After i was released from the hospital i needed somewhere to recover from that, and luckily Matthieu and i were able to stay with a friend of friends for a while. Her name was Elena and although she was a lot older than me, we instantly clicked. I found her so attractive; her eyes were a peculiar grayish green and seemed to light up when she looked at me. At a certain point we could both just talk in our own language, and we understood each other.
During the few weeks we stayed with her, we often went on sightseeing trips with her lover Raffa.
Raffa had an old-fashioned, but always neatly polished white Peugeot, in which he also took us to the bank in Oristano. Our money was almost gone due to the unexpected hospitalization, and Matthieu had demanded that i ask my parents for money, so it happened and so we had to wait for when money would be deposited.
There was no internet back then, i was 17 and had no idea how that sort of thing worked. We didn't get much wiser at the bank either. And to make matters worse, it turned out that it was not clear from which bank the money could be collected, because there turned out to be another bank: diagonally opposite the other. Confusion everywhere, and we were therefore forced to go to both banks a few times a day to obtain information.
After doing this for about 4 days, we came out of bank number 2 in a gloomy mood. After the long wait in the shelter of the banking system, it took some getting used to the sun and before we realized what was happening, a few men surrounded us, waved with something of an ID and forced us into a couple of cars. On the other side of the road i saw Raffa's troubled face in a flash: he shouted that everything would be all right, that we had to stay calm.
It was a completely incomprehensible action. I understood some Italian, but speaking was not very easy for me. The detectives could not or would not speak English. I had no clue what was going on.
In the police station i briefly saw Matthieu, who told me that he had quickly swallowed the stash. Stash? What stash? He said that he had brought paper trips to sell, and that he quickly took them in the cop car to avoid capture. He was a little afraid of what would happen, if it would make him very ill.
I didn't have time to answer, it was all so absurd, i couldn't even think.
We were taken to separate rooms, i ended up in the office of some detectives. Someone was called in who did speak a few words of English. It turned out that they suspected us of strange money practices, they mainly wondered what we were up to at those two banks.
For God's sake. With great difficulty i tried to explain. How i ended up in the hospital, that the money ran out, etcetera. By now a small army of detectives, all men, had turned up, all of whom found it very entertaining. They told me to pull up my trouser legs so they could check my legs, which had been burned.
There was laughter, sexist remarks were made, my bag was emptied upside down (i was used to that by now), jokes were made about the tampons falling out. In the meantime i was thinking how i might end up in an Italian prison. Although i still had no idea why. What was suspicious about visiting two banks? We weren't wearing balaclavas or anything.
After the screening in the detective domain i was allowed to leave. Matthieu too, who was still not ill. We were met by Raffa, who was quite shocked, and also felt responsible for our well-being, however much we assured him that there was nothing he could do about it. He told us about the carabinieri's vicious bastards. And how they often targeted minorities, like Matthieu as a black man, and me as a woman. We had survived without too much aggression, and the paper trips turned out to be just pieces of paper, because Matthieu was still not ill or otherwise psychologically affected.
The money was there a day later, fortunately right away on the first visit to the first bank.
Raffa had invited us to have dinner at his house. Elena was his extramarital girlfriend, his wife and children and parents-in-law lived one village away. We were instructed not to mention Elena.
That turned out not to be too difficult, because no one except Raffa spoke English. Upon entering, the women of the house showed me to a bedroom: i looked tired and had to get some sleep first. Compulsory sleeping isn't really my thing, so i lay there staring at the ceiling, taking in the frumpy bedroom. Everything was spotlessly clean and tidy. But frumpy. And of course with a crucified Jesus above the bed.
After some time i was called, dinner was ready. There were some children, the mother, Raffa, who i suddenly thought looked different, the in-laws. There was laughter and eating, some clumsy talking.
Opposite me on the wall hung a calendar, pinned with a beautiful dark blue butterfly; her wings sometimes moved a little. It made me feel so sad. Dad-in-law saw me looking, and started a fiery story, which Raffa translated, about collecting butterflies. He directed me to a drawer, which contained many albums full of dead butterflies. And a few cigar boxes with colored corpses, which still had to be pasted into albums. I was sworn that it was innocent, but i was not convinced. I just pretended to be.
We spent many evenings chatting with Elena and Raffa; Raffa was also interested in going to the Netherlands to look for work there. Elena hated it. Matthieu did his very best to praise the Netherlands, i on the other hand tried to downplay it a bit, because it is of course not that pleasant here, not even then. And i felt bad for Elena.
Raffa wanted to travel with us, we could then go with his car. That was a more pleasant travel prospect for us, but i kept hoping that he would call it off.
Elena felt increasingly miserable, got migraines and often spent hours in bed feeling sad. I knocked once to check how she was doing, she seemed to have disappeared for hours that day. She lay on the bed, in all her dramatic beauty. She asked me to lie down with her. We talked softly. She cried a little, i wiped her tears. And kissed her, which in hindsight was very not with consent. She allowed it. I kissed her again. And one more time. Then she said she didn't want that, and the moment i tilted my head back – i was halfway bent over her – Matthieu suddenly burst into the bedroom. I felt caught, but at the same time i didn't feel like i had done anything wrong. He shouldn't have just walked in because of Elena's grief.
I went outside with Matthieu. He acted a little jealous, and when he noticed that didn't make much of an impression, he teased me about wanting to have sex with her. Which by the way, i hadn't thought of at all; i wanted to comfort her.
If Elena had been a man, he would have beaten me to death. Oddly enough in that whole Italy travelogue he never touched me with a finger. He wasn't even mad at me once. Very bizarre. Not that that lessened my fear of him. I knew it would go wrong again at some point. Why not in Italy then? Maybe one of the Italian friends warned him. Maybe they promised to throw him off a cliff in some old-mafia kind of way, if he mistreated me?
(to be continued)
Want to read more? About this journey i also wrote Topfun and A thousand suns.
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