With Skye holding my hand I walked down the road to the bus stop. It looked like it might rain. Most of the shops on the way to the piazza were closed, boarded up for the winter. I could hear the bus arriving behind me and pulling her to my side I flattened myself against the wall to let it pass by on the narrow road.
There were still ten minutes until the bus set off for its next ‘giro’ around the town but the bar opposite was also closed so we found a seat inside the bus and waited. A friend’s mother climbed on and made her way to the back of the bus. The French artist in her long colourful smocks and purple Doc Martens smiled and sat down behind me. A local woman with a baby wrapped in a red blanket sat down beside me. The last time I had seen her was in October when she was hugely pregnant. As we waited for the bus to leave I congratulated her and listened, along with everybody else as she shared her birth story to whoever wanted to listen.
She asked me how I was doing. I wondered if she knew about my Mum, and replied that I was doing OK. She asked why Skye wasn’t in school and I told her that I had just got back from England, I’d take her next week. She asked me if I had enjoyed my holiday. I hesitated and said that it hadn’t really been a holiday, I was at home with my family. People on the bus were listening to our conversation and I couldn’t bring myself to say that my Mum had died. I let the conversation die away and looked out the window, listening to Skye chatter away.
We got off the bus at the top of the town and made our way to the fruit and veg shop, a small dank space the size of a bathroom with more produce outside than inside. Skye admired the oranges as I stocked up on garlic, fruit and the bitter Italian broccoli that tastes so good fried with lots of garlic and chilli pepper. We crossed the road and entered the delicatessen to buy milk and pasta. For once there was no queue at the till, even though the doddering old father of the deli owner was there, tapping his fingers against the check-out. Seemingly half blind, he suspiciously checks the price of every item, not trusting the new-fangled barcode reader recently installed. Slowly, slowly he punches numbers into the till and holds each coin that I hand him up close to his eye to check that I have given him the right money.
Then he turned to me and welcomed me back, grabbing my hand and bringing it to his dry lips where he quickly kisses it and thankfully lets it go again. He asks me where I have been. I tell him England. He comments that it has been a long time. Three months, I reply. His son is standing behind him, listening, there is a small queue behind me. I realise that these people do not know. They have no idea that my mother has gone, and I have no idea whether I should tell them.
Here, in Italy when someone dies, posters are put up on noticeboards all around town, so that everybody knows. But, although I live here, not many people know why I have been away for so long. They question me about ‘nice holidays’ and Skye being off school, and, tease me for jetting off for so long, telling me how lucky I am. I find myself nodding mutely in agreement, not wanting to ruin their daydreams of me swanning around London with my news of the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me.
I wish they all knew. It would be so much easier than avoiding their questions and having to explain my absence. But I know already what they would all say, some people have already told me:
“Beh, life is like that…”
“Ehhhh, that’s life…”
“Eehhh, unfortunately these things happen…”
So, I don’t say a thing. I take my shopping in one hand, Skyes hand in the other and together we walk back down the mountain towards home, as the rain begins to fall.