"Afternoon I'm here"

A love and hats tale

by Ramona Aloia

I saw her spend every day with her back bent, weighed down by shopping bags. I was sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, with my usual improvised canopy: a small chair and a coat rack where I hung my hats. In reality, it was not a real coat rack, but an iron pole with protrusions that resembled the branches of a tree.
I found him abandoned beside a rubbish bin and immediately thought it would be perfect for my hats.

Once she stopped to watch them.
I remember that day as if it were yesterday. She had the usual bulky shopping bags, a tired look, her hair fell down on her face, but her smile, that smile, I swear, seemed to have passed many winters without ever fading.

"How much is that?" She asked me, pointing to it with her head.
It was one of those in straw with a pink ribbon around it. It took me two days to do it.
I didn't answer. I couldn't say anything. I'm sure you looked stupid, or deaf, or maybe just in love.

She went away smiling at me, her cheeks slightly reddened. I decided that as soon as I saw her again, I would have taken courage and spoken to her. Instead the days passed and the woman with the flowered smile there was no trace. Every morning I wore my hats, hung them and waited. But she never arrived.

I decided to ask around. I went to the baker, the butcher, the supermarket. Anything. She seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

I began to believe that I had gone mad, that I had only imagined her, when one day I finally saw her again. This time she didn't drag the usual shopping bags, but she looked equally tired. She was holding on to a young woman's arm, I thought she might be her daughter. The hair she always kept tied in a messy bun was gone. A blue silk scarf covered her head.

A whirlwind of emotions tangled in my mind, for a moment I felt my legs almost give up in fear.

They passed me by, she turned to look at me. All I could do was take the straw hat with the pink ribbon and hand it to her. "Take it." I urged her with my hand. "It's a gift."

"Thank you," she said to me, faintly smiling. She put it on immediately.

I found a marker on the dashboard of the car. I took it and wrote on a piece of my chair: "Afternoon I'm here".

Needless to say, how beautiful she was. I spent the days and nights making hats thinking of her face. Whenever she approached me I would give her a hat and she would give me a smile. Then I didn't see her again for many days. I thought I could die at the idea of not being able to see her again, the idea of not having told her how much I loved her.

I decided I would not have done any more hats. That would have been the last morning, when instead I found myself facing her. She was wearing one of my hats. She raised it slightly, showing me the hair that was growing back.

"I love you" I said without even thinking about it. And immediately I covered my mouth with my hands. She smiled sheepishly, lowering her head slightly. Then she reached out for me. I grabbed it and got up from my chair. We walked towards the tree-lined avenue holding hands, as if that gesture had been the most natural thing in the world.

"The hats!" I exclaimed, worried, remembering that I had left them unattended. I went back and put them back in the trunk of the car. I couldn't leave this way, my customers would have wondered what had happened to me.

I found a marker on the dashboard of the car. I took it and wrote on a piece of my chair: "Afternoon I'm here".

I placed it on the pole, making sure it was visible enough. Then I turned and saw her waiting for me at the side of the road while waving my hat in the air. I ran towards her, sorry for having left her alone, even if only for a few minutes.

I was still out of breath when I remembered her name.
"Maria!" I exclaimed with eyes swollen with emotion, as she dried my tears with a handkerchief.

Maria was my wife and every morning she came to visit me despite her illness, despite my memory. Every night I fell asleep with her name on my lips and every morning I always forgot about it. But love does not, he does not forget.

Simply, he waited.


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