While we were on the plane, I realised I’d never been on a trip like this before. I’d travelled with my family and with my school. Then alone, either for work or with a group of friends or a boyfriend. That stretch on a plane marked a milestone: I can’t say if it was my final journey as a girl or my first as an adult, but I felt certain that no condition or age could be considered outside one of these life stages. Maybe they alternate inside us at variable, never constant speed, then return after a time to a larger or smaller degree. In any case, in our nature and our outlook, in our optimism and our pessimism, in our beliefs, our decisions and our hopes, the four of us will always be, in part, young girls.
And now I was feeling happy and proud to be in a row of three seats plus one with three women I trusted because they had gone through so much. There: knowing that someone else has gone through a lot and still manages to board a plane, or put on clothes and make-up, or go and sit at a table for an aperitivo – that’s what keeps me company during harrowing times; that’s what makes me know my peers when I see them. I was sitting among my peers and experiencing this condition on a very deep emotional level, although I said nothing out loud, obviously, so the conversation revolved around the man who had carried my suitcase to the taxi and I wished I could respond to their questioning, but the truth was I knew little, really very little, about this particular guy – only his name, where he came from and his phone number. Also, deep inside me, I knew I’d want to dial that number.
But sometimes, among women, that kind of woman, there is a cockiness, an existential attitude of self-sufficiency where men are concerned, which makes it difficult to admit that you feel like carrying on seeing one. Or else this admission should come with a certainty: something inexorable that means your friends won’t make fun of you or make you feel guilty. Certainties like, for example, I’m falling in love with him or I’ve never come across a guy who fucks so well. In that case, yes. Alternatively, you need to feel free from their judgement, that burden, that criticism. You need to not give a shit. I didn’t know if that was the case: although I loved them very much, I needed that trip to work it out, or set myself free.
It’s just that we’d seen so many women get into a relationship out of loneliness or its opposite: the fear of loneliness.
Because loneliness is a condition that’s enviable until you reach a certain age, even if you have a child, as proved by Camilla, who was forever building castles made of childminders and shepherding and grandparents, and places where it was possible to have a work meeting with a little girl in tow – yes. But the prospect of not talking to anyone for hours, of walking across the flat half-dressed and shitting with the toilet door open, is an unenviable condition. And then filling that flat, that life, when you want to, with whatever you want.
The opposite of being alone is not being a couple but rather the fear of remaining alone. The fear of not managing, of not being able to endure the existential state of being aware that you came from a primordial couple, the fear of not being able to renounce repeating their quarrels, divorce proceedings, betrayals, or else the fear of not being capable of replicating their everlasting love, the kind that produces five children and sees beyond the other person’s wrinkles. The fear of small things: of having a temperature and nobody to bring you paracetamol, of wanting a shag and having to leaf through an address book in which there are no numbers highlighted in red, the fear of going to the cinema as a threesome and the couple who came with you holding hands in the dark.
We were four women alone and now that the physical presence of Sachiko had gone, she was living among us in spirit. Dolores was showing us how to experience this kind of loneliness, too. In the end, we were all setting off so we would learn: she was the one taking us, even though we had actually organised the trip.
By Valeria Parrella
Translated by Katherine Gregor
QUEL TIPO DI DONNA (That Kind of Woman) Fiction
by Valeria Parrella (HarperCollins Italia, 2020)
Valeria Parrella is the author of short stories, novels and plays, as well as a regular contributor of newspaper and magazine articles. Valeria is a polymath. From a degree in Classics she went on to study Italian sign language and now works for the Italian National Agency for the Deaf. She stood for office in the European Elections in 2014. In addition, she holds creative writing workshops in young offenders’ institutions. Valeria is the author of the novel Almarina, shortlisted for the 2020 Strega Prize, scheduled to be published by John Murray Press next July, 2021 in a translation by Alex Valente.
Katherine Gregor grew up in Italy and France before going to university in England. She has been a theatrical agent, press agent, teacher and one or two other things before becoming a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian. She also writes original material and is currently working on a non-fiction book.