The golden light of the low setting sun enters the car, slides across the dark interior in thin sweeping motions, bending as it moves from one surface to another, the gradual speed in which it dances before my eyes is almost graceful. Then, as soon as it had appeared—it is gone.
I realise I’ve forgotten something. The taxi is already halfway down Viale delle Nazioni.
“Turn around! Take me back!” I shout impatiently at the driver. Quickly following by, “Grazie,” realising I was a little rude.
“Nessun problema,” he retorts. Shortly after, he turns the car around in a car park just off the highway. I notice he’s driving a little quicker than before. Maybe he sensed the desperate nature of my voice; maybe he was annoyed by my tone and is driving faster in a rage of anger—at least I won’t miss my flight.
The air is dry and humid all over Verona, the summers here can be pretty unforgiving. I wind the window down a little but it doesn’t help that much. I regret putting on this suit. Luca liked me in a suit, he would tell me I should wear one more often, and not just for work. Most of the time it wasn’t even necessary for work, I would wear it simply to please him, or because he would tell me I looked handsome, and, I was rather fond of the way he pronounced the word handsome in English. I take my jacket off and lift my back from the black leather of the seat, feeling the moisture on my Oxford shirt as it slowly separates from my sticky skin. I hold my back straight for several seconds, before slowly lowering it back against the warm leather, again. It feels cooler, but it’s not long before the uncomfortable warm stickiness returns.
The driver flicks the radio on, without asking. Africa by Toto just kicks in; the opening beat and the volume at which it’s being played sends a shiver through my entire body and gives me goose bumps. My mind wistfully drifts into that of a day dream like state, one where you detach from your body in the present moment, completely caught up in a very vivid memory.
… It’s June 1982, Lake Garda, Luca is relaxing in just his shorts on the jetty, tanning under the intense midday sun. I meanwhile, wander barefoot on the pebble shore nearby, they are almost too hot to walk on, but I keep my feet wet at the water’s edge. I cast pebble after pebble into the lake, disturbing her still, tranquil waters. Kneeling, with my paws (Luca would always refer to my hands, not as hands but as paws, because polar bears were my favourite animal) I brush over the smooth, hot pebbles. As I do, I catch sight of a peculiar looking stone, no bigger than a large strawberry. It’s heart shaped, a shade of pale bluish grey, with a thin line of white down the right side. I make my way up to the jetty. Seeing Luca is asleep, I place the pebble gently on his bronzed torso, just above his belly button. I do it so gently as not to wake him, and simply wander back the shore to skim some more stones …
It still amazes how they were able to fit the words Kilimanjaro, Olympus and then, finally, Serengeti, all in one line; that is quite a musical feat—and it works! I was actually relived the driver chose to put the radio on, it meant I didn’t have to engage in conversation with him; not that my Italian is anywhere near good enough to hold a conversation for that long, but at least I didn’t have to try. I’m embarrassed that I’ve been in Verona for almost five years, yet still do not have a solid grasp of Italian. I got lazy learning it, I only needed the basics to get by. Luca would talk in English around me, of course, but even when we were with friends, if he knew they could speak it, he would try and cajole them into talking in English.
After meandering through the tight streets of central Verona, the cab crosses the Adige river. There is a brief escape from the heat as the cool air sweeps in off the river, however, it’s spoilt by the smell of exhaust fumes from nearby cars.
’Sir, we arrive.’
‘Grazie. Un momento.’
I leap from the car and race up the outer steps to the apartment. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the place so soon. There it is! The box lay on the window ledge next to the front door, where I’d left it. I had placed it there as I closed the door for the final time, but forgot to pick it back up in the rush for the taxi. I quickly head back down, cautious of my departure time.
‘Grazie, grazie’ I tell him, a little out of breath, ’Areoport, per favore.’
He smiles, wryly, and starts for the airport. Maybe he wasn’t in a rage after all, just a little frustrated with my indecisiveness.
By now he has changed the radio station, some overly dramatic Italian opera is blaring out, and at a volume that seems loader then before.
I open the box, it contains just two items. The first is a birthday card from Luca, the first one he bought me. On the front is a picture of a polar bear in a red and blue scarf, he holds in his right paw, a red balloon, while a single present lay beside him. I begin to read the message inside: ‘My gentle George, how I have enjoyed each and every moment with you. How I look forward to exciting future with you, my boy. I hope to make a special day for my English polar bear. Yours now and forever, Luca xxxxx.’
I wipe tears away from my watery eyes. It makes me contemplate my decision to leave for the briefest of moments, however, deep down, I know it’s the right thing to do. It had been five months since I got that life-changing phone call. I can still hear the words uttered by the hospital receptionist, I hear them all the time but mostly in my nightmares: ‘Luca has been involved in an accident.’ She didn’t have to tell me what came next, I already knew …
I reach into the box and pull out the last item, the heart shaped pebble. And as I hold it in my hand, a column of light brushes over it, and then there is just empty darkness.