The elegant blond woman lingered long in front of the gift shop. Several times she was about to cross the street and leave, but, in the end, she clasped her fur muff to her breast and entered the shop with a purposeful stride.
Hearing the tinkle of the doorbells, the girl behind the counter looked up. Her lips widened into a smile while her eyes stayed dull.
“Good afternoon, Madam…May I help you?”
“Yes”, whispered the woman. Then, an astonished expression appeared on her face:
“But you are Bruna”. (In Italian, Bruna is also a name and it means, at the same time, brown-haired).
“I’m sorry, but I’m not Bruna. You’ve taken me for another person”.
“I meant… your hair is brown (bruni)”.
“Well, it has always been”.
A small flash crossed the customer’s eyes.
“I’m sorry. According to my husband, men like blonds better. And you are so pretty that I find it strange that your hair is dark”.
“May I help you?, asked the girl for the second time and a little more harshly.
“Oh, yes, of course. I would like to see some pieces of china. Something unpretentious, a little gift for my mother in law”.
“What do you prefer? A vase, a little statue, a…On the contrary, my fiancé says that fascinating women are all brown- haired”.
“A blond woman can easily increase her charm even if she is nothing special. On the other hand, if a brunette is considered attractive it means that she really is”.
“How funny our partners have such different tastes!”
“Will a vase suit you? Or do you prefer to see the decorated plates? The drawing is all hand-made”.
“A little statue, please”.
“This way, on the pink rack. We have a big choice”.
“Have you been engaged for a long time?”
“Would you like a floral pattern or a human subject? A classical seventeenth century lady, perhaps? We have a very nice one representing a lady on a swing among flowers”.
“One of these winged cherubs will be perfect”.
“Rather old people generally prefer subjects representing ladies. And you, Madam, have you been married for many years?”
“Thirty, next month”.
A shadow veiled the shop assistant’s glance. “You are lucky if, after thirty years, your husband still finds you beautiful”.
“That’s not what I said”.
“Sometimes, I’m afraid my partner has a poor opinion of me. Maybe it’s because of the colour of my hair”.
“Don’t be ridiculous! My husband stopped looking into my eyes after six months of marriage. For that matter, he doesn’t even have the opportunity of doing it; he is often away from home. Even at night”.
“My fiancé only pays a grain of attention to me (as if it were a gift) when I threaten to leave him. If he doesn’t make up his mind and…”
“And do what?”
“Nothing. Men are so selfish”.
“I can’t say for other men but my man surely is”.
“Mine too. Are you sure you do not want a lady? It looks better than these horrible little angels”.
“My mother in law won’t like it anyway. Why doesn’t your fiancé please you?”
The girl’s voice was shaking. “He is not really my fiancé. Oh, I don’t know why I’m telling these things to a perfect stranger. Actually, I haven’t figured out what I mean to him yet”.
“Maybe he has a reason for not making himself clear”.
“Yes, he does. He is tied to another person. He says that this would make her suffer, because she is accustomed to their daily life and she completely depends on him”.
“Is that what he says?”
“However, sometimes it only sounds like an excuse. During a quarrel, he even told me that he could also replace me if I didn’t stop being so demanding ”.
“My husband said the same thing to me, once”.
“He’s one of those people who behave as if they were doing you a favour staying with you from time to time”.
“And, then, they blame you when you try to enliven your life upsetting their beloved routine”.
“…or they don’t allow you to wish for a proper place in their lives”.
“…and they make you feel like nothing. A blond nothing standing besides them, confined to the sidelines of their life. After their job, after money, after their mother’s wishes. And after his girl-friend”.
An understanding glance brightened the girl’s face. “You are Marta…”
“And you are Gabriella. Forgive me! But I had to come here because I wanted to see you, to understand what you had more than I do, apart from your youth”.
“You should know how often I’ve asked myself the same thing about you”.
“I also wanted to ask you to leave Guido to me, not to spoil our marriage. But now…”
She lifted her head, her eyes wide opened: “You know what I’m going to tell you: Keep him. Keep him just for you. If I really think about all this, I don’t want him back. It was a good idea to come here”.
“How funny! I was thinking the same thing, this very moment”.
“Did you understand what I said? He’s totally yours. I’ll give him to you, I’ll free him . Actually, I’ll free myself”.
“You know, I don’t think Guido will find me here tonight, at his disposal…”.
“By the way, you can keep the little statue!”
The sun bounced on the shop window and drew coloured swirls on the old pink painted walls of the shop. Marta cast a desperately relieved glance at the girl, before stepping into the street. Gabriella stayed inside and listened to the doorbells going crazy; she breathed, her lips compressed, her determined eyes now brightening.
Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Ester Tossi)