Johanna ( revisited )
Hey children, do you want to hear why mummy was so unlucky to end up with me? I can recall it for you.
My memories came back while I was painting in magnolia my flat in Hackney. I had visions of Johanna. We met while myself, even from deprived backgrounds, was off to uni. I was into Mayakovsky at that time. Johanna and her friend, doing classical studies, conversed in Latin to denigrate my poetic... soul. Johanna was short but powerful. Undulating blonde mane and green eyes framed in pale alabaster-magnolia complexion. I had never seen such long and clever fingers. I adored her as a duty, as autumn loves red leaves.
But I was fat and I never touched her. The intimacy of my reading – Dylan, Apollinaire, Rilke, Roethke, Haynes – brought me plumpiness and red cheeks. My buttocks were soggy and decadent and, when I walked the streets at night, lamp posts derided me.
But posing my school bag on the sofa when school was over, the guy who was me did not care about chubbiness in children. He felt empowered by the good looking genes in his father. You could see a willowy girl in my mother's student pictures. I had read about mermaids and Ulysses and Achilles who was strong but his heel. So strength comes late in life and beauty is everywhere.
- 'How much ham do you want in your sandwich?' My mum asked, then my grandmother: 'Have you found a girlfriend yet?'
While back from school in the afternoon, the table was ready for a fete. Like a food stylist shoot, you got the wooden table and the coloured bowls. As in Rimbaud and his synesthesia , I associated the colours of legumes to vowels, giving greens unique letters. As I ate I built an alphabet and dinner was a prayer. My religious grandmother could not see in my fork the spear, ungrateful , used by Roman centurions to deride Jesus, on the cross. Mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, women brought me up and gave me food but since a child, with a fork, I was reaching out for love.
That was a misleading feed. Food under the travesty of love and lovers get fat.
I met Johanna at the ice cream van in front of the philosophy department in Cassino. I was guilty to stare at her. But I really imagined her lollypop was a kiss and all the cone the hostia. She seemed reserved, detached from giggles, diaphane. She didn't notice my admiration and I swallowed all the cream because, I got apprehensive.
Disconsolation makes you fat.
The association of our spirits came between classes. Francis, my friend, introduced me to her one morning. At midday, with us in the gym for the physical education class, professor Silos, the technology teacher, as a clandestine sneaked in. He helped himself with the oversized sandwich my mother gave me for lunch. He was a joyful big man who liked to play tricks and didn't like when students were too quiet. Missing my lunch, my greed was stranded.
- 'Did they take your sandwich away?' She asked. 'Yes, but it doesn't matter, I am not much into food nowadays.' I boasted . I played the superfluous man above material matters and able to survive just on letters, pronouns, heavy adjectivation. Johanna was a bibliophile . We spoke about 'Last Evenings on Earth', 'Letters from My Windmill', 'Oblomov' and 'My Childhood'.
Children, are you listening? I came back home that night with a heart soaked with the hope of enduring love. I had the impression that Johanna was the calmest person on Earth. She conveyed exact listening skills as soft and accommodating as a slimfit ,pink pillow listening to dreams at night. I recall the day because of the two black men later on.
The visit of these 2 guys occurred in a classic weekday evening family gathering. We were peasant, labourer, sons of the people but strangely they appeared in a black suit . They politely saluted my grandmother. They asked the kids, my sister and me, to finish the homework in the other room. They engaged in small talk with my father about the drought, if the fields were rife with tomatoes, observations about the height of green bean plants in the summer 1992.
What did the black men want from us? All villagers heard the loud speakers with political announcements on top of the rusty car that afternoon. Hot days of political campaign. The black men suggested my family choose to vote for the local candidate. Absurd the rustic ceremonial of unsaid words, smart clothes, complicated jests, talks of the runner bean just for venial political gain. My intuition was to do the opposite regarding my heart soaked with love for Johanna. The next day I would pat my chest and tell her my feelings, unashamedly .
But my children..., I was a toad, a disgrace of a lover. I had already my hare in the reels along the river in Cassino. When the lines of our eyes met sitting at back of the English class, decency was lost. Older than me, she seduced me. This indecent hare was before Johanna. She had bends and precipices and abundance of flesh and greasy lust in which I got stacked like a feeble fly.
For few weeks, albeit my love of Johanna was still ineffectual, and hoping for a good twist of fate to push symbolically my tattoo of a heart with wings above the cliff of self-doubt, and into the arms of my beloved, I run the binary tracks of naughty desire and pure emotion.
The desires which keep burning at day and night make you skinny. As a fact I was losing weight. . .
At that time I got my driving licence, borrowed my father's car and one morning my morality came down and left me in shame. My hare and me had the indecent practice to skip university classes and have intercourses in that old fiat car, homely hand painted in yellow by my father.
-'Where are you going?' Good damn Cupid! My grandmother saw me, holding the duvet I seized to be taken into the car and to be laid on the back seat that afternoon. She said nothing, her look was enough to let me know she guessed my manoeuvre and it was embarrassment on my side.
At that time I was teaching myself about the art of love from the master, Pedro Salinas…. Children, you should read him before you are eighteen!The image I had nurtured through books was dishevelled in the situation. I appeared human, too human in front of the women in my household. The dark matter in my body, my shadow with vices, sins, adultery, promiscuity, jealousy was pinned down that morning in my life under the austere and religious granny's eyes. Sad!
The car was parked between the reels along the canal in Cassino, the furthest lane to any habitable spaces, smooth and dry terrain, only one random bird hunter on the opposite path. There, I gave my leaving to the hare and our part-time loving. There, it went to my head for uninterrupted hours, like a rehearsal for a possible philosophical treatise, the reason to really love Johanna.
Look just at the traits of her character... She always looked so consoled between others, so happy just to knock into things to make them sound of her. Most transforming than any other woman, she mirrored my acquaintances on herself to make them feel at easy. The reassurance of my loving came in the absence of her at dusk, in her departure from my circle of friends, her perfume saying goodbye. Atemporal mask, Johanna was all smile and consolation so we were attuned, out of any conflict. It was easy for my childhood to be understood. So she was my mother's breasts, she was the pink bicycle my sister had but me, her slim rib cage and an accomplished thigh gap antipodean to my body.
Children, why you should always love a woman... ? Of Johanna, I loved her diffuse talking, the pragmatism of her acts, the taste in buying me clothes, an extensive knowledge of the neighbourhood and places far away to go on holidays, the names of plants and flowers, tips on how to make culinary sauces, her innate sense of direction. She shut in anybody and in me the urge to raise the voice in a dialogue, swearing was an abomination…. Such a soothing butterfly!
How did the story end? The fat guy is timid. His diet relies on snacks and hope. He's hot in his dreams but he procrastinates. Past delusions and lack of real life experiences has turned him into a fatalist : accidental events will present the opportunity to declare his love. Johanna keeps seeing him, she's the prettiest voice in his dialogues. But apparently, he overestimates her politeness. Her affability and empathy are subjected to his misinterpretation. Although welcoming and available for outings, Johanna sees him as a friend. Only the blindness of his pure love negates him the evidence of plain friendship from her side.
Grimy was the morning when I overheard from some girls on the bus : '… No way! Johanna wants to marry her sweetheart and stuff like that…'. I run home feeling filthy, claustrophobic, I enclosed myself for weeks in my damp room between the wardrobe and the desk. My children! I pondered priesthood or monastic life to lull the pains of such biased love. I blamed the books I had read, the vanity of my over-education. The lack of a real apprenticeship, capable to deal with the invisible thread skirting our living, got me!
Then I met your mum, then the days came back bright. Johanna married the son of a factory owner in Cassino. They do spare parts for Fiat.