Traces of chalk
In the evening I found myself facing that front door again. I didn’t know what was pushing me there after all that time, but the sweet sunset on the old town roofs of Alghero seemed to be oblivious to my doubts. Thus I found it quite odd to face a past I had left behind more than a decade ago. An old wound I wouldn’t have been willing to reopen; but it’s commonly known that human beings usually take terribly impulsive actions, and my finger pressing on the intercom, while staring at the third-floor window, was precisely the proof of it. I let some infinite seconds flow by. In those moments I considered to dash off, run and leave everything behind me. I was seriously contemplating the idea to get on with my life quietly and just then I heard a voice replying.
Suddenly everything froze. The wind stopped blowing. It was as if no cars were driving on the main city road, and no cars were driving in all the other cities in the world either, they had all got crystallised like in a stolen snap. My breath turned silent. It expanded time, ripping it open. The amount of time that seemed like eternity to me lasted probably a few seconds only. A few long, complicated seconds. It was as if everyone were deciding their own destinies. Good God Almighty too, that is a total stranger to me, looked like he wasn’t paying attention to the souls to be sorted in the lay waiting list of the Last Judgement.
With nothing more to say, the electric sound of the intercom let the gate open, and then, it hung up with a click. In the main city streets cars started to let gas go from their slincers again, accelerating one by one, and the wind came back to blow uncertainty away caressing the trees’ heads. I got in and, as soon as I had gone beyond the threshold, my whole life came back to me. In a parallel universe I would have asked my other self what the point was in that out-of-the-blue return.
But, I thought, as at that point in time I had already bought in a rush the first muscat wine bottle I had happened upon, then I might as well have uncorked it to wash old resentment away. I closed the door behind me. By then I felt determined. I would have faced Alice’s parents, one last time. I hadn’t seen them since that day in Dublin. Had they grown older? What was I going to do first? Was I supposed to hug them or maybe just to give them a handshake? What about them? What were they going to do next?
Every step in that building leading me to the third floor brought with it a new doubt.
I turned at the corner while heading to the last flight of steps and I found her there: bob hair, almost entirely white. She was tiny and scowling. The life flow had left visible marks on her. In all those years there was only one thing that had not changed though: the way she looked at me.
And she was still there, on the house threshold, the same way I had seen her a thousand times more in my youth. And everytime I would leave that house, she would stand there on the landing, waiting for me to turn around and reveal with my gaze that it had been my fault only. I had never turned around and so did I again this time, otherwise I should have told her that Alice had pleaded me to run away from that life of gratitude which, as time went by, would turn into slavery. Moreover, I thought that having someone to blame could help her one day. Clearly what we think is fair for us will be revealing terribly wrong for someone else.
I stopped before I could climb the final steps. A quite-similar-to-a-smile grimace showed up on my face.
- Linda… -
She smiled back. The same way the executioner smiles to his victim before pulling the trigger. The same way the judge smiles to his proved guilty accused, before sentencing him. The same way the matador smiles in self-satisfaction, before piercing the bull to death from side to side.
- Grandma… -
I remember that in that moment, while holding the cheapest muscat wine in my hands, I recalled the way I used to messily erase the traces of chalk on the blackboard when I was a schoolboy. That day, just in the same way, I would have loved to erase time as I heard that girlish voice coming from the inside of that third-floor apartment.