Sunday, 2 June 2013

If On A Starry Spring Night, A Traveller (Crossed Destinies) - apologies to Italo Calvino

This Life by Andrea 'Style 1' Antoni

Author's note : I am fascinated by people and the world, how it is operated and organised, these are powerful driving forces to me and my writing. I love to hear people's stories and the story below is true, it did happen to me. I have changed a few details to protect the guilty, but this is the story as it was told to me, and I offer it as an example of how intertwined our work can be with our lives and who we are as people. Michael (not his real name) was 63, did love his work and did not mention retirement once when we spoke. I also wrote this is in the existential style of Italo Calvino, so you might find it interesting - life and work are interlinked and these generate who we are.

It seemed like I had been driving the motorway for two weeks, never mind two and a bit hours. Rain battered the windscreen and I was beginning to feel weary. I decided to pull in at the next motorway services, because, as I had noted on the one mile sign, they have a Costa coffee shop, and they, after all, were 'Saving the world from mediocre coffee'.

Friday evening, and the place was packed, so I picked up an americano and managed to find a seat toward the rear of the Costa. I sat adjacent to a small, casually dressed, but smart, man with a white bushy Albert Einstein moustache. I complained about the weather to him as I took my seat and he told me his life story.

He was intrigued by my accent and couldn't place it. He asked me where I was from, and when I told him we discovered that part of our journey through life was shared. We had both lived, at one time, in the same small town, just outside Edinburgh.

Michael, rippled his moustache with his fingers, lifted his coffee and came and joined me at my tiny, wobbling table.

He is, he told me, a civil engineer and although he originates from Manchester, his working life has involved endless travel across the UK.

As a young man, he admitted, he married far too early, kids came along and he felt obliged to work long hours, often away from home for days or weeks at a time, to look after his family. He worked hard and he also liked to play hard and party. Young love soon faded, buried under the vicissitudes of the realities of existence and keeping a home together.

'The problem was' he sighed. 'I always wanted to go out with my friends, and she always wanted to go out with her friends and we eventually drifted apart.'

He sat for a moment, relaxed back into his chair and studied me...

...You wait for the next part of the story, catch your breath, wonder about what Michael will tell me next. Someone calls from the kitchen, you answer, momentarily turning from your monitor to call back...

'My work took me to Edinburgh' he started up again, and just as suddenly paused. His words hung in the air for what seemed an eternity. 'My work took me to Edinburgh', he repeated. 'That's when I met her'.

She was Italian, dark, mysterious, a nurse, and he soon found himself setting up home with her in a small town just outside Edinburgh. Out of sequence he then told me that he was 63 and smiled, his white teeth contrasting with his ruddy face, but, all the while, his eyes harboured pain.

They lived together for 12 years and though he was still travelling to work and would often be away from home doing the job he loved, they were happy and, he thought, contented.

On his 44th birthday he was offered a job with a firm down south, it was a better position than he had and the money was better. This, for him, was where he always wanted to be workwise, but taking it would necessitate a move back to Manchester.

He straightened, looked about himself... sipped his coffee, rippled his moustache in that well practised way.

...You wonder about rising to make a cup of tea, you have biscuits, Hob-Nobs, you purchased earlier from Tesco and the thought of them is tempting. You hear your partner's/husband's/wife's cell phone chime and it reminds you how embarassing their ring tones are...

His Italian beauty, however, would not return south with him. She had an ailing mother and she could never leave her alone in Edinburgh.

Michael moved back to Manchester and though he still worked hard, there were no longer any parties, but lonely nights at home watching mundane TV game shows and soaps, or evenings spent hunched over a beer in the local boozer watching football.

One year after returning to Manchester he ran into his wife at Piccadilly train station. He was heading south to Kent to work for a few weeks and she was travelling to visit her sister in Crewe. They chatted and discovered they were both on their own. It had been around 14 years since they had split, but they were still married.

Michael had never divorced his wife, nor she him and amazingly they decided to give things another go.

I would love to tell you that in the space of a 45 minute train ride (Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe) they had fallen into each others arms again, but while they did decide they should date, there were further phone calls and meetings before they set up home again.

The kids both gave their blessing to the reunion, and though friends and family said it would never last, second time around has covered 18 years so far.

He leans in toward me across the small table we are seated at, and tells me there are few days go by when he doesn't think of the Italian girl he left behind in that small town just outside Edinburgh and wonders 'what if....?

He drains his coffee and gathers his small black case and umbrella.

....You imagine him picking up flowers at M & S on the way out to take home to his second time around wife, perhaps even a box of chocolates from W H Smith placed under his arm. You hear the rain tap at the window behind you and the wind rise in the darkness beyond...

Michael says it has been nice meeting me, we shake hands, and I wonder if he realises he has just given me his life story. He pauses and nods and once again studies me for a few seconds before turning and leaving and, he doesn't stop to pick up flowers or chocolates.

Later, in the car park I pause to reflect on the meeting. The sky looks dark and brooding and the first lonely stars have started to fill the heavens, well, after all that's their job. Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if the stars overslept? Or, if the moon forgot to go to work? What if...?

The wind is rising and I still have a journey ahead of me physically and metaphorically.

Spread the word, work is about people...and maybe the moon, the stars and the sun....

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