Crossing Alleys

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man discovers something significant on an ordinary day.

Submitted: August 23, 2012

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Submitted: August 23, 2012

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He was walking. The road wasn’t crowded nor deserted either.

The writer’s block was suffocating him so he had decided that taking a long walk away from his apartment building would give him a breath of fresh air.

He looked around while he walked. People came from all over the world to take photos of these buildings and statues, and sometimes the sky. Rome was his getaway. He didn’t really blame the people who flocked here. Nothing could compare to the beauty of this city. The rich history, with its breathtaking allure are one of those few factors and reasons behind the attraction. In his case though, he had never fallen so hard in love with a city like Rome. He couldn’t understand it but visits it once a year for two months. But ever since the writer’s block that had struck him last year, he had practically resided there. Not one work of literature escaped his fingers, writing them. He just couldn’t. And he didn’t know why.

The failure of writing a meaningful paragraph drove him to the edge that day, so he decided for a walk. A long one. Observing people’s behavior and facial expressions around him was getting tiresome. So, he lowered his head and kept walking until he reached alleys he’d never been, and places with no tourists. It was more of intersections of alleys, with balconies everywhere displaying the plants and flowers of the residents. He had been clearing his head and trying to have a blank mind that he didn’t hear a woman calling after him. The sound of ‘signor’ repeating itself never really reached him until he was yanked by his sleeves. The force of the pull jilted him and he quickly turned around. An old woman wearing all black was standing before him with a little girl running up to her.

“Yes?” he asked. Then he remembered. “Mi Scusi. Si?”

He looked at her waiting for whatever she wanted from him, but she was silent. Her eyes kept looking at him with joy. It was as if she were relishing the sight of him. Then she held him at arm’s length, and he kept still. He was never good with social interaction nor body language and that was why he felt uncomfortable at that moment.

He asked her again what did she want, but her eyes watered and she held her forehead as if she was in disbelief. Her white hair peeked from her flowery scarf and she turned to the little girl beside her, smiling widely.

Then he heard her voice. She spoke slowly and in Italian which he never perfected nor learned properly. He tried to grasp any meaning of what she was saying, but to no avail.

He kept looking from her to the girl, and then decided to ask. “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Italian.”

The old woman snickered and tears were running down her wrinkled face. The sight paralyzed him because he never saw the tears of happiness. Joy was all over her face. She resumed speaking and touched his cheek at first then held his face in both of her hands, her words spoken heatedly. That made him want to know so bad what that woman wanted. Could she have mistaken him for someone else?

He turned to the girl. “Do you speak English?”

“Little,” she said.

The old woman’s hands went back to his arms, rubbing them and still staring at him.

“I don’t know her. I’m not who she thinks I am I think.”

“She says she knows you.”

He looked at both of them. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen her before. Does she want something?”

The little girl translated that to the old woman. The latter cried more, then shook her head. He got the answer.

“My grandmother says not really.”

“Yeah. I figured. What’s she saying?”

The little girl asked her grandmother and the old lady talked to her. The little girl had a focused look on her face. She then turned to him. “She’s saying that she had been waiting for you.”

He raised his eyebrows in wonder. Looking at the old lady again, he tried to look at her face and see if he had seen her before or should know her. Her eyes were violet-colored, wrinkles decorated her sad face, and tears were making wet tracks down her hollow cheeks. He shook his head and looked at the girl.

“Tell her I really don’t know her. She must be mistaken.”

Then he listened to the girl interpreting and the reaction of the old lady. She shook her head and grabbed his hands bringing them to her face, wanting to kiss them. He was shocked, shaken and his heart tugged at him feeling sad for the lady all of a sudden. He quickly stopped her, pulling his hands away. He just couldn’t let it happen. A strange old woman wanting to kiss his hands! He was at loss for words. She must have mistaken him for someone else.

He cursed himself for not learning the language. Italian was hard for him and he didn’t really put an effort. But he kept searching her face and knew when she put her head on his chest that she was thinking him someone else. He didn’t know what to do. He stood there while the fragile little body took shelter in him, resting her face on his chest.

“Can you please tell me little girl what your grandmother wants?”

She tugged at her grandmother who refused to leave his embrace. He had no chance of escaping. Then she turned to him. The girl laughed nervously and said, “I’m sorry but I think my grandmama is forgetting again. Come mama. Andiamo.”

It dawned on him. The old lady must be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. He sighed, and decided to spare the lady and put his arms around her. She must have confused him with someone else. What he didn’t expect was the force with which she clung to him and he was shaken inside. His heart beat faster as realization hit him that this lady must have lost someone very dear to her.

“What is she forgetting sweetie? What did she say?”

“Umm. She says why did you leave her? She wanted to marry you and you was…um I mean..could waited. Grandmama andiamo.” The girl apparently felt uncomfortable and tried to tug at her, but to no avail.

He said what he knew and what he thinks was appropriate to calm her down. “Va bene. Va bene.”

After what seemed like hours, she stepped away from him, slowly wiped her face with a handkerchief. She then reached inside her small lady purse and pulled out her small leather wallet. Her hands were shaking and all he could do was stand there in a frozen state. He could not believe the strong emotional reaction that the lady was showing. The girl peeked at her grandmother’s purse and then the old lady pulled out a wrinkled, aged photo. It was in black and white. She said something and his head turned to their interpreter.

“She says remember our time together?”

He looked back and felt the cold hand of hers touching his, and putting the picture there. He lifted it and his breath was caught in his chest. His heart stopped.

There he was. Standing in front of the Piza tower with a beautiful young lady. He looked closely and saw how the two were obviously lovers. Both of his arms were around her waist and she was laughing with his face close to hers, trying to steal a kiss.

The woman was gorgeous with the black hair to her shoulder, styled like the actresses from old Hollywood black and white movies. She had a stark colored lipstick which might be red, but he wouldn’t know for the picture was in black and white. The clothes were dated back to the 1940s apparently. He saw himself wearing a light suit, with his hair jelled back. He couldn’t believe the resemblance. Then everything hit him so hard. His eyes widened as he realized who it was. When he looked up, the old woman snatched the photo, hid it and then turned away from him. Apparently she felt disappointed when he didn’t say anything. The girl held her hand and they started walking the opposite of where he was going.

He knew who the man in the picture was. He knew why the hopeless lady grabbed him and held on. He knew why. But he couldn’t believe it. He just wanted to hear her. Hear her say the name.

He breathed deeply and tried not to shake as he ran after them. They barely walked far. He came and stood in front of them.

“Wait…umm aspettare.”

The girl and her grandmother stopped. The old lady’s violet eyes were still wet, but she didn’t smile. She gave him a sad look that he won’t be able to forget. He was frustrated at how he couldn’t express himself.

“Ask your grandmama who was the man in the photo?”

She asked her, and the old lady snickered and then spoke. The girl said, “She says she hasn’t spoken his name since…umm…so long.”

“Why?”

“Because her family said not to.” The girl looked confused a bit. He, on the other hand, got the message. It all sunk in, but he wanted to make sure.

So, he eyed the old woman, and stooped to her eye level.

“Il mio nome?” All he knew was the word ‘my name.’ He hoped with all his heart she would answer him.

He searched her eyes, the violet teary ones. He found himself finding love and compassion and joy. He found himself shivering at the impact.

He waited. He looked deep into her eyes and he saw it. She was showing a bit of relief and her lips moved. She uttered softly, “Er…Eric Ri..Richards. Eric Richards.” She then clasped her hands on her mouth, and gasped trying to hold back her tears. She couldn’t.

She cried and the girl said that she wanted to leave. He stood there motionless as the woman and her grandchild left.

The breeze ruffled his black hair but it took him a few minutes to realize they were actually gone. He turned back slowly and saw their last silhouette around the corner.

He needed to sit down. He looked around and saw a small bench. He walked there and slumped down, sat back and breathed in. His grandfather. He didn’t see that coming. He never heard it. Not from him, and not from his father.

The daunting truth hurt him that his grandfather broke that old woman’s heart. They were obviously in love but something got in their way. He would give anything to know the truth behind their tragic story. What happened to them? Why was he there in the first place? He never heard that his grandfather went to Italy.

He wiped his face with his hands. He would never forget the looks she gave him, nor the way she held on to him. Desperation, and sense of loss was what she was feeling or suffering for that matter. Her violet eyes would haunt him forever.

Eric sat there for hours. Just sitting there trying to understand what he was feeling. Trying to dismiss the sadness that engulfed him. He looked at his watch and then the sky. It was getting dark.

Suddenly, he realized that he wanted a pen and a paper. He wanted his laptop. He wanted the phone. He needed to talk to his father. He needed to get to know what happened. What happened here in Rome years ago between his grandfather and that lady. He needed to write.

He smiled sadly as it dawned on him that the writer’s block was no longer hindering him.


© Copyright 2017 alanoud. All rights reserved.

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