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A Secret

A Secret

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A Secret

408 Seiten
6 Stunden
Jul 11, 2013


When an early-retired Canadian executive decides to research his roots in Italy he has no idea of what he would be getting into. Following a divorce from a childless marriage he is left alone, without a family and with nothing to look forward to. On his first trip to his ancestral town in central Italy, he hopes to get to know and establish a solid rapport with his blood relatives, and thereby find inspiration for a new life. What he finds instead is much more that what he bargained for. A family secret about his grandfather turns him into an unwilling investigator, engaged in researching much more than his lineage. In his quest to find the missing pieces of a tragic story, he discovers feelings he did not know he had. From the cold, calculating and materialistic man he used to be, he slowly turns into a romantic, compassionate and emotional human being, touched by the warmth and affection of his blood relatives, and by the history and artistic masterpieces he discovers along the way.

A married woman he meets on his initial flight to Rome evokes emotions he never had before, while the spontaneous love from a younger woman he later meets in his ancestral town becomes the object of his ‘delayed’ affection. Through them he experiences a doomed sentimental journey inspired by passion and a prolific love affair inspired by a strong desire to father a child and start a family. As a result, he is emotionally torn by three competing forces – a forbidden passion he is unable to control, a wholesome and desirable relationship that can give him a new family, and a decades-old family secret that consumes his soul.

The story takes place between August 2000 and July 2002 and lives through the tragic events of September 11 in New York. It is filled with historic data and describes a few of the most enchanting towns of Abruzzo, in central Italy. It also touches upon deep reflections about life in its historic and societal facets. The story is as realistic as its characters are alive and typical of the ambient in which they live. In the end, fate plays a role in determining his destiny, as he is left with no other option than to accept the consequences of his final choice.

Jul 11, 2013

Über den Autor

Vittorio Bellini - a retired business executive - received his early education in Italy and later in England and Canada. He joined a multinational corporation and was fast-tracked to senior management postings in several countries. In his retirement he drew from his international knowledge to create engrossing stories in global settings. The author lives in Hudson, Quebec, Canada.


A Secret - Victor Bellini

A Secret

It was all written up there

A Novel


Vittorio Bellini

A Secret

It was all written up there


Copyright © 2017 Vittorio Bellini

All rights reserved

Smashwords Edition

Also by Vittorio (Victor) Bellini

Adventures in Multinational Business

- The Libyan Affair

- The Casablanca Connection

-The Russian Oligarch

- The Mexican Seduction

- The Chinese Manuscript

Other novels

- A Secret

- A Girl Named Gioia

- La Mano del Destino (in Italian)

- The Union

- Inspired in Venice

- Revolutionary Times

- Of Human Emotions

- Broken Dreams

Short stories:

- One-night Stands

- Sex in Vienna


- A Turbulent Career

- Delusional Paranoia

- Amen!

Available in digital and paperback formats

from most online bookstores

For information:



This novel was inspired by the lifestyle and social values of earlier generations of Italian people from the region of Abruzzo in central Italy. The action takes the reader on an emotional journey of changing relationships, as they evolve and resettle in the hearts and minds of their protagonists. Reason and passion are often at odds with seemingly irreconcilable social and cultural differences. The story unfolds over a period going from June 2000 to October 2001. It ends soon after the tragic events of September 11 in New York.

Two versions with different endings have been published by the same author: A Secret (in English) and La Mano del Destino (in Italian).



All places in this story are real and all historic facts are accurate. The descriptive material of cities and towns - shown in cursive - is also true and accurate, but all characters and events are strictly imaginary. Any resemblance to real people, whether alive or dead, is fortuitous and purely coincidental.



On a sunny day of early June of the year 2000 in a historic town of central Italy, Mario Picci walked quickly and nervously across fields of vineyards and olive groves on his way to a secret meeting with Paolo Bartolo. He had reason to be nervous. He and Paolo were the only ones to know the truth about the premature death of his aunt Gioia Picci. She had passed away in 1925 at the tender age of seventeen under a cloud of suspicion and malicious rumours that shamed her and cast an odious pall on her family. Three quarters of a century later the spiritual wound was still fresh in Mario’s mind.

The official story provided by her family was a cover-up. It claimed that she was sent to work as a house maid with a wealthy family in Belgium and later died there of typhoid. But the truth was painfully different. Her body was brought back and buried in Lanciano, her hometown, amid the general shock and chagrin of all those who knew her as a beautiful, healthy and sweet young woman. There ensued gossipy speculations by malicious townspeople who did not believe the official explanation of her death. Instead, they spread the notion that she was sent away to cover up an illicit affair she may have had with Nicola Bartolo (a married man) and was later found dead after a botched abortion.

The tragic truth of what really happened was discovered many years after her death, but could not be told without engendering further public opprobrium. It was therefore kept secret by both families. Mario Picci and Paolo Bartolo, the remaining patriarchs, inherited the secret from their fathers and were tasked with finding a way to redress Gioia’s reputation without revealing the entire truth.

Mario was a widower in his late sixties from the nearby town of Orsogna, where his family owned one of the better known wineries of the Abruzzo region. He was somewhat short, stout and mostly bald, with a carefully shaven round face. He was always well dressed and distinguished looking, with large sunglasses and a cap to protect his baldness from the sun. As he neared the meeting place – a large flat rock by a low stone wall, often used to sit on and admire the vineyard sprawling around it – Mario looked at his watch. He was a few minutes early. He continued at a leisurely pace, admiring the rolling hills surrounding him, with perfectly aligned rows of grapevines at one end and olive trees scattered amid a stony terrain at the other.

He stopped a minute to reflect, wiped away the sweat from his face and picked a grape to taste it. ‘Delicious,’ he said to himself, ‘one more month and they’ll be ready.’ As a vintner it was his passion to taste grapes at various stages of growth, knowing when it would be the exact time to harvest and start the process of turning grapes into vintage wine. But his purpose for being there was quite different than that of a vintner. He picked a few more grapes, critically savouring each, while his mind wandered wildly, recalling the happier times of his fancy-free youth, when walking through the fields on a sunny summer day was more an occasion for fun and games than anything else.

‘What a shame,’ he thought, ‘that young people today have no interest in working the land. Everything is automated; the human element is gone, as is the joy, the laughter and the fun of picking grapes by hand.’ He finally arrived at the rock, looked at his watch again, sat down and waited.

A few minutes later, Paolo Bartolo too arrived. Paolo knew why Mario had asked to meet with him in isolation. That place was where they held their secret talks, whenever something happened that might have suggested a solution to their dilemma. Well into his seventies, Paolo was the Patriarch of the Bartolo family. He was a practical man, of medium stature and somewhat rotund without being fat. He still had a lot of hair, all white, cut short and left uncovered. He was a man of few words, decisive and determined, but always amiable and never aggressive. He inspired confidence and had earned Mario’s trust, despite their outstanding family problem.

"Buongiorno Mario," said Paolo as they shook hands.

"Buongiorno a te, Paolo," replied Mario with a half smile.

After a few niceties, they sat down next to each other and prepared to discuss the same problem that bedevilled them and their fathers for decades.

Paolo, you know why I wanted to see you, don’t you? asked Mario.

I can guess, said Paolo.

Good. The reason is that I hear you are expecting the visit of a nephew of yours from Canada.

Yes, that’s right, my nephew Matteo is coming from Montreal.

Good. And I hear he is Nicola’s grandson.

Yes, that’s right. But, let me tell you before you get any idea -- I don’t know him at all. It’s his first visit to Lanciano and he barely speaks some old dialect, said Paolo trying to anticipate Mario’s train of thoughts. So I’m not even sure I can communicate with him on simple matters, never mind complex ones.

I understand, I understand. But, you know, here is the thing. We have a long-standing mission to accomplish and we, you and I, said Mario stressing the point that they were the only ones involved, we are not able to do so. So I thought that maybe if we tell your nephew the whole story, given that he is not from here, maybe he can help. Maybe he has some ideas we can use. After all, he is Nicola’s grandson and has a certain amount of responsibility. Gioia will not have the peace she deserves up there until her sacrifice is duly recognized and honoured.

You are right; I agree and I feel your pain, but … I don’t know. Matteo is practically a foreigner; he was born in Canada, retorted Paolo with some annoyance, He knows nothing. He is coming to meet his relatives for the first time. It’s meant to be a happy reunion. I don’t think it is right to get him involved.

Ok, listen, I don’t want to force the issue, rejoined Mario sensing Paolo’s annoyance, but I want you to think about it. Feel him out. See what kind of man he is and then decide. Do this for me, for our friendship, for what binds our two families together. Try. One never knows what might come out of it. I hear he is a smart man, a man of the world.

Yes, he is a smart man. He has been around a lot, but he has had his share of problems, you know. He lost both of his parents when he was just a toddler. So, you see what I mean? We all have our own cross to bear. God knows, we all do.

Mario nodded in agreement at Paolo’s statement, as if reflecting on his own cross, and took a few deep breaths. They both stayed a few seconds in silence to meditate.

How long is he planning to stay in Lanciano? Mario was determined to get a more definite agreement on what to do next.

He didn’t say, probably a week, maybe longer, I don’t know. I know he is divorced, has no children and I believe he is retired, so who knows how long he is staying. He said he wants to travel and learn as much as he can about his roots.

Paolo, rejoined Mario with a spark in his eyes, if he wants to know about his roots, why don’t you tell him the story? Remember that we have a responsibility. Our fathers - bless their souls - are watching us from up there, as is Gioia - bless her soul too. It’s been many years and we haven’t done anything yet …

Not for lack of trying, interjected Paolo, we did try different ideas, but what can we do? Anyway I hear you, he then added in a conciliatory tone, and I’ll try my best to broach the subject at an opportune time, after I assure myself he can be trusted.

That’s all I wanted to hear from you, Paolo. Thank you, concluded Mario with a broad smile on his face, as if he got the promise he wanted. He then got up preparing to leave.

Paolo got up too and both men walked side by side for a while, reflecting in silence, as good friends, sharing a decades-old family secret.

The grapes will soon be pulpy, juicy, sweet and delicious this year. We’ll have one of the best vintages in recent memory, remarked Mario.

Yeah, right, looks like it, but I gave up on making wine. I let the Consortium take care of it, replied Paolo with nonchalance.

You miss all the fun, and the satisfaction of enjoying the fruit of your own work, continued Mario rhetorically.

I know, but I’m too old to look after it and my children have chosen different occupations. Still, I enjoy the wine of my vineyard anyway; I get my share every year.

Mario nodded in agreement. At the end of the property, they shook hands again and continued on, in different directions.

Paolo Bartolo, now in his late seventies, had three children, two boys and a girl, and several grandchildren. Since retiring, he relied entirely on his wife Rosina for all social events, and she did a very good job at it too. Never a week went by without some sort of get together with family members or friends for one of her great dinners, or just a picnic outing to the mountains, or to the beach. She was a talkative, extremely religious and energetic septuagenarian who hardly ever took no for an answer. Her matronly looks - with short, white, curly hairdo; broad shoulders and some extra weight on a short frame - gave her an aura of self-assured authority, mostly unchallenged by her husband.

Where did you go? asked Rosina as Paolo got back home.

Oh, you know, to the usual place, he answered evasively.

You mean to the rock!

Yes, to the rock. It’s good to go there from time to time. It’s a nice walk through the vineyard and it’s relaxing to just sit there and look around.

Yes, sure, look around! Look at what?

I look at how the olives and the grapes grow week after week and check on whether they are being well looked after by the Consortium, said Paolo patiently, it’s my way of relaxing. Then I look at all that surrounds us -- the land, the trees, the mountains, the sun, the sky, the birds and … you know what I mean! And then I think of Mother Nature and how it all came together.

You should have faith in God. We are here in His hands. Whatever He wants we have to accept. What’s the use of wondering and questioning everything? That’s the way I see it. You should find some hobby to keep you busy, so you don’t waste your time trying to double guess Mother Nature, said Rosina philosophically.

And you should find something to relax with. You are always on the move, always doing something. Take time to relax and reflect! retorted Paolo.

They had a great relationship, Paolo and Rosina, right through some fifty years of relaxed marriage. He was the planner and doer outside the house, while she was the planner and doer inside the house. They were a matched pair, fully complementary in all they did together.

What shall we do for Matteo when he arrives? she asked.

I don’t know I hope we can communicate better than we can by telephone. I can hardly understand him.

Come on now, he is not that bad. He makes himself understood and he is smart, he will learn.

I intend to let him tell us what he wants to do. I am glad he is renting a car, so he’ll be mobile and hopefully not too dependent on us. Can you imagine if we were expected to take him everywhere?

I want to find out why he divorced his wife, said Rosina as if talking to herself while cooking dinner. I’ll have to lecture him on family values. I don’t know how they think in Canada, but I have a suspicion that they are no better than some of those characters from Hollywood, God forbid!

Don’t judge without knowing the facts, and don’t criticize. He’ll be our guest and we have to respect that.

But he is also our nephew, and I have the right as his aunt to tell him what I think. After all, he grew up without a mother and … you know?

He was brought up just as wisely by his grandparents. Nicola, his grandfather, loved him and brought him up as a son. And so did his grandmother. I am sure they both did a great job. After all he is a successful man.

Successful man, you say! remarked Rosina challenging that statement. What kind of success is it to have a failed marriage and no children at his age? He must be in his mid fifties by now, and he is alone in the world.

I believe he is fifty-six, confirmed Paolo.

Let me tell you, continued Rosina, parents are always parents, and he has lost both his father and mother in that terrible car accident in Canada when he was just a toddler. He has never felt the warmth and love of his mother. And maybe he needs to reconnect with God now that he divorced his wife. Maybe that’s what’s missing in his life. You should take him to see the Miracle of the Eucharist in Lanciano. That will make him think, said Rosina as she pointed to a religious icon hanging on the wall.

Rosina had always been dead against anything not quite in compliance with the Catholic Church teachings, and divorce was not something she could accept easily. Paolo was more flexible in that respect but never dared contradict Rosina. He would just listen, often raising his eyebrows in silent disapproval, but never challenging her views.

We’ll let him decide. Lanciano has a lot of history going back thousands of years. If Matteo has any interest in history he’ll want to see all that Lanciano has to offer, concluded Paolo as he left Rosina to her cooking.


About Lanciano

Lanciano is a growing town of some thirty thousand people, in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. There is historical evidence of its existence predating Roman times, but its growth began after it was taken by Rome and declared a Roman town during the early part of the Roman Empire. The origin of the name seems to have evolved in different forms in medieval times. The town sustained several destructive phases through foreign invasions, feudal wars and earthquakes, and was completely obliterated in the sixth century a.D. It was later rebuilt piece by piece through centuries of dedicated work by its citizens. Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of the older town buried underneath the present one, thereby confirming its sixth century destruction. The excavations are expected to take a few more years to complete, but many ruins can already be seen under Piazza Plebiscito, the central town square.

Tourists visiting Lanciano cannot help but be amazed as they move through three millennia of civilization. Notable landmarks are: several pre-Roman artifacts; the Ponte di Diocleziano (3rd century); the Torri Montanare and Porta San Biagio (11th century); the Church of San Agostino (14th century); the Church of San Francesco (15th century); the Teatro Fenaroli (16th century) and the Basilica della Madonna del Ponte (17th century). Most of these landmarks are within a short walking distance from Piazza Plebiscito.

Perhaps the best known of these is the Church of San Francesco, which preserves and protects the Miracle of the Eucharist. The prodigy of the Miracle is based on the story of an eighth-century friar who was tormented by doubt. One day he saw in utter shock the host and wine he was to use for Mass turn into flesh and blood. Both host and wine have since been analyzed by teams of experts with modern means and found to be genuine human flesh and human blood. The host is now set in a beautiful gold reliquary, while the coagulated blood is in a matching chalice, both of which are on display at the church. The Miracle of the Eucharist, as it has since been called, is well known to Catholics around the world and it attracts a growing numbers of pilgrims to Lanciano every year.



Chapter 1

Flying to Rome

As he boarded the Alitalia flight from Montreal to Rome, Matteo Bartolo reminisced about his past and tried to anticipate what awaited him in Italy. At fifty-six, he was still a good-looking man, reasonably tall and slim for his age, with a head of brown hair just beginning to go white. He divorced his wife following twenty years of childless and uneventful marriage and, four years later, quit his job as a business executive following the collapse of the so-called dot-com market. He was determined to change his lifestyle, from the rat race of corporate America to a more sedate existence. He had no specific passion for anything other than a desire to research his Italian roots. He never learned to speak properly the language of his ancestors, but felt he knew enough of the regional vernacular to get by. He tried to imagine his forthcoming arrival in Lanciano and wondered how his relatives would react to his coming after a lifetime of neglect.

His train of thoughts came to an abrupt end as the aircraft took off and reached altitude. As he looked absent-mindedly out the window, watching the city disappear beneath dark clouds, his attention was drawn by the profile of the woman sitting next to him in business class. ‘How regal, I wonder who she is’, he thought, as he admired her posture and facial features. He then took the on-board magazine and flipped through the pages looking for a map of Italy. He looked for Lanciano, in the region of Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast, and noted with interest the relative altitudes of the area in the color-keyed contours of the map. The Apennine mountain range dominated the region. He imagined arduous mountain passes, tortuous roads meandering through hills and valleys, and wondered how it would feel to finally see Lanciano, his late father’s birthplace. He closed his eyes and reclined the seat to relax, but not for long. The scent of his travel companion, reminiscent of his ex-wife’s favorite cologne, again drew his attention.

He observed her from the corner of his eye for a few minutes. She was reading a French paperback, often closing her eyes as if to absorb and meditate on what she had read. He was tempted to introduce himself but decided to wait for the right moment. He reckoned she was in her late forties, or maybe early fifties. She was a curly-haired brunette of statuesque proportions, distinguished, refined and very attractive, with carefully coifed short hair parted in the middle and a touch of rouge on high cheekbones. Her pink lipstick was barely visible on a set of slightly protruding and fleshy lips. She looked vaguely like Rita, his ex-wife, also a beautiful curly-haired brunette.

Just the thought of her reminded him of how much they tried to have a child, but Rita could not have any and was adamantly against adoption. She had a mind of her own, much like him, which is what made them equal and yet opposite, attracting and yet repelling each other like two changing poles of a magnet. Since his divorce, he had had a few short-term liaisons, but never serious ones.

Drinks were being served: a Martini for Matteo and Champagne for his mysterious travel companion. She ordered it in excellent Italian and went back to reading, or meditating, never exchanging glances with him. Her voice was beautifully feminine and sexy. Her accent, however, did not reflect her origins, but betrayed a cadence typical of Northern Europe. She was obviously self-assured, well educated, on the slim side, in loose beige jeans and a light pink blouse matching her lipstick. He sipped his drink and took a deep breath, as if to clear his mind of a lot of regrets. He then reclined his seat and dozed off for a long while.

The smell of food awoke him and brought him back to reality. He glanced at her again, as they both prepared to eat. Their eyes met for an instant with a vague smile. Having seen her read a French novel and then talk to the stewardess in Italian, he was sure she also spoke English and decided to address her in that language.

Looks appetising, doesn’t it? said Matteo casually pointing to the food.

She hesitated a few seconds as if to decide whether to be dismissive or engaging, for she was not particularly fond of casual conversations with total strangers.

Yes, it does, she replied politely.

It reminds me of my youth, he rejoined. I grew up on Italian food, but haven’t quite kept up with it lately.

She didn’t look anxious to talk but felt she had to. She took time before she did, as if to signal her lack of interest.

Why not? she asked with nonchalance.

My ex wife loved to cook Italian dishes, but we divorced years ago. I stayed single and never learned to cook, he said staring at her. She returned his stare inquisitively, with piercing brown eyes, while eating her food with ladylike poise.

Allow me to introduce myself, he said after a few moments of silence, I’m Matteo, Matteo Bartolo.

Bartolo? she said with a Mona Lisa smile, as she began to show some interest. It reminds me of a famous Opera.

The Barber of Seville, noted Matteo with an amused grin.

"Right, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, she said in Italian, I am Selma, Selma Zimmerlin. You must be Italian. Vuol parlare Italiano?"

Matteo was taken aback by her perfect Italian pronunciation. No, I don’t, he replied with mortification, I only know some dialect, I’m afraid. I was born in Canada and never felt the need to learn Italian properly.

Is this is your first trip to Italy? She asked, switching back to English.

In a way yes… he said thinking that he had never been in Italy as a tourist. It’s my first leisure trip to Italy! I’ve been to Europe many times on business, in most countries, including Russia, but never spent more than a day or two in Italy!

Russia? That’s a country I’ve never been to, she said with a spark in her eyes. What do you do? she then asked as she sized him up with curiosity.

I have taken early retirement from a Canadian multinational corporation. I was Senior VP.

Are you not too young to retire?

Yes, I am, but circumstances made me take a breather. I might get back in the fray one day, but first I need to do something I always wanted to do but never had the time to.

What would that be?

I need to discover my roots. I need to learn about where my forefathers come from. I have no relatives in Canada and I always felt like something was missing in my life. Am I making any sense to you?

Yes, you are actually. I never had that problem because, unlike you, I have always lived in the country of my ancestors.

That’s nice. You all know each other.

Yes, we do, even though sometime I wish I didn’t know some of them, she laughed.

The conversation gained momentum from that point on, switching from subject to subject without hesitations and never at a loss for words. Matteo was captivated by her smile, her voice and her general demeanour. He told her about his origins and she told him about hers. She was Swiss, but lived temporarily in Rome, her husband being a diplomat posted in that city. She spoke fluent English, German, French and Italian. He told her he was going to visit Italian relatives he never met before in Abruzzo. She told him she was back from visiting Swiss relatives on her husband’s side, in Ottawa. Then he told her about his career, his travels and the technological revolution he lived through, along with his disappointments and his sudden need to learn about his lineage.

She wanted to know about what he saw in Russia, and he told her that his experience in that country was in 1994, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He told her about the poverty he saw in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg in those days. He told her how sorry he felt at seeing a country with so much history and cultural achievements fall so low after seventy years of Bolshevik communism.

Selma, who at first showed a nonchalant attitude, seemed to get more and more interested as she explained that her father, also a Swiss diplomat and a dedicated family man, was posted in different cities over the years. As a result, she attended schools in Zurich, Milan, London and then Paris, where she earned a degree in languages. After a short career as an interpreter that took her to several countries, she married and settled with her husband, Dieter, in Switzerland, where they raised two children. As the children grew up and became independent, Dieter accepted a foreign posting, hence their move to Rome, where Dieter worked as a Commercial Attaché at the Swiss Embassy.

She went on describing in some details her interest in history, music and performing arts, and how she enjoyed travelling and discovering different cities. She had inherited that interest from her mother, an intellectual and active socialite, but could not - she noted with a sigh - share the same passion with her husband, whose only interest was in political affairs. She philosophised on how life is made of compromises, and how they are always needed to ensure stability and security.

Then, there was a sudden, somewhat embarrassing pause in her conversation, as she realised she was on a slippery slope, talking about personal matters with a perfect stranger! In those few moments of silence she made it clear, by body language rather than by words, that she would rather not talk about herself. So they moved to other topics, less personal, less intrusive, but still interesting and very engaging -- the American and European lifestyles, the new economy, international terrorism, the Middle East problem, religions and social values. Through it all she showed a broad-based knowledge of world affairs, but with a rather laissez-faire attitude. Matteo was fascinated at the way she expressed herself, with a mix of dubious confidence and outright flippancy, pride and humility. He felt an increasing desire to know more about her personal life, but did not dare ask.

As the movie started after dinner, and the lights were dimmed, they continued to talk, softly, sottovoce, so as not to disturb others who were watching the movie or trying to sleep. They talked, fully reclined in their seats looking into each other’s eyes, their faces almost touching. The delicate scent of her cologne and the sound of her whispering voice inebriated him. The atmosphere had an electrifying effect on Matteo; he felt a sense of abandon, a sense of intimacy without actually being intimate. In those few hours of dialogue he sensed that a natural, refreshing and stimulating bond had been created between them. Then Selma succumbed to her physical fatigue and closed her eyes to rest and to eventually doze off.

As she slept, her head leaned inadvertently onto his shoulder. He felt thoroughly seduced and was afraid to move, lest he would wake her up and remove that chimerical spell. He too closed his eyes to rest eventually, but didn’t sleep, he couldn’t. His mind was undergoing a massive turbulence, like a brain vertigo, unable to focus his train of thoughts on any specific issue. As a professional man he had trained himself to always think of ‘something of value’, so as never to waste time with useless fantasies, but he didn’t always succeed and when he didn’t, he let his mind go wherever it wanted to go.

Those few hours of interaction with Selma had created in him a need to fantasise, a need to feel intimate. Her head rested on his shoulder and her hair brushed his cheek with beckoning power, demanding to be kissed, gently, lightly, discreetly so as not to awake her. He could resist no longer and buried his face in it, feeling paralysed by its delicate texture and perfume. A burgeoning desire to perpetuate those moments was all he could think of, but didn’t last long.

Breakfast brought him back to reality. The lights went on, the windows opened and the smell of coffee filled the air, as the flight attendants started to serve breakfast. She woke up and looked startled by his proximity, unaware of the turmoil she caused in him. They looked at each other and said a simple good morning with a smile. Selma excused herself and headed to the toilette, Matteo did the same a few minutes later. When he got back to his seat, she was looking out of the window. Then they had breakfast, like two strangers, probably embarrassed at the quasi-intimacy of the night before. It was clear that Selma did not wish to talk, as she resumed reading her book while still sipping her coffee. Matteo felt like an intruder. The signal was clear -- she had no intention of encouraging any form of friendship between them.

As they landed in Rome, they shook hands and wished each other good bye, along with a vague ... ‘nice talking with you, maybe we’ll meet again, who knows!’ There were no invitations, no exchange of phone numbers, not even e-mail addresses. He wanted to see her again, but couldn’t ask. She was a happily married woman, never divorced, living in a different world, a different culture. ‘No way’, he said to himself, and moved on, walking fast as if to get away from her.

He queued patiently for passport control for foreigners and watched her go through the much faster queue for European citizens. He finally made it to the conveyor belt to retrieve his luggage and saw her there, at the opposite end. He waved at her. She waved back. He then moved next to her and smiled. She smiled back, her eyes beaming.

"I don’t know how to say this,

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