“It is not that cold,” said my husband removing his jacket.
“No, it is not,” I agreed. The weather is actually like Bangalore,” I said nodding my head.
It was seven in the morning and we had just arrived in Verona. It was the year 2017.
This is the year 2020 and I will never forget this year just like the year 2017 when I spent my two weeks of sweet summer in Italy.
My husband and I lugged our suitcases around the city and finally reached at our B&B. I took out my phone to check the exact address when I saw my host’s text – My mother will take care of everything. She does not understand English but she will manage.
My husband and I looked at each other and shrugged and rang the bell. An old lady in her eighties opened the door. She had thick white hair which was tied into a neat bun. She wore a crisp black shirt with black skirt and stockings. A green butterfly broach clung on her shirt. She smiled and let us in.
The room smelled of turpentine. We entered a room full of canvases, plastic sheets, butter paper and paint. A salivating bulldog came out of nowhere and started licking my hand. I giggled and the old lady took the dog by his collar and took him away.
The old lady then took us to our room. She had kept our room neat and tidy. There was a large window with the view of the street. The bedsheet was off-white with small sunflowers. The lady then turned to me and said pointing at herself, “Name. Francesca.” She then pointed at me. I told her my name and she gave me a reassuring smile.
The year is 2020 and I try to remember if there was anything I had forgotten and then I recalled – there was painting of a bird on a box with coiled leaves. I close my eyes and picture the sun falling on the bed from that long window.
We went out to all the usual places in Verona- Juliet’s house, Arena di Verona, Castle Vecchio etc. But I remembered the evening vividly, when my husband and I sat in a restaurant in one of the piazzas. We ordered wine and looked at the streets full of tourists.
“This is nice, isn’t it?” asked my husband.
“We should come here again when we are older. I bet the place will still be the same.”
“Why not Rome or Florence?” asked my husband.
“Well I loved them both, but they sort of unobtainable, made by great men and have some grand purpose. The city has an allure which can be touched easily.”
He took my hands and smiled, “We will be back here again. And it will be the same and we will have wine and pizza.”
My husband approaches me today after washing the dishes.
“Hey, did you see the news?”
“I don’t want to,” I said honestly. “How fast do you think it will reach us?” I asked him
“I don’t know”
“You remember Verona?” I asked.
He nodded and we both sat quiet.
We drank our wine and talked for hours. By now the streetlamps were lit and the yellow lights shone beguilingly on the cobbled streets. We saw our old lady walking slowly with a small bag. We waved at her. My husband invited her. She nodded and joined us.
She ordered a coffee.
He pointed at her bag and asked what was she carrying with an obnoxious hand gesture.
“Cake,” she said and then she pointed at us and said, “You. Breakfast.”
“Grazie,” we said as we blushed.
I saw her hands and saw that it was covered in paint. She looked at me and showed me six and zero with her fingers. She was trying to tell me that she had been painting for sixty years. She pointed at both of us and showed her ring finger.
My husband said, “Five years. Married,”
The three of us sat quietly and looked at the busy streets. The old lady got up after some time and said “Grazie,” and left.
“You really like old people,” I asked my husband,
“Yes. They have so many stories, they are unpresuming and they are most of the times lonely. They are the best people to be friends with.”
The next day I got up to see chocolate cakes and bread on the breakfast table. The old lady was wearing her glasses and painting intently. I ate my breakfast quickly and asked my husband, “Is it okay if I go by myself for some time? I will be back in an hour.”
“Of course,” he said. “I will chill here.”
I walked towards Juliet’s house which was swarmed by tourists. My husband and I decided that we will not do lock our love or write on the wall or write a letter to Juliet because it was too touristy and cheesy for us. But I took a lock and I was about to write our names on one side, and ‘we will be back’ on the other side when I heard a couple arguing.
“Why waste money on a stupid lock?” said the guy.
“Well it is symbolic,” said the girl.
“We are here! Isn’t that symbolic enough?” said the guy.
They seemed to be a very young couple. They must be in their mid-twenties and sounded American.
“I don’t think we will ever come back. Our parents gave this vacation as our honeymoon gift. What if we never earn enough again?”
The guy looked at the girl’s painful face and gave in. I was standing slightly afar, and they couldn’t see me. I came in front of them like a wandering tourist and said, “Excuse me. I have this extra lock which I bought and really don’t need need. Do you need one by any chance?”
“Yes!’ smiled the girl.
“How come you bought one and you don’t want to use it?” asked the guy skeptically.
“Nick!” hissed the girl rolling her eyes.
“My husband already surprised with one today, so I ended up having an extra one,” I said.
“That’s so sweet of him,” said the girl and took the lock and thanked me.
I came back to our B&B to see my husband petting the dog and laughing.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I taught her google translate,” he said. “She was telling me how she loves having guests at her place and we were the first Indian couple. Where were you?”
“Just roaming,” I lied. “Tell her that we will come back here someday.”
My husband typed on her phone and showed her. She smiled and typed back – The room will always be ready for you.
As I sit on my sofa with my eyes closed I think of all the details of that room – the dog, the crimson colour on the canvas, the hot coffee brewing on the stove, the old lady’s red nail polish, everything.
I sit up to find the email address of my host to write an email to check if she and her mother are doing fine. But I do not have the courage to write. A selfish part of me wants that room to be untouched with the dog sitting beside the lady grumpily. The music from the streets must play and reach the bedroom through those large windows. She must paint those large canvases. And even while everything seems to be waning, in my heart I pray, ‘It simply cannot fade.’