Like a mother

Plot – With no announcement, one day a girl finds out she’s gonna be a mother. Or rather, she “inherited” a niece and a nephew who are now her responsability. It’s a role which shocks her. But when, one night, she hears a terribile news, it is clear that there’s only one thing to do: run!
[Translation by Lucia Zaccherini]

I am single. I am thirty-five years old. A shapely but athletic physique. I hate lavender, I think I’m the only person in the world. I seek order, or maybe I should say perfection, in everything. I am a businesswoman. I produce a fashion brand. Nothing like Gucci or Louis Vuitton, but it goes well. I appreciate simple dishes, white wine, I only eat vanilla flavored ice cream. I live by myself; I don’t have relationships; I only have temporary contracts or meetings. I tend to be in control. I’m smart, but sometimes I forget that I’m human and nothing can follow its path flawlessly. I only love animals in the movies. I love my family, but in small doses. And this is where my whole life falls apart. On an ordinary day, the castle I thought solid and unassailable collapses right in front of me, and I with it.

I don’t know how that picture got to me, or who took it, but every question that arises in my mind is pushed away by the mother of all questions: are the children okay? I can’t breathe, my throat itches. I feel like I’ve lost my hearing because I can’t even hear the television in the background anymore. I haven’t heard from them in over a month.

I last saw them for a few minutes. They were holding hands walking toward me as I waited for them in a room while sipping a coffee. I had placed two large gift boxes in plain sight, but they hadn’t touched them. They stood still as if waiting for my reaction. The older one had rested her arm on the shoulders of the younger one who was keeping his head down. I said a few sentences that ended with a big clownish smile.

Only the older one responded, but in one-word answers. I tightened my lips and stood up, saying that we would see each other again soon and, in that moment, the younger one looked at me. His light brown eyes recalled the memory of their mom, my little sister with whom I shared everything. He doesn’t say a word, but his expression lets me know he’s aware that I’m lying.

And I am reminded of when, as a little girl, my little sister and I used to have fun stealing mommy’s ladles to play under the table while she was cooking; she would go crazy every time and when she found out, or rather, got tired, she would threaten to take away all our toys and we would run off to our room, amused, because she didn’t know that the best toys we had were hidden in the closet, under the winter comforters. 

I throw the photo on the kitchen table and look out my large attic window. The view from up there is gorgeous. It was the trump card that led me to buy the flat. Those kids never came here. Every item is vintage or luxury, I would die if something got ruined. I think back to my sister, and instinctively bring a hand to my mouth. I never cry. Under no circumstance. It’s such a weak thing that I feel so ashamed and I lower my eyes, as if I had someone in front of me to judge me. I turn around and push a chair to the ground with a violence I didn’t think I was capable of. The noise is deafening at that time of the evening.

My gaze is fixed on the object that a few moments later I put back in place with extreme delicacy, as if I were picking roses from which I have not removed the thorns. I pick up my cell phone and carefully scroll through the address book. Maybe I hope not to find that number registered, but then it clearly and distinctly appears to my eyes. My finger is in mid-air and, still undecided, it presses the button. When a female voice answers, I feel a tremendous discomfort, practically a cannonball into a pool of freezing water.

The captain of my emotions holds the reins on my anxiety, after all I only have to ask her one question even if in a flash our first conversation resurfaces where she informed me that I was the closest relative to my two nephews. My family had died in a car accident: I no longer had a sister, brother-in-law, mother and father. The children were at a birthday party. I hadn’t worked up the courage to pick them up and had insisted she take care of them. What a coward…

I apologize for the time and slowly, almost as if my mind were thinking like a coin-operated carousel to be loaded again and again, I ask how the children are. The lack of fluency with which she usually talks betrays her. I feel a sharp chill down my spine and clutch the phone tighter. I ask for an explanation, I demand it. She tells me that unfortunately there has been a change and that for a trivial misunderstanding, perhaps, I have not been informed. She lists an address and the blood stops flowing in my veins, or at least that’s what I feel.

I don’t realize I’m barefoot, wearing only a sheath dress and my hair is messy. The doorman on the ground floor opens the front door just in time to keep me from running into it. I run quickly down the sidewalk. I bump into a few passers-by; the smarter ones move over. I cross the street waving at the cars that don’t even honk, perhaps puzzled by my rush. I reach the other side of the street and run faster and faster. In high school I was a great sprinter and it’s amazing how well my body remembers the pace useful for a balanced run.

I run for what will be at least five miles. I don’t hint at shortness of breath. I don’t collapse. I suddenly stop in front of the destination and yell to open while I knock on the door so loudly that from across the street someone is babbling loudly phrases that I don’t understand. Maybe they are telling me to be quiet, maybe they are forcing me to stop. I don’t know and I don’t care. A light comes on and when the door opens, I don’t pay attention to who’s in front of me. I call their names over and over, as if I were a broken record and the volume stuck at the same point, high and roaring.

More lights come on. I hear a buzz of voices, but I don’t listen. I go up to the second floor and pace the halls. My ringing voice awakens the place I didn’t want for them. It smells old, the walls have cracked plaster, the toilet reeks like a sewer, the floor has stains everywhere. I call their names but I can’t find them and at that moment I freeze because I realize I’m crying. I turn around and observe the puzzled or frightened looks of children in their pajamas, some clutching a soft toy. They must think I’m crazy and I think I look like one. Then I hear someone calling my name and I turn around. There they are! 

I take the youngest in my arms and the oldest by the hand and drag them to the entrance while an old man attacks me with words that I promptly ignore. I go out into the street and walk without looking back. The children don’t say anything, they just follow me. The further we get from that building, the safer I feel. I look around to see where we are and the youngest looks at me and says he is hungry. He could have told me anything, even the most heinous words, he would have been entitled. Instead, he just wants to eat.

Even though I don’t have a penny on me, we walk towards the first place that offers meals at that hour and in looking for it, I see my image reflected along a dark glass window. I look like someone who went into a hurricane and came out unscathed. I try to fix my hair, but the oldest stops me. She asks me not to. She says I remind her of her mom and my chest warms up making me feel guilty but serene at the same time. Sis, I miss you so much…

We reach a restaurant still busy serving hot meals, but two police patrols approach. A man in uniform examines me like a scanner and from the determined look on his face I understand that he knows who I am and what I have done. He asks me to get in the car and leave the children to his colleague who tries to get closer, but I block them with an immediate hand gesture. I say that I will not do any of this, not until I have taken the children to eat, because that is what they want.

The man stares at me seriously for seconds that seem to have no end. He certainly fears for the children’s lives, and his oath obliges him to enforce the law, to serve and protect, but I also get the impression that he understands my state of mind because he slowly loses his rigid stance and the sides of his mouth, despite being hidden by his mustache, soften. He waves a hand that reassures me and opens the door to let us into the restaurant. 

The little one sits on my lap, the older one across from me. We order only pizza slices and desserts. I insist on water instead of coke, my sister used to do that all the time. They eat and joke as if nothing crazy has happened, as if the police isn’t out there, waiting for us to come out. Maybe they don’t know what’s going to happen, to tell the truth I don’t know either, but in that moment I don’t care. I take a bite of the chocolate cake and my stomach opens up in grace, happy that I don’t have to digest any more fat-free food. It’s the sweetest and most sensible bite in years, and I take immense pleasure in savoring it.

I move back a strand of hair and realize that I got stained. Up until an hour before I would have screamed hysterically, but now I look curiously at the chocolate residue on my fingers, on my dress, on my hair. The little one turns around and laughs. He says that once his mom didn’t know whether to cut his hair. She kept repeating it to everyone and he, tired of hearing her, had squashed a chewing gum on her head. I remembered that incident, I was with her at the hair salon the day she almost had to shave her head. We found ourselves laughing, almost to tears. 

I had rejected them because I didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them. 
I had bribed them with gifts to appear as the perfect aunt. 
I had kidnapped them without explanation in the middle of the night. Yet they were sitting with me laughing, eating, talking about their mom. Light-hearted. How was that possible? They held no grudge against me and I… I had never been happier than in that moment.


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