It happens sometimes and it’s difficult to explain, really.
Last night, following a telephone call on Monday, I went to see the old man with the book. The book that has taken, apparently, nearly 40 years to write.
I did enjoy the time editing it but I don’t like having to visit him to do editing. I’m not sure why. It might be because I think that, if I live that long, that’s how I will be – living alone, in a faceless, tiny flat, in a huge block, rarely going out (because there’s nowhere close to go to), reclusive but not through desire, etc.
I looked at him last night and thought of Rufus. I wonder if he sits and stares at the walls like Rufus does?
Someone asked me about him the other day. I said I hadn’t heard from him for ages. “I guess the book is finally printed and finished”, I said, “Or, he’s dead!”
I had even moved his contact details out of the briefcase and put them ‘somewhere’. He phoned as I was driving. I said I would call back within the hour. After I had disconnected I realised that I might not have his number. Stupid me, I thought, for not adding his details into my phone.
Luckily, I know myself well enough. It was not filed anywhere, just sitting on top of the filing cabinet, under the laptop.
I left work and drove there. I had had such a headache during the day and it was still making my head feel like someone was kicking it soundly and, so, I was not looking forward to spending an hour or more with him, on an uncomfortable chair, in the lighting that he has (which is not good), hunched over a laptop and trying to interpret what he wants. Still, I thought, it’s extra and unexpected money and every little helps.
Plus I had my ‘late night’ English lesson at 9 p.m. following that. No, this was not going to be a great evening and if the bloody headache wasn’t going to go it would make it one of the worst evenings.
As I was driving, M, my late-night student texted to say his daughter was ill and he wasn’t coming. To be honest, I was grateful.
I got to the place where the bookman lived. For me, it has to be one of the most depressing areas of Milan although I am sure that there are far worse. No, I know that, really, it is not that bad. It’s just the thought of ever having to live somewhere like that. I couldn’t do it. I would rather go back to the UK.
He had a new ‘print’ of the book. To be honest, it was much better than the last one. This time the pages weren’t falling out. He seemed pleased to see me. I think he is. After all, I don’t charge him a fortune and he knows that he can trust me now – well, almost.
We start through the changes he wants. He wants to change a table. I do my best. It’s not as he wants, exactly but he knows that these tables are a real pain. He wants to check everything I do on the screen. Except he can’t read it so well, so it takes longer. I really want out of there but I am unable to leave. I cannot do less than my best for him. I am annoyed with myself for trying to make everything right. Why can’t I be like other people? People who really don’t care. Grrrr.
He asks me more often about whether he has used English correctly. Yes, he trusts me much more now. He uses “reception”. He is concerned that the reader will think he means a reception of a hotel or something similar. I explain that it’s fine. After all, the readers of his book will be highly educated people and will understand the correct meaning. Of course, what I would have liked to say was that the only (few) people who will ever read this book are, to be honest, geeky freaks. I didn’t say that. You ain’t going to be seeing this book in the airport, that’s for certain.
Weirdly, I kind of hope that he will tell me when it has been published. Even more weirdly, if he were to ‘give’ me I copy, I would be really pleased. I think of this and decide that I am quite strange myself. For certain, even if I had this book, I would never, never read it.
We finish, just short of two hours. I wish him good luck and hope that I don’t see him again – but in a nice way – in that the book is finally finished now. I don’t really think it is. I have a better understanding of him now. There will be some other ‘small things’ that need to be done. Still, I suppose if you have been writing this book for 40 years, you might as well make it perfect.
And then, on the drive home, it happened. This thing that happens rarely and at strange times and, seemingly, for no reason at all.
I come to a traffic lights and have to stop. I look the other side of the canal (which runs by the side of the road). There is a shop or, maybe a restaurant or a bar. It doesn’t really matter which. I suddenly become aware of the talk on the radio. I look at the sign on the shop.
“I live in a foreign country”, I think.
It’s the feeling that comes with that thought. The feeling of wonder at being here, of pride at having ‘made it’, of fear of knowing that I will never be ‘of this country’. It’s almost like a shock.
“How strange”, I think, “that, after all this time, this feeling can still come to me and at such unexpected times?”
It was the sign that did it. It wasn’t a special sign just a normal sign with an Italian name or word. I see these every day. Many of them. Why now? Why at this particular time? I don’t think there’s an answer to that. It just happens. It just is.