Not sure of the time, but I know I am calling it close. Racing down the station steps, the familiar rumble and long slow hiss of the arriving train have me picking up my pace. With seconds to spare, I politely push my way into the full car, Scusi, Scusi, secure a spot, and the doors close behind me. Immediately I grab the single handle hanging above my head before the train lurches forward, saving me the embarrassment of falling onto fellow passengers, something that occurs frequently on the crowded metros. I appear to be a veteran traveler, unless there is no handle or pole to grip. That requires my full attention; hip wide stance, toes gripping the insides of my boots, abs engaged, it’s a bit of a workout. Today I’m lucky, with my free hand I dig around in my bag for my phone to check the time. I glance up at the Red line route, two more stops.
I emerge from the underground, squinting into the bright sun, a nice change after a few days of rain. The majestic Duomo di Milano poses beautifully as the tourists take her picture, she simply doesn’t have a bad side. Realizing my appointment will take me through lunch I’ve got to quickly scarf down some food. I run the words through my head . . . Buon giorno. Vorrei un panino per favore. I duck into the first bar I see, say the words and point to the one exploding with zucchini, prosciutto, arugula and brie. I hurry past the shoppers in the Galleria, unwrap and peel back the foil and mangio il panino. It’s delicious.
Wiping my mouth with a wad of napkins, I run my tongue across my teeth and gums searching for greens stuck here and there. I so miss giving a friend a big toothy grin and saying, All good? Without a friend or a mirror, I hope for the best. The traffic lights are not in my favor, so I scan for oncoming cars, trams, scooters, bicycles and busses and bolt across the street. Even when I have plenty of time, somebody always blasts their horn. I remember how the chaotic traffic used to unnerve me. Now I take it in stride.
I enter the building, the elevator arrives on cue, and delivers me right on time. Ciao, Ciao. Io ho un appuntamento a dodici trennte. And just like that the lovely receptionist shows me to my chair in the salon. Come stai, Signora? She cheerily asks. Tutto bene, I say. The woman who colors my hair speaks no English and my Italian is still pretty skinny. I understand she has asked what I want to drink and I reply acqua minerale, naturale. She smiles and then asks if I only want my roots colored. I wish I could say I understood her, but really it was obvious as she tapped her little pointed comb on my glowing silver part. Si, si I reply, looking like a genius.
As she carefully and methodically applies the color, I silently read a book I brought with me. I wish I could carry on a conversation, ask about her family, her life. I miss my salon chats with Maria. I miss small talk and getting to know strangers. I miss the connected feeling that comes with all of that. I miss so much of home. I do my best not to get down on myself for not having made more progress with my Italian or creating any kind of social life. And then I remind myself of all I have accomplished so far. I am doing pretty well.
Hair colored, washed and conditioned. My lovely colorist combs through it, preparing my head for the capable hands of Marco who will give me a trim. He slides his stool up close to me, lifts a handful of my wet locks in the air and asks, Cosa facciamo? What are we going to do? I reply in English because I have no idea how to say it in Italiano. Just a little trim. Marco frowns. He is dying to cut off all my hair. He gives me that look that says, Geez, you’re a woman in her fifties, don’t you want something a little more sophisticated? Age appropriate? Instead he says in English, A change? I repeat, No, just a trim, a little shape.
Then he says something that would have left my old self feeling puny and small . . . Ah, You are afraid of change. . . I want to laugh out loud! Instead, I smile and in my head I say . . .
You have no idea . . .
ps: Long hair intact 🙂