It was the first day of October, but summer was still in the air.
From my bedroom window, I could see the Aeolian Islands and hear the sound of the sea, as I smelt its salty fragrance floating in on the breeze.
The beach was bright with sunlight and a gentle autumn wind tried to make its way through the warm summer air that lingered on. A dog ran along the shore, with its owner jogging intently behind it. There were a few milky-coloured tourists sunbathing and a couple of men swimming.
I spent hours listening to the waves, sometimes high and angry, crashing down against the rocks as if trying to destroy them and other times stretching slowly, calmly outwards in a silent, relentless rhythm.
“Anyone who lives by the sea has a drop of salt water in his blood”, my grandmother used to say.
As the sea breathes, we breathe too.
At times we don’t even give it a second glance, just like we do with a person who has been living by our side for a long time and who has become commonplace. It is only when we go away for a period of time and can no longer detect their familiar smell that we realize how much we miss them.
When I met her for the first time, I knew straight away that she was the woman of my life.
I gazed at her as she sat with her long legs crossed and her gentle, dark, reassuring eyes.
She wore a dress decorated with blue flowers and a crossover neckline that complimented her bosom.
I was hypnotized by her red lips, as they moved, uttering words of which I have no memory at all.
Her name was Paola.
She was tall and had light brown hair, held up by a heart-shaped clip.
I would have liked to give her a new hairclip as a gift, something that would make her think of me, something to wear all the time for which she would keep me in her memories forever.
On the very first day we met, she betrayed me. It all happened in a moment. A very tall man came through the door and, leaning over, he kissed those lips that I had gazed at, bewitched, for hours. He was her husband.
I felt like dying.
I burst into tears and ran, shrieking, into the corridor of the nursery school.
«Tommaso! What on earth has happened, poppet?» My teacher, Paola, asked me as she caught up with me outside the classroom.
«Nothing. Who’s that man?» I asked, sobbing through my tears.
The teacher crouched down to my height and I could smell her lovely perfume. It reminded me of the warm milk and honey that my mother gave me at bedtime.
When she saw my dark eyes brimming with tears, she explained: «He’s my husband. He’s here to take to me home. We’re all going home now, and we’ll see each other again tomorrow morning. You’re happy to go home to your mum, aren’t you?»
«No! And I don’t want to come to school anymore either. I hate you.», I screamed in her face, with a courage that returned to me on very rare occasions throughout my lifetime.
She smiled, ruffled my hair and, with one hand resting on my shoulder, took me back to the classroom.
Her husband, who had also come out into the corridor, smiled at me too and I hated him even more.
When the bell rang, my mother was waiting for me outside the school. She had left work and, as always, was in a hurry. After a quick kiss, she bundled me into the car, just like a postal package, and drove me home.
«So, how did your first day at nursery school go, Tommy?», she asked, seeing the frown on my face, but without letting me know that she had noticed.
«I don’t like it. I don’t want to go there anymore.»
«But all children go to nursery school, dear. Why don’t you want to go back? What happened?»
«Mum, you wouldn’t understand», I sentenced.
She smiled and continued driving slowly on until we were home.
My Mother’s Day used to begin very early in the morning. She would wake my younger brother and myself up and then dash from the kitchen to the other rooms, trying to tidy up as quickly as possible before going to work. After getting my brother, Matteo, ready, she would leave him with my grandmother and would then take me to nursery school.
She had black hair and dark eyes, a face as fresh as that of a young girl, long eyelashes and a gentle smile. She hardly ever wore make-up. She didn’t need to. All she wore was a fine layer of lipstick. This was my mother.
She worked as an accountant in the accounts department of a hospital in a town near our village.
My father worked as a nurse in the same hospital and, for this reason, the people in the village called him u `nfimmeri, the nurse.
I rarely saw him at the breakfast table in the morning. It was my grandmother who was in the kitchen every morning, warming the milk. Her manner was calm and relaxed, as if she were trying to somehow balance her daughter’s daily frenzy.
She was my mum’s mother and she lived with us. None of my other grandparents were still alive. Living with her seemed natural to me. Just like all children had a mother and a father, I believed that everyone had a grandmother at home too, who made breakfast, helped her grandchildren with their homework and read them fairy stories in the evening.
My mother never smiled in the morning. She was so busy doing everything in a hurry that she forgot to do so. Luckily, however, her smile returned, and her eyes lit up whenever my father was there.
As he passed by her, he would touch her arms softly and she would caress him lightly with her fingertips, almost secretly. They were always whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. Although we were young, my brother and I noticed their gestures of tenderness.
“What are you two laughing about?” My father would ask us, with a feigned air of reproach. Not knowing what to reply, we would laugh even harder.
He was a handsome man, with black curly hair and lively eyes. My grandmother said that his eyes were too crafty for her liking, but my father knew she was joking and that she was really very fond of him. He was never impatient about her living with us. On the contrary, he respected her and often asked for her opinions or advice.
My parents first met in the main square in the village. He was returning home from military service and she was coming out of the church, when she saw him in his sailor’s uniform and it was love at first sight.
I was born in Messina and raised in a traditional Sicilian family. I am the youngest of three sisters. I worked 10 years at a travel agency and then as a tour guide. Travelling is my passion. My writing career began somewhat by accident when I participated in a literary competition and won first prize. Two years later I tried my hand at the writing competition once again, my entry won first prize again! My first novel, "Her name was Aprile" was born after chronicling stories from a boy’s youth and the disappointments of lost love. In writing about these events, the characters came to life and the story wrote itself.