It must have been 1961, I was five and my mum used to take me with her to the market. I remember the few blocks we had to walk as if it was today, I could walk them with my eyes closed. If the streets were like they used to be, that is. We had the option to follow the wall surrounding the school and cross the road by the small cinema that belonged to the church, or cross earlier, by the triangle of old low houses, an island left over from the pre-war years, then follow the narrow street to the red bricks church.
On market days the wide road that went straight from the church front to the large square where the trams were was closed to the traffic – not that there was much traffic in those days anyway – and it was safe for us children to walk about and be offered a fruit or a piece of cheese by the stall keepers, eager to attract our mums.
It was at the market that I met Luisa, and instantly fell in love.
Our mums were the most attractive in the whole borough. We thought so at least, and the comments of the male stall keepers and whistles of men passing by on their bicycles seemed to confirm our opinion. Whatever, I’m digressing.
Our mums were very different from each other, but they somehow conformed to the Italian post-war ideal type, think Sofia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, you know what I mean.
My mum was very sober in her mildly coloured tailleurs, usually a short jacket and mid-length skirt, often fashioned by herself with extreme care to detail. She had wavy long blonde hair (her natural colour was a golden chestnut though) and cristal blue eyes, a shapely slender body and a gentle smile. High heels de rigueur and minimal jewellery.
Luisa’s mum was a lot more ostentacious, and some thought a bit too racy for the mood of the time. She was tall and slim, she generally wore high heels, very tight black leggings, a high leather belt squeezing an already impossibly narrow waist, bright tight shirts and some kind of bra that would exaggerate her breasts outward and upward. Sunglasses barely hiding the heavily made up almond-shaped eyes with extra long black lashes and an outrageously high beehive of raven black hair, often adorned with a red silk scarf.
An odd pair these two made, but for some reason we would always bump into each other at the market and we would run the length of it together buying all the groceries and cheese – there still were no supermarkets – and once reached the end of the market we would turn right on the big square, then down the boulevard to buy bread, fresh pasta and finally meat from the shops there.
All the way the two mums chatted amiably and parried the filrting administered to them by the stall keepers, who were more than once kicked (metaphorically as much as physically) by their wives, if present.
Meanwhile Luisa and I had all the time to enjoy each other’s company, stop in front of the toy shop window (the only one in the borough), hide behind the stalls, play with the coloured fabrics and pretend to be a couple going out shopping.
Luisa was luminous, in my eyes there was nothing on earth that could outshine her. She had wild curly blond hair that would spring in all directions and catch every beam of light. Her eyes were dark and deep, with a mischevious and challenging stare. Her smile was a mix of sweetness and sarcasm. She never walked, she danced on her feet all the time, as if she could not stand still nor walk straight.
I was in awe of her. I could not wait for market day and for that hour or two of bliss in the company of Luisa.
The last year before we started primary school felt like a frame around the masterpiece that Luisa was for me. I was very sad when school pervented us to meet at the market, which became a rare event, on an occasional Saturday or during the Summer holidays.
It was at that time that I had my first erotic dream worth its name. I still remember it. The Alps were all around our city, so going out to the mountais on weekends was normal for most people, and many families would have a holiday home on the mountains.
In the dream our two families had gone to the mountains for a weekend. We were staying in a large stone house, typical of the Alps, those with the roof made of large flat grey stones. The inside was an open space, like a barn, and the two couples of parents were sitting at the table, drinking and chatting, the fathers smoking. Luisa and I had gone out to play in the fields trying to annoy the cows, then went around the back of the house and found an opening that took to the hayloft. This was a sort of large mezzanine overlooking the ground floor, and from there we could see our parents without being seen. We silently climbed on the pile of hay – something in reality I couldn’t have done, since as a child I was suffering badly from hay fever! – and slowly peeled each other’s clothes off and started eating and exploring each other’s bodies, rolling in the hay and getting knotted together in the oddest positions. I remember her radiant face and the amost manic force with which she clung to me. Then the parents called us for dinner and we had to quickly get dressed and go down. Our parents thought we looked very funny, all flustered and with hay in our hair and clothes.
The meetings at the market stopped, we rarely saw each other anymore, and when we did it was just a timid hello.
Years went by, my mum would occasionally tell me about rumors she had heard, reporting that Luisa had had mental problems, then in later years she ended up in a mental hospital as a consequence of heavy drugs use.
At 19 I left home and went to live far away, but whenever I went back to visit my parents my mum would give me the latest news about Luisa, among the various bits of news, rumors and gossips about the local people I knew. There were some rather dramatic episodes, like when Luisa tried to strangle her mother and throw her out of the balcony.
Over the years, during some of these visits back home, I met her by pure chance a few times in the street. We never spoke but always recognised each other with a smile that was beyond words.
The last time I saw her we must have been 35, she looked extremely sad, she was very skinny and her golden curls had turned into long straight cestnut strands, her smile had a bitter slant, but for me she was still the beautiful creature that had made me fall in love for the first time in my life, perhaps made even more attractive by the signs of suffering.
To this day I can’t explain to myself why I never spoke to her as an adult, never stopped her when our paths crossed to tell her that no matter what, she was important and unforgettable for me.