I was twenty. It seems strange, but I was twenty. In the sixties. A mad decade. The music was new, it broke all the rules. It was the time when everything was possible.
I was in love. Madly! He was as handsome as a God. He thought I was gorgeous with my wasp waist and my adorable smile. The future was both of us together forever. He was twenty too. A lovely age.
Unfortunately it is also a lovely age for fighting wars. That one caught us up without our seeing it coming. A s... of a war that we didn’t approve of. People were resisting in order to give their country independence, to escape from colonisation. He had to go.
He stayed there. For eternity. Two months before the end of hostilities.
I stayed here. Alone, disoriented, desperate, my heart drowning in bitterness, dead. The color red before my eyes. Blood, always blood.
Every now and again, the discreet care and constant watchfulness of my nearest and dearest rescued me from the abyss. To combat the red, I studied medicine. To cure people and to better forget that shameful feeling of still being alive, as if I had abandoned him by not dying too.
Then, one day, without any warning, I came back to life. Empty inside but alive.
I feel good here. This seat is comfortable. It’s strange to be sitting behind him. I feel like the heroine of an adventure film. I feel so good. I had forgotten you could feel so at peace inside yourself. I let myself drift off into languid laziness. My mind floats away, rocked by the humming of the engine. Memories flood in.
I had to fill that empty space. I didn’t want to become attached in the same way ever again. I didn’t want to have a child and risk losing it. So I became the aunt that everyone loves, who will have a laugh, who allows things that parents forbid, who takes them on vacation. I became the friend who is invited everywhere because she is always cheerful despite what happened to her. That story which is only referred to in whispers, in order not to reawaken her pain.
Instead of my own family, I had those of other people, and lots of friends.
I cared for people, I travelled, I signed up for the first humanitarian missions, I went all round the world. I encountered great distress, and saw other wars that were even more terrible, with appalling human cost. I also observed immense joy, miraculous cures, reunited families.
I have not had a personal life but I have known so many different lives and met so many people that I have no regrets at all. I was never alone. He was there watching over me. I survived everything. My head and my heart knew he was by my side.
Yet I did not remain celibate. The body must know rapture, as the song says.* But never more than once with the same man. And not all that often but not all that rarely either. I could have, though. Some of them were so tender, so full of humanity and love. But I would never take the risk of forming an attachment, I could never bring myself to do that. I never wanted my heart to be torn apart ever again!
He’s a good driver. This is very pleasant. He exudes a smell of cookies. He likes desserts. That must be the reason. Or maybe it’s the wind carrying that aroma.
The years have passed. Fifty, to be precise. Not unpleasant years, with some real moments of happiness, yet there was always that little tingling sensation hidden deep inside me. I had a life that was not my own. Well, not really.
I gradually gave up the missions. Retirement was beckoning. I continued with my commitments. Closer to home, in my own country now. There is so much to do there too.
Five months ago, on my birthday, when I was surrounded by my old friends, my elderly brothers and sisters, my nephews and nieces who have not been children for a long time now, I realised that this was the home stretch for me. Death becomes a traveling companion. It can knock at the door whenever it likes now. That’s just the way it is. Strangely, I am no longer in such a hurry now. I am lucky to be in good health, with lots of energy and lots of things I want to do.
That day I realized I could recover my life. My real life. Or rather, I could complete it with the part it had been lacking. He was urging me to do it, I could feel him. So that I would have no regrets when the time came.
One of my nieces introduced me to a singles dating site.
I found it strange writing ‘my profile’, as they call it.
I put ‘Little old lady, aged seventy, who has been all round the world by plane, car and train, seeks little old man for one last journey, if possible a very long one, on a red Vespa’.
I first met two rather odd people.
The first one was a young man of fifty who was only interested in seventy-year-old women. That was flattering but I was not interested. He was too weird.
The second looked good on paper, that is, on the Internet. But he only talked about himself, his conversation revolved around money and the stock market, and showing off his wealth. Not really my kind of thing. And I have never been for sale.
I don’t know if I am luckier than today’s young people but the third one was the right one. I went to a bar, holding a catalogue from a Vespa dealer. That was the sign we had agreed on. He had the same catalogue. Our eyes met for the first time. He was charming, I smiled. He smiled back. I was finally won over by his first name. Marcello. An Italian with a discreet accent I found very romantic. My Marcello.
We are setting off today on the thirtieth day of our trip on our red Vespa. I have a magnificent helmet that is red, too. We have complete freedom. No ties to hold us back. No more commitments. Just occasionally some news for those we love or people we meet on the road, people who enjoy our story. Our baggage travels along with us. All we have to do is look at the countryside, and choose our restaurants and hotels. We started with Italy, his country. And that’s where we will finish at the end of our waltz together on this earth.
I feel good here. I am smiling. I put my arms round his back and press my old body against my old Marcello. I close my eyes. This little detour before Heaven is really great.
* The song is ‘La chanson des vieux amants’ by Jacques Brel.
Translated by Wendy Cross