I have the strong heart of a lion. The heart of every badante is made up of other memories. Mine contains David’s look, his hands that, on Sundays, dry the dishes next to mine, sit me down on the sofa and bring me a coffee, he is my strength, my health. It’s because of him that I let the wretched south wind thrust me into the marble hallway, into the darkness, the stench, inexistence. David makes the blood flow through my veins as I’m putting on my apron. It’s because of him that I wipe old Italian arses. It’s because of him that I don’t go crazy. Bring this, take that away, wipe it, wash it … It’s because of him that, for thirty-five euro a day, I let myself be bossed around by these people who can no longer be bosses of anything, not even their hands. It’s because of him that I make a million steps on cut-off legs. If it wasn’t for him, I would have ended the whole thing.
I have the cast-iron stomach of a wolf. That’s why I don’t throw up right now. The stench is brutal. I climb out of the folding bed. I’m barefoot. I quietly push the ajar door open in the dark. There is a puddle on the floor glistening in the streetlight. He has pulled out his catheter again.
She’s sitting on the floor like a mute Buddha, naked, rubbing her head with her nightgown. Even without my sharp, dog-like sense of smell, I would know what it is that she has spread over her hair.
I put on my slippers. I open the window. I put on my dressing gown.
I switch on the lights, first in the hallway, then the little one in their room, my wolf stomach does a four-angled flip. I hold my breath. She has taken off her diaper. Her nightgown is full of shit, she has smeared it all over herself, from the hair on her head down to her toenails. It’s two AM. He’s agitated. He’s cursing. My arms grow, so I go and get a pair of gloves. It’s alright, I tell him. It’s alright. Let’s go. His face breaks into a stupid, toothless grin as I take her to the bathroom. Let’s go. I push her onto the shower chair, throw her nightgown in the washing machine. I set the program. I dry her hair. I put on a diaper. I change her into a fresh nightgown, sit her in front of the TV. Now I smell too. Let’s go. I take off my dressing gown.
I wipe off the urine. If I don’t, some Moldovan woman will do it for less. I hope the acid doesn’t burn my wolf stomach. I make my own money. My own bread and butter. Let’s go. I would rather steal if had anywhere to steal from. Let’s go. I brace myself. Slide under. I lift him, put him in the armchair, take off his pyjamas, I don’t listen to the insults, I just go on, I wipe him down with a wet towel, brace myself, slide under, change him into a new pair of pyjamas, change the bedding, I brace myself, slide under, move him onto the bed, insert the catheter, it’s alright, it’s alright, I say, calming him down, let’s go, I get her, lie her down next to him and turn off the light. I close the windows. I take a shower. I put on a fresh tracksuit. It’s four o’clock. The sun is coming up over Trieste. I collapse onto my bed in the hall. I have no more strength left. Good thing that the wind has turned, bringing the sun with it.
I wonder how it is possible. What happened? Where did it go wrong? Who is to blame? There are thousands of us. From Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia … Outside the bora is roaming the streets, picking up litter and carrying it into the sea. I write to my president, my pope, my social worker, my beloved dead, to ministers, to God: You are socialists, do something for us, poor people … You’re humiliating me. I write and I read what I’ve written. A pension of two hundred euro? Are you daft? And an enforcement of claims for five hundred? New words come. Bad words. Words that sting me. Harden me. Stung, I try to go to sleep so I can polish off the remaining filth, fold the sheets, serve breakfast, take the abuses, feed, iron and clean before I leave. I have to go to sleep so I can get back to being Marija as soon as possible. I forgot to give him his sedative. Oh well, he’s sleeping. I’m not going to wake him.
But sleep doesn’t come, so I get up, get my calendar, cross off another date. I’m seventy-three years … five months … and eleven days old today. A transition pensioner. I’m alive. I have David, my grandson, who doesn’t have anyone in the world but me. I lie down. I close my eyes. I listen. I stare into my night in which there are still stars in the sky. I let myself go.