When I landed at Linate in Milan, I stopped saying Lyn-ate. I said it right. I said it Lyn-ah-tey. I used a coin phone to call India. Mother, I’m here, I said. God bless you, she said.
Dear Milan, I asked myself that day who you were going to be, to me. I stood outside Linate as X73s and 73s passed by me. I knew I had only 90 days with you. I did not know your language, I did not know your ways. So I said to myself – Milan is my lover. With that, the lines of commitment were set. I promised to not cross them. In a table somewhere, in your city limits, I’d sit writing and you’d let me. This, my dear Milan, was what I had decided.
I hadn’t experienced a European summer before that day. It was seven in the evening and it was still day. I remember checking the time. The day seemed out of place. The day was not allowed to be present beyond six in the evening. Back home, the sun went down in the evening. The evening was called the evening because it was when the sun went down. Through the evening, the skies darkened, quickly leading to the night. I felt nauseated – three bags on me and the day in you was distorting my understanding of time.
The landscape was thin, even deserted as I left Linate in a taxi. A characteristic of several airports. And a definite for all of yours. Bergamo, Linate and Malpensa are all away from your centre. As if leaving you had to be made difficult. Now I can tell, on my 88th day with you that you wanted it that way.
The city came – I stared outside the taxi window at your streets, at your cafes and your people. Inside the taxi, the radio was on full blast. Italian sounded loud, confident and righteous. I wasn’t intent on learning. Or perhaps I was. I counted smokers as the taxi paused at signals. Then I counted the cafes, the shops with a big T – Tabacchi.
I watched the metre – thirty three Euros. The taxi took me to Bisceglie. Via Valsesia 8, Baggio. I stood in front of a brown set of apartments, climbing to the sky. There was the green of the trees, the dull black of the roads and the brown of these apartments. My taxi sped away, indicated a turn and kept going. I didn’t look at it but I could hear it. In minutes, the same silence that welcomed me in Linate was there in Baggio. There was the remnants of the taxi, but only inside my ears.
Every time I sat down to write, there was that silence. It was a form of mourning. It was a relevant change in climate. Quickly I settled to a few ways, unlike yours. We conflicted. We even fought. But you changed weather. Sometimes I was naked on the bed waiting for your sun to die. Sometimes I sat like that at the table without writing watching your rain grease the roads below.
One night I was at Central Station. As midnight approached, people became different. Conversations became whispers. I looked at the ancient, magnificent face of your station. In the middle of those walls was a digital clock – a block of black showing 00:00 in red.
On the underground, I was still. I was different. I was away from home. But I was even invisible. Alone. For the first time in my life, you Milan, made me feel the eroticism of being unknown. I littered. I played football. I swam in a lake. I spoke to people. I left them wondering. I used false names. I lied. I roamed in a state of absolute – the only companion being your vagaries and those of my mind.
By the 80th day we were inseparable. We were even insane as we typed incoherent sentences. You played with your weather, with my mind. I walked down Navigli and felt your clouds following me. I was in an abundant perpetual daze.
The thought of leaving began to frighten me. Going back to people, being in a table with another person frightened me. On the underground, I listened to the screech of the older trains of the Green line. I thought you didn’t want me to leave too.
I want to come back to you. I want you to remember me – the nights I stood out on a balcony, looking at the spire of a faraway church, replaying the bells of your mornings. I want you to be all mine.
As I take the Malpensa Express out of you, I promised myself I’d come back to you. Soon, I say. But your goodbye is final. You shed some rain for me as I left. Some smokers stand in the platforms we pass. In hours I’m in another land. And I cannot forget you. I cannot accept this now-alien land. I want you even more than that man who’s stained my thoughts – the one I mused to you about.
Thank you, for the daze, the songs and a happy stomach. You were more than a lover.
With so much love and longing,
The woman who stood on a balcony.
Location: Milan, Italy