her image and in this way her mirror name became her true name.
Her given name for the moment is not that important since everybody, or almost everybody knew her as Heyou.
It had been her nanny – one of the many nannies who had followed one another in the first years of her life – to call her by this name. Back then, among the wealthiest families it was in fashion to hire domestic help from the Far East. This one in particular was Japanese indeed, the younger daughter of a housemaid employed by one of the many VIP friends populating the social afternoons and evenings of Heyou's mother.
This young nanny named her Heyou for the first time when she saw her playing in front of the giant mirror in the sitting room.
I just forgot to say that our main character has somewhat slanted eyes, a dark complexion and a kind of enigmatic look about her that can be possibly perceived as oriental.
That's roughly the background of the story, the prologue, so to say, which makes Heyou the young woman I'd like to tell you about.
That March morning Heyou woke up knowing that something was different, but she could not understand what. It was a weird new feeling that she could not place, she was unable to grasp the very essence of it.
She looked around: the room was the same old room, only the light filtering through the shutters was brighter than usual, the light beam was shining on the furniture displaying billions of floating dust particles.
The bedroom was rather sober for a young girl, and not very spacious; she had chosen that room despite the poorly hidden disapproval of her mother, mixed with her usual subtle indifference.
Her mother, in her late years had been gifted with multiple thin face wrinkles. She had been fighting them in an endless war, at time helped by the most renowned plastic surgeons available around the city. She had tried them all! She had started calling her wrinkles: Laughter Lines, however they did not soften at all her facial expression.
But getting back to Heyou’s bedroom, in order to break the unusual seriousness of its environment, Heyou was keeping on her bed a pink rabbit with a white and black nose, its fur so worn out by her many repeated hugs, that it was almost unrecognizable, and also she had hung on the wall a mega poster of Brad Pitt.
On her little desk there was a pile of books, almost ready to fall dawn and also some worn out notebooks and a bunch of very colorful and differently shaped earings, small rings and bracelets, all hanging off two vertical jewel support sticks.
Then, like she had been shaken by a sudden thought, Heyou who was still lying down, got up suddenly and set at the edge of her bed, then she stood up, went to open a side of her window and then pushed the shutters open to let the very bright light of the day invade her bedroom and reflect on the top of her desk.
The strong beam of light was like a magnet, she followed it and set at her desk, got a pen, opened one of the note books, already full with her writing – verses, little tales, annotations – and she started writing down her thoughts while the emotions of the previous day were resurfacing, that something that had grown inside her now was upsetting her; still she could not put it into focus.
Between metallic music and open laughter’s, tinkling of glasses and some high pitch voices, sometime you can find a spring time moment, even during an evening storm. You can discover lights within the lights, outside of them, and when you perceive them, it is a little like watering the garden and seeing Hydrangeas and Azaleas, that were dying under the strong sun, getting back to life almost by magic. They say that to wake up every morning it is like to be born again, but not always if ever we take any notice of it.
It was not like that for Heyou, that exactly at that moment felt the breath of her life, strong, precise and vibrant, she was moved by relentless energy. She left her desk and went running to the dining room, and placed herself in front of the giant mirror that had survived all the revisions that the decor of the room had been going through in time, and she started dancing spinning around on her tiptoes, nimble, inspired and dreamy. She ended her dance by bowing to the imaginary audience and then she smiled, pleased with herself. She was feeling something very important was born inside her, she had to be the protagonist of this event.
But now, to understand the situation, we have to step back in time. At this point she had been attending a school of dancing for three months, one of the most prestigious schools of her city; it was something that she always wanted to do, but somehow her mother had given priority to other things, without ever giving any particular reason for her denial.
So the enrollment in the dance school had been her achievement, or may be to better define it, the first victory of her determination combined with a good amount of shrewdness. To pull a yes from her mother’s teeth, she had taken advantage of one of her mother’s euphoric moments, following her success at a social event.
The day the opportunity came up she used to her advantage her excellent school reports, that she was getting with no effort at all, and the complicity of one of her girl friends, that instead “had to” take the dancing class.
By chance their mothers were friends, and they were copying each other in the daily life routines, dictating the parameters, at least at the surface, for all their families and households, walls included. Everything fell into place in a blink of an eye when the phone rang. It was her friend’s mother calling: - What would you think if Heyou would also attend the Dance Class with my daughter? – she said - They would keep each other company, and perhaps Elena (this was the name of her daughter), would regain the enthusiasm she has lost.
Heyou pretended she did not know her friend’s mother was on the phone and said: - Mummy, may I? I need to show you my Report Card, you need to sign at the bottom, you know… So she had her way, and she also had the nerve to look surprised and also a little bit hesitant before agreeing to take the dance class. In this way she knew she was reinforcing her mother decision by making it definitive.
Her dance class was attended by about 30 girls, there were also three boys: Alberto, tall, slim and shy; Luigi, of medium height, with big muscles and a lot of determination, and finally Roberto, nice face, wavy hair and a dreamy expression.
During the first couple of lessons Roberto seemed less comfortable than the others. This however did not prevent him from standing out thanks to the natural elegance of his movements. Something was special about him, even if not quite understandable at a first glance.
When Roberto’s and Heyou’s eyes met for the first time, their magnetism attracted them to each other, by deeping penetrating in each other soul and by establishing a new mysterious and intense intimacy that would trouble them.
In fact for a long time they both avoided approaching each other, but when necessary they did so formally or through short sentences describing the art they were learning. They were touching each other only while dancing and when forced to cross their movements and their hands over and over again, but each time they were looking at each other without acknowledging or saying anything. Their lips were sealed in a rigid composure that was in complete contrast with the light in their eyes, and this went on for several months.
And so the day of the rehearsal for the mid-term dance recital arrived. It was going to take place on the stage of the most beautiful theater in the city, if not of the entire region. It was a place full of charm for its past history and for the warm elegance of its architecture. They got there via a mini-bus that they had rented for the occasion; but before arriving they made a stop for breakfast at the Café close to the theatre at the entrance of the park.
At the Café the spring was beginning to show between the leafless trees lighted by a pale and tepid sun. The fresh air was for the first time warm after months of a particularly cold winter where the snow had whitened with silence the city several times.
With a hot toast in one hand and a steaming cappuccino in the other, Heyou turned with the intention of going to sit on the veranda where the empty chairs dimly lit by the pale morning sun where all aligned.
And that's how she clumsily bumped into Roberto, much like the gag of a slapstick movie. He was rewarded with a cappuccino-flavored sweatshirt, while the big dog resting beside the bar's counter gained an unexpected and much welcomed breakfast.
Roberto opened his mouth as to talk but didn't say a word, his wide eyes showing a mixture of surprise and bafflement. She looked at him, embarrassed, and tried to apologize, but then her gaze fell on the stained sweatshirt, and she couldn't help but start laughing, yes a crazy laughter that was quickly interrupted by her hand covering her mouth.
He tightened his lips feeling hopeless and stared at her, while his initial annoyance turned quickly, maybe for the first time, into a clear and sharp perception of what she really meant to him: light, emotion, life.
He tried to shake out his sweatshirt then took it off like he was trying to save what he could, now with only his black undershirt on, he turned his head and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the counter- he looked funny indeed – he smiled. And as he felt the muscles of his face relaxing his smile widened, becoming more and more open and liberating. He swirled his sweatshirt around with his right hand and started to dance, being at the same time picador, bullfighter and bull, and then he crashed into a chair simulating exhaustion, while the regulars of the Café, amused were clapping.
Heyou stared at him for a long time; she couldn't unlock her gaze from his, while her heart felt like it was pounding directly in her throat. She turned away, trying to hide somehow her emotion and by doing so she too caught her reflection in the mirror and saw a different Heyou: she was not the same any longer and she knew it, this moved and troubled her at the same time.
She was taking a lunch break from the seminar on Compared Procedural Analysis of the Synoptic Tables of the Administrative Laws of the European Union, as Heyou was now a Political Science sophomore student.
How and why she had ended up taking this specific field of study and why she was in the lecture theatre of the university on that specific day, is quite a long story.
Three years had passed since she had literally, nailed to the wall her dancing shoes, and along with them, though lingering in a corner of her mind, their memories as well. She still held many fond memories, emotions, and deep feelings of her personal successes. She didn’t stand out in dancing, but it had been just one of the many interests she had wanted to pursue in her spare time. Deep inside she knew she was actually longing for something else, something that every now and then flashed through her mind; and whenever that happened she always tried to think it through the best she could. She realized that she had, not only the disposition of a daydreamer as well as a creative mind, but also felt a strong need for something more substantial. She desired a deeper understanding of the world and of the always-changing social and political relationships controlling it.
In short, she wanted to crack the code of what looked to her like one big political mess in the world. Even though she still had to figure out how, she wished to be actively involved in the inevitable transformations of her own small story within History. History with a capital H. She kept in mind that hers was just a small story, but she also wanted to stick her nose in what in her imagination seemed like a great river flowing through time from the beginning of time. She thought, being delusional perhaps that sooner or later she would be able to illuminate and steal some sort of secret. She was fascinated by this drive. And Roberto - you might ask- what was of him?
Roberto had been the one who gave her the first kiss. And yes, because inevitably there had been a first kiss, clumsy but extremely sweet. She was still feeling the warmth of his lips, not a humid warmth, as she later discovered it should have been, since both their throats had dried up for the emotion of the moment. They had exchanged messages, phone calls and e-mails, passionate or tenderly sentimental words and letters, depending on the moment, but always somehow emphatic. At least that’s how they appeared to her now, when she re-read them after such a long time. Six months after the famous rehearsal day Roberto had moved to another city, because of his father's work, so little by little they lost contact with each other.
She remembered that during one of their last contacts he had told her that he had enrolled in Physics and wanted to pursue the study of the dark matter, the scientific world’s main unsolved mystery of the last fifty years, topic he had fallen in love with after reading a paper on the subject.
Heyou instead had chosen legal studies, with a major in politics and administration; she planned to seek a position in Brussels or with one of the many International Organizations involved in disputes between states and in helping those that still had fragile governmental structures. How many of these States had plunged into chaos after bloody and exhausting liberation struggles! How many had fallen again under new dictatorships, fanaticism! Civil wars! Between Africa, Asia, Central and South America one could only choose.
So here is the new Heyou, a little unexpected, romantic and yet practical, dreamer and yet pragmatic, similar to a nice cocktail, such that even if a small proportion of its ingredients is altered, the perfect mix is lost forever.
Concerning her name or nickname, something very unusual had happened. She had the opportunity on her 18th birthday to officially change her birth name. She had dual citizenship through her father when she was born, as he worked abroad as a diplomat. On this special birthday she was invited to make a choice, and in that occasion, due to some complicated legal regulations she also had the opportunity to change name. From that day she became to all effects Miss Heyou.
The Professor of International Law, at his first experience as a lecturer, was coming from Rome. Besides looking young he was quite brilliant, at the same time discrete and friendly, he also had something intriguing in the hint of a smile that faded away right at the corner of his mouth, only to reappear flashing, in his eyes. The female students, who were the majority in that class, had already passed their judgments on him and put forward some hypotheses, exaggerating the facts of his private life. He had no wedding ring, he didn't smoke, at least in public, and always was seen carrying a couple of books under his arm. He also wore herringbone jackets in faded colors with soft open collar shirts, always without a tie. These habits were more than enough to raise everyone’s curiosity.
Heyou could not attend the first lesson because of a last-minute impediment, so she had gathered from her friends the first impressions of him, quite absent-mindedly. During the second lesson she sat in the first row of the lecture hall, so she could observe him closely. In that moment she had not been prepared to pass any judgment on him, nor had she experienced any particular feeling about him: she was neutral and she had remained neutral, while waiting to pass her judgment, as any good student would do.
The lesson was intense, and she took pages of notes, filling her scratch pad with her dense and regular writing, with tidy and round characters. The inspiration for the lesson was a recent controversy, reported in all papers, related to an interracial marriage between spouses of different religions. He was Catholic and she was Muslim and both were citizen of states that had not signed any reciprocity agreement on the subject. They were now separated and each of them was claiming the right to custody of the children.
While the professor went through the details of the problem citing codes, rulings, precepts and customs, Heyou began to hear a special vibration in his voice, suggesting he was getting personally involved with the subject; this led her to think that something similar could have been part of his private life.
From that point on, she had begun to fantasize: at first on how the professor – a very young teacher then – could have come across a student from North Africa in a classroom or in a University library; then on how the love had blossomed between them despite suspicions and prejudices; and finally, their wedding, complete with a double ceremony in Italy and in the bride's homeland.
Her imagination was racing to exotic locations and rituals: faces with white teeth and piercing eyes, mysterious veiled women, proud-looking men concentrating on the exhibition of their ritual manliness, singsong music with obsessive notes changes, meditative silences behind a circle of steaming hot cups of mint tea.
And then their first child, a boy who had fulfilled the wishes of the bride's family, and the second, a girl, a desire repeatedly expressed by him; then the first day to day relationship problems; the growing nuisance of the tense family situation whenever they paid visit to her family; the verbal clashes on political and religious remarks flaunted by a fundamentalist uncle; the continual misunderstandings, even within the walls of their house, every time he noticed that the submission of his wife to certain precepts of her culture was so embedded with her that even the Italian lifestyle, her legal studies, her work and her ambitions, were impacted and would never change.
And, going further in her fantasies, she imagined the bride growing sadder every day; and him turning away from her, while their physical attraction was failing. Until the day she did not come back from a trip she had taken with the kids back to her parents home; his sense of guilt for not having perceived right away the risk of her departure; the useless attempts to convince her to come back; the beginning of a legal battle doomed to last over time with a very slim chance of a positive outcome; then the nostalgia for his children; his anger coupled with his suffering; his frustration turning gradually into indifference; finally, the total immersion in his work.
She thought that all this could well explain his worldly-wise and yet naive expression, his disillusioned and bitter smile, the surfacing of irony that emerged almost exclusively in his eyes, in short, all the shades of his glances, even the most faint and fleeting, that Heyou caught or thought she caught in his figure that had become for her increasingly intriguing and invasive. These reflections went on for two or three lessons, she could not remember exactly how many, and during the nights when she couldn't sleep. Then the sleepless nights multiplied and the varied and numerous books she read to try to fall asleep started to whirl round and round her: she was tireless.
One night, she came across an autobiographical novel that was telling of the contrasted love of a couple, but this time the man was the Muslim and the woman was the Christian. She became so passionate of this subject that she started to fervently research the topic through texts, sentences and essays, all the while developing an increasingly urgent and almost compulsive desire for it.
"I'll ask the teacher if I can choose this as a subject for my term paper!"So here is Heyou, standing in the Faculty's hallway, handouts under her arm, just in front of the professor's office.
The plaque on the door read: Prof. Stefano Riccoboni
She knocked at the door.
- Come in!
It was his voice and she entered the room.
Heyou's dissertation was ready, its hardcover still hot from the press, although by now the smell of printing, the real one, is for all of us just a memory.
The dissertation was a pretty thick volume, Heyou had been working on it for a year, even though her work had actually started earlier, from those naive fantasies I just told you about.
I'm speaking of her final dissertation, as you might have understood by now, not the infamous term paper for the International Law class.
That said, maybe someone will wonder what had happened in the meantime to our protagonist. It's been already two years since her first meeting with her teacher.
It should be a secret if it wasn't for the fact that I'm actually writing her story.
The meeting between Heyou and her teacher was indeed a real date, much like the Falling in Love movie with Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, although in this case the hero was the married one and to the satisfaction of the conformists, also the separated and divorced one. He had no such thing as an ex-wife from North Africa but a long row of bitter experiences nevertheless.
Their encounter was a meeting of stares and glances, in a nonstop crescendo. It was late in the evening, and a thin rain was falling outside, at the end of an unpredictable and damp winter, when their lips met with them being not at all aware of what they were doing. It was something that happened just because had to happen. When something like this happens we can reason on it and consider all the “ifs” and “buts” only at a later stage. Heyou became fully aware of her condition only by degrees, especially in the evenings when she was lying alone in her bedroom and he was away; or in those periods in which she was in volatile mood and inclined to melancholy, sometimes with a bellyache, waiting for the pain-killers to kick in.
The idea of being so hooked on him, soul and body, so dependent on his sms, phone calls, even his silences, made her uncomfortable. She was annoyed with herself because this attitude clashed with that piece of her that was eager for freedom, that needed no predetermined spaces, wanted no plans, and didn't want to depend on anything or anyone.
In those moments she was inclined to believe, perhaps wrongly, to be the one most committed in their relationship, the one who had lost her mind. Stefano had become to her a character made of shadows and lights: sweet and sour, soft-spoken and quick-tempered, fascinating and distant, often elusive. Perhaps she saw him that way because she was possessive – by then she had already realized how much se could be possessive, just by loving him - and even a bit obsessive in scrutinizing every nuance of his expression, analyzing every inflection of his voice. It looked to her like he was hiding a corner of himself, perhaps a mournful bundle in which he kept his past; a past she was jealous of, terribly jealous – and she was amazed by her own jealousy as well.
Their affair lasted just about two years, two years of euphoria and passion in which, starting from the reactions of her body, Heyou experienced every corner of her emotional response. The sweat changing its smell and intensity; waking from a dream with a hand on her contracted womb; the shiver down her spine every time she felt the touch of his hands, the sweet and almost ecstatic affection she felt every time she observed his movements while he was unaware of her watching; the fondness for that faded green sweater he loved to wear, his unruly hair and the shadow of unshaven beard showcased on the side of his face by the artificial light. A face she had secretly captured with the camera of her cellphone: while he was reading, with his little presbyopic glasses on, sunk in the couch, totally immersed in what he was doing, so far away from her and close altogether.
Because that was how she felt him in those moments, and this feeling, at first casual, almost subconscious, then more frequently and clearly perceived, was the beginning of Heyou's path toward a decision that seemed inevitable. And so it was her who decided to break up, almost with a sense of relief, because she felt limited and constrained, and she wanted to explore other roads in her life, to visit and study other worlds, being in the center and not the margins of decision-making processes. She resented the feeling of being kept in the shadows and was increasingly dissatisfied. She made up her mind on an impulse, and to come to terms with that she convinced herself that their story was already over, that she had ran out all the reasons why she had started it, and didn't have any other motivation to go on.
She probably chose the worst moment possible to tell him. He had come home late, and had answered to her in a rather annoyed way, but he had his own good reasons.
He was having troubles with the Dean of the Faculty and he had just been back from a stormy meeting. He had come home in a very tense mood, perhaps hoping for some comfort from her, or at least expecting to be understood.
Later on she would have never forgive herself for being so cruel to him. But in that moment she didn't realize it. Let's just say she was a pedigree filly, while he was a cross between a draft horse and a thoroughbred.
He was left to flounder at her words, but not right away: he went mad and threw a fist against the wall, hitting a framed picture that fell on the floor in a sound of broken glass. He was about to throw something else randomly, then got a hold of himself and began to collect the glass shards from the floor: there were so many and he deliberately took his time, as to calm himself down.
When he was done, he turned to Heyou who had been standing there, all silent and intimidated, with an hoarse voice, but also a sharp and definitive tone, dismissed her:
- Get out! You'll get your stuff later. Now get out!
She looked at him sallow-faced, picked up her jacket, bag, and then left. Luckily for her she had a place to go.
Only when she was outside their home she realized what had just happened, and she felt like she was chipping from the inside, like a mined building about to implode. She was supported only by her pride and for the first time in those months, by a sense of guilt that was now turning into self-consciousness. She loved him and loved him more than herself, and yet she had managed to destroy everything. Now she couldn't go back, not only because what was done was done but also because she felt that the obscure and powerful strenght within her was the true master of her life. Some people call this fate, destiny, or “daemon” or whatever.In any case she had touched rock bottom in a split second.On her way out of the main entrance the fresh, almost pungent air helped her coming back to normal, just in time to avoid a passing car, completely "innocent": she was crossing the street like a robot.
Reflections and conclusions came with the coolness brought by the passing time, but also with the more literal cold of solitary walks by the riverside, of evenings spent reading until late at night when the central heating in her condo was being turned of; the cold of sleepless mornings in which something pushed her out of bed before dawn, looking for the few open bars and a cup of coffee.
Gradually she realized that from that dramatic farewell, something had changed inside her. That awareness, painful but somehow comforting, had put the bridle, perhaps forever, to the old Heyou, the one thirsty for emotions and a little selfish, that had prevailed in those two years, whom she was now dissatisfied.
A painful lump melted inside her. She took pen and paper and after three months she wrote a long heartfelt letter, a letter in which she asked forgiveness for her leaving him and for having denied his past attempts to speak, for his countless phone calls she had not answered.
She had given a final farewell to her love, which back then had seemed motivated. Now she knew it wasn't so and she was ready to pay the consequences, whatever they were.
It goes without saying that she started to hope again and every time the phone rang she felt like a stab to the heart. But he never called back.
It was early summer, it was now six months since Heyou had left Stefano, six months and ten days to be exact, as in her anguish she had been counting not only the days, but had also gone back and forth over and over their entire story, starting with her knocking at the Prof office's door to discuss the subject of that infamous term paper.
Now she was sleeping hugging again her old stuffed rabbit – do you remember him? - all the more unrecognizable. It had been dug out of the trunk and kept her company since she was living alone again and had gone back to her old student apartment.
It was her mother – do you remember her? - that was keeping it, not without reproaching her, whenever she had an opportunity to do so, for choosing an area of study in which she saw no prospects of income or prestige: nothing that could allow her to talk big with her friends. It had become a catchphrase for her mother, all the more useful to avoid a real conversation – the kind of caring-mother-with a lonely and sad daughter conversation she really didn't want to get involved with.
Mom was so predictable, from the tone of her voice to the repetition of the same trite lamentation that invariably managed to annoy her, who in that period was impatient to the point of hanging up the phone on her after phrases like:
- By the way, I think you should…
The phone calls became less frequent, and to her mother this was a pretext for blaming her further with her friends that ungrateful and selfish girl who had betrayed her expectations, striking at the heart of her, poor mother who had given everything for her. And on top of that if she didn't call her first… you get the idea.
I've forgotten another of her favorite topic:
- And then how could you date a divorced elderly man! - This one was usually delivered with the slow and deliberate spelling of the adjective el-der-ly. - Do you have any idea of all the unpleasant explanations I had to give? Don't you realize how much my friends have hurt me because of you! Yeah, you never realize, do you, you live in your own world, with your head in the clouds, all sentimental, unconscious, nai…
She often ended the conversation with herself, in an angry yet subtly pleased whisper, because at that point her daughter, as you already understood, had hung up on her.
It was the beginning of summer, and Heyou had no news of Stefano, except the fact that he had gone back to Rome. He had probably asked to be relocated, but she couldn't be too sure of that. Stefano had never answered her letter of heartfelt repentance. On the other hand, the game was clearly unbalanced as she had more than one hundred of his letters stuffed in a drawer, letters she knew by heart, and that testified the incontrovertible deepness of feelings that he had for her. A man she had loved much and had realized she was still loving, desperately, a man who had looked for her and pleaded her for long before giving up, which she had foolishly left without answers, reflecting the many contradictions of her personality.
They had met in the first days after breaking up, sometimes accidentally, then no more. A mutual friend, who worked for the Faculty of Criminal Procedure as an assistant, had given her the news of his relocation, although without providing any detail. He had certainly changed his cellular phone number, as the old one was no longer active. She had surrendered to the temptation of calling him, but with no result.
During those difficult months however, Heyou never lost her hope, feeling that she had to wait. She had hurt both him and herself, with no conscious malice, in a clumsy attempt to escape from a bond of which she felt and feared the strength. At this juncture she discovered, actually rediscovered, her stubbornness. A persistence so obstinate and deeply visceral to seem totally irrational, and which made her sensitive and determined at the same time, often distressed, but never hopeless.
When she opened the shutters, in that summer morning, the air was already hot from the sun. It was late – she had studied in bed until falling asleep at 2 a.m., the book still in her hands, and now she stood with her face still creased by sleep, eyes half-closed to better enjoy the caress of the sun, when the door bell rang.
"Oh God, someone's at the door! Who else could it be? It's already eleven! Damn… "
Her voice came out a little choked on the intercom when she saw the post woman, recognizable by her forelock and peaked cap pulled over her eyes.
- Thanks! Pardon my outfit…
- Sign up here, please.
It was a registered letter with return receipt; the envelope sported a Belgian stamp and the logo of the European Parliament. She looked at the address a couple of times, "Gent.ma Sig.na Heyou…Via Roscelli n.16… It's for me, for real" she thought excited, almost frightened.
But she was still so clouded that only after she opened the envelope and scanned quickly the content of the letter she remembered she had sent months earlier her resume, applying for an internship at a local agency linked to that institution.
- They've accepted me!
The post woman, who was still busy with the others mailboxes of the building, turned to look at her and smiled.
Their eyes met for a moment. Heyou approached her and planted a kiss on her cheek, turned on her heels, actually it was her slippers, which is much more difficult thing to do - in fact one of them flew against the elevator - and, slipper in hand, she went back inside, elated, eyes shining: she was happy. She closed the door and after wasting some time going around in circles in two or three rooms, she walked in front of the bedroom mirror and saw herself in it: she had bright eyes, a silly smile on her face, and held the letter in her right hand as a trophy. She bowed and pirouetted barefoot, again and again.
Then she threw herself on the bed with her head still spinning … and she started to cry.
- We will now start boarding flight ATZ 380 to Paris-Brussels. Passengers please report to gate 26 for boarding!
- I passeggeri del volo ATZ…
- Los pasejeros del vuelo …
The scratchy and barely understandable voice emanating through the speakers of the Milan Malpensa Airport was announcing the boarding of Heyou’s flight.
Heyou glanced at the big screen on the wall.
"Yes! That's my flight! ATZ 380 - AIR FRANCE - GATE 26 – And of course they've changed the boarding gate at the last minute, furthermore it's at the opposite wing! Typical…”
Off she went, almost running, through the chaotic crowd that reassembled almost tidily while approaching Gate 26. They were moving at two different speeds: the one transported by the moving walkway on the right – almost resembling a giant snake - and the one on the left, a hurried assemblage of hundreds of passengers hustling on foot. A crowd of human backs, with coats already disgorged and in hand along with multi-colored hand luggage, magazines and newspapers tucked under harms, all in the line ready to go through the metal detectors.
Given the increasingly strict security measures at airports, you could expect the scrutiny of all personal items. You could witness almost complete stripteases, followed by the requisition of all items not allowed on board. People were already talking about the infamous new control system, the so-called body scanner which basically could see through closes. So much for people privacy.
Heyou considered herself a flight veteran having under her belt more than thirty flights on the same route, as well as several other flights to London, Madrid and Frankfurt. She had even travelled to New York, an experience she remembered as if reliving a frightening dream. Everyone had to take off their shoes, belts, watches and jackets, carryon clear plastic bags with all the essential personal care items, including drugs with bilingual certifications that were brought before the severe and suspicious controllers. Most passengers had a resigned look on their faces, while newcomers were often anxious or even alarmed, especially when waiting in line for boarding with people with heavy beards and dark complexions, dressed in exotic or eccentric clothes.
Heyou however felt at ease, she had never been afraid of flying, probably because she was fatalistic, or perhaps just because she choose not to think about it. She had streamlined her travel routine, including her choice of luggage and its contents. She was traveling only with the essentials, nothing subjected to unusual scrutiny.Sometimes she would fantasize about the society of a not faraway future, her vision of some sort of homologated human beings, each one with their own implanted microchip necessary for identification, scanable at distance; these ideas made her shiver and smile at the same time.
She was now lining up at the boarding gate, lost in her thoughts. She had a calm and slightly amused look on her face, when her phone rang.
- Heyou? It's me, my little girl, your mother…. I need to talk to you…
- Sorry, Mom, I'm at the airport and boarding right now. I'll call you back in a few minutes!
- We really need to talk…
- Now you're pressuring me. What…?
- It's serious business!!!
- Ok, I'm listening, I'm not in the queue anymore, just let me find a quieter spot… tell me…
- I went to the doctor. Dr. Bellini, my friend, you know him also…
- Would you please get to the point, Mom? You're scaring me.Her voice came out harsh, a little high pitched, but that unexpected phone call had frozen her, her heart was running, she was out-of-breath.
- 12 Rapisarda Street, please! It is near the Exhibition zone.- We'll be there in half an hour, if the traffic cooperates. It is impossible to get around today, even by using the reserved lanes. - I see. I'm a bit in a rush, though…
The taxi driver did not answer, as he was already busy avoiding cars parked sideways or in double rows, dodging the scooters that invaded the reserved lane, in defiance of the security cameras that were keeping under surveillance every corner of the city.
The street and windows shop lights ran to meet Heyou, blinding on and off her right eye, at the same speed her taxi was able to fight traffic. It was 5 pm of the beginning of a mild December; the streets and window’s shops were already lavishly decorated for the oncoming Christmas Holidays. But the atmosphere was slightly surreal, as the few hurrying people passing by didn't seem to be fully in tune with the consuming rite that was about to be celebrated. Even Heyou that evening was not in tune with the sparkling lights. The taxi was able to reach the destination only after more than an hour. Heyou got out of the cab dragging a suitcase containing the necessities for at least a week stay. She didn’t know if she had to stay longer. Luckily for her, her boss in Brussels had understood the situation and had allowed her to leave even at a very busy time for the office: they had to organize a big summit in Strasburg on the new AIDS fighting strategies with only fifteen days left before the event when delegates from many African Nations were expected.
That night, six months after the phone call she received from her mother at the Malpensa Airport, Heyou was going back to the home of her childhood. She had been travelling back and forth for awhile, because her mother had a serious health problem - the first serious problem in her life, or so Heyou thought. One of those problems that can take a person by surprise at any age, even when you have signals telling you that something is wrong and that there is an intruder inside you.
Because of the illness her mother had changed a lot: radiotherapy and chemotherapy change people both inside and outside. She was now bald because of the drugs but had refused to wear a wig. She, who had been so vain before her illness, always elegant and impeccable had decided it was about time she stopped pretending. This change in attitude had taken Heyou by surprise.