The Woman with the Suitcase

Elisabetta Bortolotti
The Woman with the Suitcase


Friday night, rain all the way up to Merrion Street.
Look right, look left. I look to the right, following the instructions exactly, and just an instant before stepping into the street, I look to the left. They move forward in the opposite direction.
A banjo emits an old folk ballad. Annoying notes cut through the air, thick with gazes and shouted words. The strings are hard; the sound makes my insides shrivel up. I move, trying to find the exit amongst the people and the alcohol-swollen bellies, in a haze of confusion. The atmosphere at O'Donoghue's is making me claustrophobic, it is dense, thick as the foam of the beer that is being poured in a never-ending cycle.
The all-important Guinness.
Memories, overrated.
It rained until Sunday night, when you joined me outside on the street and you took my hand, without knowing me. An unexpected gesture, an internal short-circuit, which would send all the established order to hell. I was unable to make out the flurry of language in my head.
The truth was a mistake, and I was living with the only Irish, fucking false Catholic who made me come to hate the truth.
Fighting it was impossible. An unusual ecstasy crashed in, a dull thud. No noise, no light down below. Only the perception of a light, unpleasant, musty smell. Hanging on the wall, from a clearer perspective, proud Judith watched me with the severed head of Holofernes in her fist, like a warning.
Later that night and for days afterwards I wouldn’t have heard the clunky sound of the banjo anymore.


They spat. They all spat with surgical precision. A brusque gesture, a red spot on the asphalt. Rachel had flown for a whole day: from Dublin to Doha and then to India. She had fallen asleep next to an old man from Kashmir. He had asked, with that clumsy but precise accent, if she knew why the Bible does not mention the Koran. She had slept, and when she woke up she had no answer for him.
She had arrived at the darkest of nights. Hot air, a strong smell of smog.
“Even here they go against the traffic.” Her first days had been lit up by the thousands of colors of women wrapped in saris, an ocean of feelings.
The coffee was hot and spicy, like the air.
Rachel had found a corner of the office in which to sleep. Simple, badly lit with a fan dangling indifferently from the ceiling, and a small bathroom that was clogged up and stuffy.
Stray dogs slept all day, as if they were dead. During the night, packs of them came back to life and she could hear them howling for hours; they allowed her no rest. She found them exhausted on the sidewalk, when the night was already blanching into dawn.
Four months within the masses of Mumbai, in order to empty her overflowing head.
She hadn’t slept these last few days. For her, the night was the time that never passed. Sleep would not come, even though she was exhausted. She clenched her fists under the pillow, stealing images from her memories.
Just when it was time to wake up, the horns below the house would nurture her weakness and for a moment she would give way to sleep.
Her visa was expiring, only ten more days.
Bruno. Rachel thought that she would see him again.
Their meeting place was the Leopold, a reference point, a place for tourists. They hardly even knew each other, and yet were already chasing one another.
“Are you in there?” he had asked her.
“No, I'm outside,” Rachel had replied.
Bruno was tall and thin. Brazen tattoos just below the sleeves of his shirt.
Bruno was handsome, his head covered with curly, uncombed hair.
Bruno and Rachel had talked continuously for a few hours, her being a bit timid. About the magic of Mumbai, problems at work, family, travel, passions. About the difficulty of staying, about that of going home.
They said goodbye with a hurried kiss. They would not see each other again in India, despite the promises. At Bentley's Hotel, Rachel had not canceled Room 34.
After their encounter she’d walked for four days. She’d taken the old yellow-and-black taxis only from the laundry to Regal Circle and she had looked for him, white amongst the colors and shades of Marina Drive at sunset. Along the whole promenade and the beach, crowded with young people holding hands. She was too deep inside India to be able to create emptiness.
Mumbai was an unexpected love, one she had looked for all her life. One that had dried her blood.
She had dragged her feet along the beaten sidewalks. She had bumped into the barefoot people sleeping on the ground. She had crossed through imprecisely defined districts that harbored all kinds of people and odors, suddenly putting away the camera. She’d sat, together with others, in the crowd of Victoria Terminal, waiting for a train that, for her, had not yet arrived. She smiled and chatted with everyone, a hurricane of emotions. The Dhobi Ghat laundry, an image that was far too familiar, had taken away her breath and she had wanted to scream her anxiety from the overpass of the train station. Not even Shiva, that image of peace, had managed to calm her.
The odor of the slum went straight to the stomach, even before the nose. They said that you get used to it.
She couldn’t even remember the sound of her own voice, after all that silence.
Her plane hadn’t yet been announced, and it was a quarter of an hour before take off.
Rachel thought, “There are meaningless times, without notice, like the times of waiting.”
Waiting for sleep to come.
Waiting for Bruno to call.
Waiting for the plane to take off.
In the end, that time unwritten on the departure board had become intolerable. And during that time of waiting, her thoughts had reset.
“She'll be back this time, too. Upside down.”
A breeze of wind had dispersed her thoughts, stopping to pick them up helter-skelter.
Some other time she would have put them in order.
That was the life she’d wanted, a life between one aircraft and the other.
She had seen Bruno again, in Italy, unexpectedly.


I chose different music every night. We let our sweaty bodies get carried away by the dance, and we had created a never-ending sense of wonder in the little room.
Every day, I untied the knots of pain with you.
Milan is more beautiful at night. The traffic dwindles, the air becomes thinner, the noises fade out. Only Brera spews out people, appetizers and tarot cards on the tables outside.
I asked Rachel to give me back the keys to the house.
We put distraction between us. The beginning of the end has come; we filled it until we were shipwrecked inside.
Rachel has gone, smiling slightly, with a suitcase filled with her falsities and my illusions.
Rachel had told me that time does not even exist.

Translated from Italian by Cassandra Han
Twitter Facebook Drucken