Michele Curatolo – The Lost Flowers

Alberto is working in Milan now.
Ever since he had started living with Carla, and needed some money to get along, for a long time Alberto had worked as a salesman in a shop in the centre of Brescia, next to Piazza del Mercato. It was an old wide shop, the walls covered with wood panels, and rows of big glass vases full of bulbs and seeds on the shelves behind the counter. It was a flower shop owned by an old gentleman, Mr. Paolo Giuliani, a distant relative of Alberto’s. Already aged, Mr. Giuliani had suddenly left Como, his hometown, for Brescia, where he had bought an old grocery store, turning it into a flower shop. Then he had remembered his local nephew and had asked Alberto to work for him.

At first Alberto had only kept the account books but soon, at Mr. Giuliani’s request, he had also begun to take care of the flowers. He liked working with flowers very much: he used to move them from the store basement to the shop-window following the changing of the seasons. He nursed them and followed their growth. Sometimes, while Mr. Giuliani was sitting quietly at the counter, Alberto also filled the big glass vases on the shelves with beans and lentils, and helped the regular costumers of the owner, who were as old as he was. The moment the flower shop had opened, they had spread the word to one another, and now met there almost every day, with a sort of peaceful joy.
Mr. Giuliani liked Alberto, and loved to chat with him. Only about one point he had never answered Alberto’s questions: the reason for which, nearly in his seventies, he had left his hometown to come to Brescia. One late Spring evening at last – the air was hot inside the shop – unexpectedly Alberto had learnt something more:
«Mr. Paolo, didn’t you like Como? The lake is beautiful there, in this season».
«No, Alberto. I couldn’t stay in Como any more. Not only because my wife had died. Too many arguments, too many quarrels with Bruno, my cousin…» .
«You mean Bruno Giuliani, the hot-water heating businessman?».
«We are first cousins, sons of two brothers. Never got well with him. And it had got worse in the last years. He had stolen everybody’s souls, in Como, even Giovanni and Giacomo admired him because he is loaded with money. But I never wanted to follow him, never wanted to put my life in his hands. And when Arianna has passed away, I fled and came here».
«Still, you are not alone in Brescia. Also Giovanni and Giacomo moved here, didn’t they? It should be better now».
«They came here with their business. Anyway, everything changes when you get old, Alberto. Also the strongest bonds get loose. They are here, but I rarely meet them, and even less hear from them. It is as if they still lived in Como. Old age is a bastard, my boy. Fortunately I still have this shop».

A couple of years later, Mr. Paolo had died, almost without disturbing, silently withering like an old forgotten plant. Not bothering to ask Alberto, his sons had immediately closed the flower shop and, after some weeks, had sold the place to an estate agency. The old shop of seeds and flowers with the wood-covered walls had soon been substituted by a brand new marble, glass and concrete bank branch office.
Then the sons of the old Giuliani had explained to Alberto that this bargain had to be grabbed quickly. A few days after the funeral, on their own account they had come to Alberto and Carla’s house, in the Villaggio Ferrari district. She was there when they arrived. Both in their forties, well-dressed and handsome, talkative but rather offhand, they had got straight to the point:
«It was an opportunity we just could not lose, Alberto. The estate agents had offered to buy the shop even before our poor father’s death. Daddy didn’t know – he may have supposed something. We told him nothing at all directly, just not to trouble him. Anyway, we are sure that he would have approved our move».
«Besides» had added Giacomo, the younger brother, «selling houses just means gaining security, isn’t it so? And anyway money has to come and go. This is the only way the economy of the country can grow and prosper more and more. Certainly not with flowers. Right, Alberto? Flowers are not enough. Now you understand why we sold so quickly».
While the young Giulianis were talking, many thoughts had crossed Alberto’s mind, but he had found few or no words to answer. It was his nature. He had a feeling that what had happened to the shop was wrong, but they had given him no other choice. He had accepted their words without any protest, even though he was very sorry to have left that job and lost the flowers. But after all, what else could he have said to them? He was just a distant relative of Mr. Giuliani’s, and had never liked quarrelling with anybody, least of all with his sons. Also for this reason he accepted the meagre cheque which Giovanni had signed at the end of their meeting, to reward him, as he said «for your inconvenience and in Daddy’s memory».
Actually, as expected, the general economic situation of the country really improved and grew so prosper that the two Giuliani brothers were soon seen in the town driving luxurious sport cars.

As always, also after that meeting Carla, the sweet Carla, had agreed totally with Alberto. There was total harmony between the two. A perfect union. Carla was sweet and beautiful, simple and curious of the world. She had shared completely Alberto’s choices. On purpose they had found for themselves two easy, smooth jobs – he in the flower shop, and she as an assistant in a herbalist’s shop at “Brescia Mart” shopping centre in San Polo – just because they wanted to build a future different from that which almost every other person in their town was working for. The rest of the world around them seemed to be taken into a vortex. So many times Alberto and Carla had laughed together at those people who spent their time dreaming easy money; who wore fashionable clothes in corso Zanardelli and piazza Arnaldo as if they were on a catwalk; who cared about their bodies like some gym maniacs.
Even when he had lost his job with the flower shop and, after a while, their money had started to run short, Carla had been on Alberto’s side without reservation. After their meeting with Giovanni and Giacomo she had comforted him:
«Don’t worry, Alberto. You did the right thing. It’s no use protesting against people like them. You just wait and see that the wrong they caused to you and to the old Mr. Giuliani will soon fall upon them again».
Alberto had smiled at her naivety. He didn’t like to admit it, but he could hardly think of which real wrong might fall upon the two sons of Paolo Giuliani. Now, with all the money they had made from the sale of the flower shop, they could drive their magnificent sport cars, and easily meet many attractive, sun-tanned, and elegant women. Alberto was not sure whether this was one of the things that people fancied in Como, but certainly knew it was the highest aspiration in Brescia: fashionable clothes and powerful engines. Alberto and Carla used to ride their bycicles.
However, Carla had insisted:
«You just wait and see their karma will take them to ruin sooner or later. You’ll see that in this life or in another they’ll pay for what they have done. Because», she had explained, «in the cycle of the existences everyone must seek his inner perfection. And enslaving themselves to money in this world will surely lose them in the world to come».
Alberto was not happy with this kind of talks. That was the only topic on which he sometimes disagreed with Carla, even though he had never revealed it openly. Alberto did not like her mystical excess. It was not that he did not understand her, but it was because Carla’s exaggeration was against his simple project of serenity, against his personal sense of a calm state of balance. Reading good books, going to see nice movies, and riding their bicycles: this was what he really wanted to do. The mystique of the East just made him sad. But this was Carla, and Alberto had neither the energy nor the will to change her. She was so sweet.

For some time Carla, who in the meantime had started to read books really too strange for Alberto, often used to go out with Rajiv, a man from India with a reputation for spiritual enlightenment, and a group of his followers she had met at “Brescia Mart” shopping centre. During their meetings Alberto preferred to remain at home or go out alone. Just once he had caught a glimpse of Rajiv, and from that moment he had begun to worry. It had been on a Summer day. Carla had left home early in the afternoon, telling Alberto that she would be back soon. But midnight had passed, and Carla had not returned. Alberto had taken his bicycle and had arrived underneath the ground floor window of an old house in the centre of the town, close to San Faustino church. He knew that Rajiv’s group met in that place. The window was wide open in the Summer heat, and some voices came from it, clear in the silence of the night. Alberto had cast a quick glance inside and had seen Rajiv, a chubby looking man dressed in white. With half-closed eyes and a foreign accent he was talking to the group. Among the others, in the room full of smoke, there was Carla, the sweet Carla, who was staring at him, with an ecstatic glance, her wet eyes into his eyes, totally enchanted, silent and sweaty.
Empty, motionless, and dumb, Alberto had not entered the house. Unseen, for a few more minutes he had listened to Rajiv’s words. The same topics which Carla used to repeat. The chain of existence. Life full of illusions. Inner perfection. New balance. Nirvana. Then he had returned home silently, in his mind the image of Carla in ecstasy in front of Rajiv. And she had got home nearly at dawn.

From that night on, Carla had changed. Quickly, hashly, remorselessly. Suddenly the old harmony broke into pieces. Words of commiseration were pronounced, then of impatience, and finally of contempt. Carla, the sweet Carla, told him it was long that she hadn’t consider him a real man any more, even though she continued to make love with him. She accused him of not being enough for her any more, nor to support her pursuit of the Absolute. She confessed that it wasn’t wrong at all for her to be in love with others as well as with him at the same time.
Alberto listened to her completely struck, more and more surprised at her words. As usual he didn’t reply. As usual he couldn’t find what to say.
Then she left home. He didn’t know where she had gone.

Many months had passed. Now Alberto had a new job. No more flowers. He had lost the flowers, and couldn’t grow or care for them any more. He was a clerk in a big corporation in the outskirts of Milano, not far from viale Monza. Without rebelling he had been taken into the vortex. He would get up early in the morning, alone, in his house in Brescia without Carla, and rushed to the railway station. He worked hastily, and had a quick lunch. Then he resumed his work and, hastily again, went back to Brescia. Sometimes, after his evening shift, he took one of the last commuting trains from Milano Centrale or Lambrate railway stations. Always in a hurry, always alone, never talking to anybody. When he got off the train and hastily walked through the Brescia station hall, he just had the time to look at the people who spent their nights there. Men and women without an age, stretched on the cold concrete benches, and covered with dirty plastic bags. Groups of foreigners, asleep, who for a moment opened their big empty eyes on him who went past them. Youths snoring in the corners, with huge dogs lying beside them, and bottles of wine knocked down. Alberto looked at them and ran away thinking of the flowers he had lost. And fell into the black hole.

Alberto is working in Milan now.
Days ago, when he was hurrying to Milano Centrale railway station to take his evening train back home, he met Carla, the sweet Carla, again. But she couldn’t see Alberto, as he hid just in time not to be noticed. No, strangely enough she was not with Rajiv, nor with one of his followers. She was radiant in her beauty, with a new hair colour, a brand new haircut, and fashionable clothes. She was thinner than before and looked quite fit, totally wonderful. She walked with a tall man, well-dressed and elegant, as handsome as she was beautiful, but with an angry face. Alberto recognized him: he was Giacomo Giuliani.
Alberto’s eyes followed them. They were running hastily and harshly quarrelling, in a frenzy, hardly retorting to each other. With no joy on their faces. No happiness. Hard, cold, full of anger.
Lost into the vortex.

(Translation by the author,edited by Rocco Andreana and Anna Anzani)