part I: chapter 5

Soundtrack: Marco Mengoni “Ti ho voluto bene veramente” (click here to listen)

Gaia sipped freshly brewed green tea with oranges and ginger and kept staring at the forest green dress hanging on the warderobe’s door. She was supposed to be wearing this garment right now to head out into the night, upon her companion’s arrival, protected from cold by a long black tabarro made of heavy, finest quality wool fabric with a hood and corded cotton fastening. All of this was an exquisite and ridiculously expensive gift she had tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He liked surprising her with gifts and she could never get used to it.

Tonight she had agreed to accompany him to some event he had described only as “ridiculously posh and most probably boring as hell”, yet Gaia was in no mood to dress up or leave the house at all. She had woken up in the foulest of moods this morning from a garish dream. It had been one of those rare occasions when she had known she was dreaming, and even in a dream she had hated herself for acting like a moron. She had known she had wanted to scream in annoyance even while she had still been asleep. She had done things as if hypnotized. And she had felt miserable because of it, because it had seemed he still had had a hold on her, as though he had been tattooed onto her subconscious. “Get the fuck out of my head!!!” she had screamed at the top of her lungs into the quiet of the morning as she had opened her eyes, anger flashing lightning bolts deep within.

She blamed this dream on the events of the previous evening when something that was supposed to have a tag “for fiction only” attached to it at all times had happened in reality of her life. She had imagined this moment so often. She had thought of it countless times. These thoughts had driven her crazy for months. She had created the most elaborate dialogues for this scene of the play that was her life, but last night… Last night she had stood there, frozen, cold, refusing to believe her own eyes, all thoughts swept away and drowned in the nearby canal, and she had not been able to force herself to as much as blink. Moments like this – when one’s former lover appeared unexpectedly in said one’s line of sight after the longest time of separation – were meant for imagination only or movies at best. They weren’t supposed to happen in real life. And yet there he had been, in the middle of a deserted fondamenta Osmarin, heading her way without even realizing that. Her ex. Giorgio.

A wave of chill had engulfed her. What had she been supposed to do in a situation like this? Was she to greet him cheerfully and engage in a nonchalant chatter? Or was she to do the complete opposite and become invisible to him by looking down and rushing by? The option of going back or choosing another route to reach her destination had been out of the question. She had been late for a party as it was and she knew all those present wouldn’t have been happy if it had taken her any longer to arrive. No, that had not been an option. She had had to walk pass him. Her wool peak hat and the hood of her coat had had to do the hiding. Don’t hide from me. Such a simple, soft phrase spoken by a voice drenched in Tuscan sunlight had rattled through her like a block of marble thrown from the mountain top. Even now the memory of it bit into her with teeth sharper than those of icy Northern winds.

The encounter had left her shaken. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Idiotic even.

What had she written in her diary after the reality of his betrayal had finally settled into her conscious mind?

Here’s to love…
A fire so easy on the heart. What did this fire leave behind?
Here’s to love…
Was there any fire to begin with? Real fire not the illusion messing with my head.
Here’s to love…
It blinded me and shattered me to pieces against the wall of your arrogant silence
Here’s to love…
Go on, keep on pretending and I shall applaud thee
Here’s to love…
Ive told “go to hell” to the ghost of you that came asking for the last dance

She hated Giorgio for the exquisite torture he had unleashed upon her. One that had lasted for three goddamned years. Everything had started with rain – a soft drizzle of phone calls and texts that always went unanswered for no reason. Soon enough it had turned into a full blown shower pouring down relentlessly – and then the flood had begun. There were no sirens announcing it the way it happened in Venice. One fine morning she had simply woken up realizing she had been in the middle of it for months. And she had screamed, only to have her voice muffled by Hope. Go to hell, you blasted thing!

It had been a strange flood that had risen from upside down. It had smothered her. It had destroyed her. It had caused her unutterable pain and a razor sharp desire to die. Such torturous agony was not suited for living beings, right? Wrong. It had to be impossible to survive it, right? Wrong again. Life during the flood had been very much possible and existent. Gaia herself was proof of that.

She had felt every flaming acid molecule of the flood grate her soul, explode in every cell of her being and the wounds caused by that had been deeper than any physical weapon could ever inflict. Gaia had craved oblivion, death even, only to be spared feeling it, but none of that had come to her rescue no matter how she pleaded.

A ring of the door bell startled her, causing her drop the mug of tea she was holding. Dammit! Hot liquid spilled on the marble floor tiles. She pressed the button on the wall, unlocking the front door downstairs. “Come in, Pietro!” She said into the intercom and opened the door leading into the apartment.

There were steps approaching up the stairs and in a few moments she heard him say, “Evening, bella!”

Gaia smiled, picking up the pieces of the broken cup. “Hey!”

The very first time she had ever seen the owner of the voice was on Piazza San Marco not long after moving to the city. She had been taking a walk across the stunning square, taking in all the hustle and bustle, when her gaze had landed on the most curious looking man. He had been dressed like a nomad, a cowl-type scarf covering his head and creating shadows that hid the upper half of his face. At least two more scarfs were wrapped around his neck and tied to the belt of his wide-legged trousers that had been tucked into the finest quality leather boots that had seemed out of place and perfectly appropriate for his look all at the same time. Smile had lingered on his lips as though he had casually played a joke on someone a moment ago and had been genuinely amused by the fact that it had actually worked. He had been heading towards the Frezzeria playing a harmonica of all things, his relaxed gate and demeanor making it look as though that was the most natural thing one could do. Gaia had smiled at this apparition and curiosity about him hadn’t left her ever since that day, although she had not had any idea about who he was at the time.

Their first conversation had happened in a completely different place several months later, in some part of Venezia Gaia could swear she had never been to before or after. It had been a hole in the wall restaurant which she doubted being real till this very day, for it had felt too dream-like. She had tried to find the place on her own few days later but had never had any luck. And so she cherished what she had been left with of that night – memories of a wild-looking bartender with strange symbols tattooed on his head making a cocktail he called spritz, but that hadn’t tasted like spritz (for spritz had no chance of tasting this divine), of some hooded guy playing guitar on a tiny stage – which was that only by name – next to the bar with his back to the audience and never once revealing his face, of ceiling that had been far too high and disappearing into the darkness and of half-plastered stone walls illuminated by constellations of candles.

Gaia had often thought about that night. And the more time went buy, the less certain she was that it hadn’t been just some wild and insanely elaborate dream.

“Did I catch you off guard doing naughty things?”

She snorted. “Sure. Extremely naughty, actually. Drinking tea.”

“So I see…” Tone of Pietro’s voice was implying of things far naughtier than drinking tea.

Gaia just chuckled at the remark, shaking her head.

“Why are you not dressed?”

“I’m not sure I want to go tonight. Sorry.” Gaia picked up the last piece of broken clay and sat down on the floor, her back to the wall.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

She shrugged. “Paranoia.”

Pietro walked over and sat down on the floor opposite her. Gaia cringed inwardly at the sight of his jet black trousers made of some ridiculously expensive fabric almost touching the wet floor where the tea had spilled. He couldn’t have looked more different from the nomad strolling across the piazza if he tried, and the most incredible thing was that he didn’t try. He lived every one of his many looks. He was the nomad from the piazza who played harmonica, piano and a guitar (like a god, Gaia always thought). He was the impeccably dressed and groomed man with his hair slicked back and expensive cuff links glinting when they caught light, sitting on the floor in front to her now, yet he possessed no arrogance. He was the painter in old jeans and shirts smeared with paint, his hair tied back, who drew magical portraits. He was the philosopher with rimless glasses dressed like a hipster who challenged her to think outside the frames and schemes she was so used to. He was all that and so much more. Gaia teased him that he must be living in the costume department of La Fenice. She still found it mind boggling that he was spending as much time with her as he did simply because he appeared to enjoy her company. There was no romantic vibe between them, which she found incredibly relaxing and odd all at once because visually he was exactly what she would call “her type”.

“Where did you find it, huh? That paranoia of yours.” Pietro had a very particular way of looking at people, of observing them.“I am an artist, bella, observing people is my job.” That was his usual explanation, although Gaia didn’t believe it was completely true.

“In Castello”.

“Nice sestiere. What happened there?”

“Nothing.” Gaia mumbled and looked down, pretending the shards of clay that used to be her tea cup were worth examining.

“What happened?” Pietro repeated the question and leaned slightly forward, reaching out his hand. His gloved fingers softly lifted up her chin forcing her eyes to meet his.

“I met my ex there yesterday.” Gaia mumbled the words out as fast as and as quiet as she could, hoping he wouldn’t hear, wouldn’t understand. No such luck.

“So?”

“So now paranoia’s got its claws in me. Im constantly thinking I will run into him on every freaking street.”

Pietro smiled. “Well, in that case push him into a canal next time you meet. Water will dissolve your paranoia and he shall annoy you no more.”

Gaia only pretended to smile.

“Listen to me. He is a ghost of your past. He can only hurt you – in whichever sense of the word – if you allow him to do so. Ignore him and he cannot touch you. Ever.”

“Its not so easy.”

“Did I say it was?”

Gaia smiled, this time for real.

“If he decided to lose you, that’s his stupidity making choices for him, which has nothing to do with you. And should we meet him tonight – or any other night or day – it will be him spending sleepless years in jealousy afterwards.”

Gaia snorted.

“Come on!” Pietro stood up and extended his hand to her. “Lets go and have some cultured fun.”

Gaia didn’t move. “And then I acted like a moron,” she said.

“Decipher this phrase for me, please.” He sounded amused. She wasn’t.

“I ran.” I do that a lot lately. “Well, actually at first I froze, and then I ran. From him. From that situation. I acted like a moron.”

“Come on,” Pietro took her by the elbows and forced her to stand up. “He was the one who acted like a moron. He didn’t even have the guts to tell you its over between you for whatever reason. He left you without a chance to place your feet on the ground or to spread your wings and fly away. I don’t care what fucking excuses he might have given you – some stupid text sent from the Internet that never reached you (and if that’s the case then he’s twice the moron, and a cheap-ass one at that) – or whatever other lame thing he might have come up with. And he’s thrice the moron for making you feel the way you do now and for switching your brain to the mode that makes you say these obscenities.

“Running away from him doesn’t make you a moron. No, bella. Running away from him like that shows that you still have an instinct for self-defense, and Im extremely pleased to hear that.”

His hands held her with the firm gentleness of somebody who could possibly move time for her if she ever asked that of him. What a bizarre thought. Gaia frowned.

“Because I want to see your eyes light up, be it in happiness or passion or rage, it doesn’t matter. I want to see emotion light up your eyes like the sunlight lights up the lagoon every morning.”

Gaia glanced up at him and smiled.

“Get dressed and let’s go!”

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