He observed that his bus was late again that morning. Fortunately just for a few minutes, but enough to make him rush to get to work on time.
He scratched his nose; the cold was making it strangely itchy.
Exhausted, he sighed: his wife didn’t manage to sleep again the night before and as a result, he had found it hard to nod off. It was a mild form of depression, the doctor had told her, possibly caused by her advancing age: she had never accepted the fact she hadn’t had children.
It was just the two of them.
He snatched his nose again and tried to loosen the collar of his heavily-starched shirt. It mattered to her that he always appeared tidy and impeccably dressed. It was a way to defend herself from people’s stares.
Who knows how that had happened.
She was the first to wake up in the morning: she would go to the kitchen and make tea for both of them. With her first cup, she would take a painkiller for her headache which was already bad at that time of the morning. Then she would wait for him to wake up, smoke a cigarette and stare at the grey wall of the house across the way, from the window.
As soon as he sat down, she would bring him a slice of toast and go to their bedroom to prepare his clothes.
Over the past years her disease had made her decide to leave her job and stay at home: that way she thought that she could also look after herself. But it became harder and harder to keep the chaotic pieces of all the aspects of her life together.
Sometimes ideas blurred together and when she came back from doing the shopping, she would leave the bags in the hall way and sit at that same breakfast table, trying to remember something she couldn’t explain to anyone. It was only an image, something less defined than a thought. She once again pictured – or she believed that she did – the house at the end of the street where she had lived as a child, and a shadow at the window looking out, towards her.
That figure reminded her of a face, but she didn’t know whose it was. Maybe a person she had known or had met in some way and then lost. Or conversely, someone she had never met at all.
She tried to bring the image into focus, because it obviously hid something important, the solution to a mystery. But she never succeeded.
Before he came home, she would stand up, put everything away and choose the ingredients to prepare dinner.
Sometimes the days seemed to disappear in a flash, from day to night.
Their evenings were spent quietly, between dinner and television. There was always something to watch. Sometimes she would get up to go to the bathroom, when she really needed to, and lock herself inside to stare at her reflection in the mirror.
She would stare at her reflected image and her old, glaze-over eyes, and when the number of years, the time that had passed and what times was left ahead couldn’t convince her any longer, she would crouch on the floor and think of that face she was not able to remember. The blurred lips whispering a greeting, a word…
Sometimes he would get up and knock at the bathroom door, when she stayed there too long, so she would rouse herself from the past and answer: “Yes I am coming now. I’m done.”
Then she would take a couple of her pills and go out to face what was left of evening, without having found a solution to the mystery.
He had stopped asking her questions a long time before, so as not to upset her. He saw the dull look in her eyes and, with a sort of delicate modesty, he lowered his gaze.
The bathroom could become his haven too; he who was home so little. In the first-aid cabinet two different bottles stood centre stage and face to face, like two lives in the mirror. He listened to the buzzing of the television for a while without realising it, and when the heavy silence of the house began to seep through even to that place, it was as if an imperceptible order called him forth: he opened the door and went to bed.
His wife roamed in the bedroom getting ready for the night; her pale dressing gowns contributed to giving her a ghostlike appearance.
He focused on his usual reading, a sports magazine or some tales form Roger’s Digest.
It was when the light was turned off that things became difficult: sometimes he fell asleep straight away, sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night or if he couldn’t sleep: then she too would start to twist and turn in the bed, as if she was suffering from a physical ailment. The alarm ticked in the dark and in the silence.
In his loneliness, he was not able to find answers to all the questions which in the daytime he was able to hush up; and he could no longer shore up the wall of his own desolation.
In those moments the bright face of that unknown woman he saw every day at the bus stop, would come vividly to mind. He saw her there every day for years but never dared to speak to her. She was alone, reserved, serious. And for some reason he imagined her as a sensual and warm being, behind her elegance.
He saw that face for years and, every time, he hoped to find the courage to speak to her.
It was a pity that on that day he hadn’t seen her go by.
Translation by Emma Lenzi (edited by Ester Tossi)