In the beautiful town of Pistoia, in Tuscany, forty-eight-year-old Paola is preparing to meet the man who might become her lover. Married with two children, Paola is resigned to living a lonely life separate from her husband, who works in Brazil. And yet she is desperate to experience joy again. As Paola enters her potential lover’s office, she faints. In a matter of seconds, her life has been transformed forever.
The victim of a major stroke, Paola is robbed of her ability to speak. Trapped between reality and a timeless dimension where she lives in a world devoid of words and full of indecipherable objects, Paola soon realizes that even the clock—once used for marking days full of dissatisfaction in her life is no longer meaningful. Intent on returning to a normal life, Paola embarks on a journey in search of lost words with the help of a Cuban healing guru, a Jungian analyst, and fi nally a famous ayurvedic nutritionist who could help Paola change everything in her life.
Paola is the poignant tale of a woman who, in the moment of her greatest weakness, must begin a quest to find the courage and inner strength she has been missing her entire life.
Chapter 1 On April 4, Paola decided to live. It was a day like many others, but it was the first one to remind one of the beginning of spring—and, with the arrival of this season, a good mood and a will to go out. That was Paola’s case, too. That morning she had meticulously prepared: she had taken a shower, shaved, spread a coconut-scented cream all over her body, and after having carefully chosen her clothes, put on makeup. She had finished too quickly; the appointment with Michele was at eleven o’clock at his office, and it was nine. The office was not far from her home, in the center of Pistoia. It was a beautiful medieval town near Florence, a bit out of the mass tourism circuit, and thus it was unfairly underrated. They called it “The Silent,” and it was surrounded by greenery and renowned for its nurseries. It boasted prestigious craftsmen, too, and it hosted its little Palio horse race: La Giostra dell’Orso, “The Bear Carousel,” an equestrian competition of remote origins that took place every year in Piazza del Duomo. It was like a smaller version of the famous Palio di Siena. When Luca and Paola’s children were small, they always used to go there. Even the buildings were no less marvelous than those in the great cities, and at each point the eyes fell upon contained a story or a legend. Many artists, writers, and poets had written about and represented Pistoia, from Boccaccio to Marino Marini, the famous sculptor of Horses. Paola grew up and lived in this pearl of Tuscany. Suddenly the phone rang; it was Luca, her husband. She didn’t answer and, with an eye on the display, waited for the message: “One missed call.” That call made her feel nervous and guilty. Her husband was abroad for work, and she was about to go to the man who most likely would have become her lover. She was feeling conflicting sensations. She was angry, sorry, excited, alive, and happy. The truth was that for a long time, things with Luca weren’t working at all. Her husband hadn’t understood her need to have him close, to share with her and their family the small, daily habits that reassured her so much. Men sometimes were too shallow, too distracted by their individual needs to understand how little was enough for women to feel loved and protected. This was what Paola would often end up thinking about. Luca was no exception. He thought that sending money home every month and providing for every family need was enough to be a good husband and a great father, and thus he hadn’t had that many qualms about leaving for Brazil, where his work had taken him. Paola and her children hardly ever saw him. They were already living as if they were separated, and this made her angry and suffer at the same time… but probably not enough to make the point, or rather, to decide to end it all. She wasn’t itching to deal with a divorce and all that entailed, so she had come to accept the conditions. After all, she’d become used to being alone. She’d been raising the children without a father figure for years, in a mixture of resignation and resentment. Women sometimes could fiercely despise a man in silence. She had been quick getting ready for her appointment with Michele, and so she decided to read something while waiting. She chose a new book from the bookcase, Nothing Happens by Chance. She opened it and started reading, but absently, because she was excited. In a few hours she’d be with the man who made her heart beat. Their story had just started. They had met at work. He was a client of hers, one of the many people who turned to her to create and manage events, and who had asked her to organize the party for the centenary of his company. Paola had taken care of the location and the invitations for the most important clients, and she had looked after the texts Michele would have to read during the dinner. She had hired a band, selected the catering, and gathered all that was needed for such an important event. She had fallen in love with him right away, from the very first moment their eyes had met, but she couldn’t admit it because of her marriage. Michele was a gray-haired man with small, gray, watery eyes and thick lashes. He had a thin nose, round cheeks, and rosy pulpy lips. He was elegant, charming, and measured. Behind the pinstripe suit and the professional air, though, he hid the soul of a skydiver. Sometimes he brought Paola to the diving school, but she was terrified, even though this unconventional side of the man irresistibly attracted her. She couldn’t concentrate on reading the book while in the grip of the whirlwind of emotions she was feeling, so she turned on the computer, and the screen opened up on the pictures her daughter had left open: people caught in some moment of their lives. She lingered on a picture with her children at the beach and thought about how much Greta looked like her. Greta was blonde with green eyes, whereas her son, Matteo, looked a lot like his father, with his big choco-colored eyes and his beautiful, raven-black hair. She switched to another photo of Luca and her in Polynesia; her husband still had all his long, pitch-black hair. He had an enviable physique and intense eyes as dark as night. Another photo portrayed her and her husband when they were young and on a Vespa, kissing passionately. Then there were Matteo’s class photos, as well as pictures of her older sister, Veronica, who for the occasion had tied her beautiful auburn hair and was wearing a lovely designer dress. In one she posed together with Paolo; her younger brother, who looked so much like her; and her niece, Laura, to whom she was very close. Laura was a serious and confident person whom everyone gave faith to and who knew how to convince people. She was a person you could rely on. Laura wasn’t pretty, but her attitude and personality enthralled whoever came near her. While still looking at her niece’s photo, the page of the Internet search engine suddenly opened up. I must have clicked on the icon by accident, thought Paola. That distraction made her come back to the present and to the minutes dividing her from Michele. She reflected upon the possibility of making love with him that day and began to fantasize about what their first time would be like. Then the doubts came. Will he like me physically? I’m no longer twenty, but I’m still attractive. Will the cellulite show up a lot? And the belly? The arms? What if he doesn’t like my smell? The wrinkles on the face? I should laugh less… To distract herself and get away from the many questions nagging her, she decided to surf the net and check her e-mail. While browsing through the news, a sentence caught her attention: “In life, nothing happens by chance.” Wasn’t it the book she was trying to read earlier? The one she’d taken by chance from the bookcase? Why did that sentence appear to her for the second time? Maybe it’s just a coincidence. She checked her e-mail, but there were only ads and mail of little importance, so she turned off the PC, grabbed her jacket, and left the house. In the car, the anxiety came back to her. This was a full-fledged date. No diving lessons or work lunches. No pretext. Just the two of them. Without realizing it, she had arrived. One last check of her makeup, a deep breath, and she was ready to go toward a new adventure and maybe a new life. It sometimes happened that the thoughts of women were almost never just thoughts, but at the same time desires and fantasies and never-soothed aspirations. And it happened that, behind an invitation to dinner with no pretence and ambitions by a man, a woman almost always embroidered it, imagining and fantasizing. Paola was in this state of grace as she walked toward Michele’s insurance agency. His office was downtown, in Piazza Della Sala, where the picturesque farmers’ market was held every day in the atmosphere of the ancient markets.
Matilde Calamai is a journalist, television presenter, and award-winning author whose paintings have been exhibited in galleries throughout Italy. Matilde currently lives in Italy. This is her fourth book.