3rd June 2021
Part Seven. Berlin. Early – Mid 1990s
Ragno Bicceri put down the telephone receiver. He had just said the final goodbye to the girl he loved, a girl he loved so much that it scared him. A girl that he couldn’t live without except now, she was gone; there was no longer any reason to live.
He lifted the phone and left it off the hook.
He tried to control his nerves, but he could actually hear his heart pounding after feeling numb. For a few agonising seconds, he had stopped breathing, his heart had stopped beating.
Not knowing what to do, he left his flat, hoping the walk would give him some kind of clarity, some purpose, some idea.
Everything was altered.
He couldn’t process the various sounds or sights. They were elsewhere, somehow not of this time and place. Or he was. He could see himself, as if he were a totally separate entity, walking aimlessly, pointlessly, no point in existing.
He had hoped that he would be able to get his heart rate down, get air into his lungs, but he felt exactly the same. He was in such pain and had no idea how to cure it.
Then came the idea. He went back home. There was a half bottle of brandy. He also got his aspirin out and saw that there were enough.
He was unable to sit down, but had to get up and walk around his room, corner to corner, with all the futility of a trapped animal, desperately trying to escape from it’s snare.
Finally, the draw of the alcohol and aspirin made him sit. He undid the bottle and began counting out the pills.
One of the office girls had jokingly asked him what was the last film he had seen, then offered a suggestion, a film from the early 80s. Ragno laughed it off, but knew there was an element of truth in it; he hadn’t been to the cinema for years. Apart from bars, he hadn’t really been anywhere in years.
There was a big new film that everyone was talking about, and he said he would go and see it. The young office girl teased that she would ask him about it, so he’d better keep his word. The possibility that she may have been hinting for a date never occurred to him.
He went to the mid-week screening, deciding that it would be quieter, no teenagers or couples kissing.
He sat through the film, optimistically at first, but soon began to lose interest. It was a Hollywood movie; the star was popular with young women, evidently more to do with his looks than his talent.
Not wanting to leave at the same time as everyone else, Ragno waited for the credits then left. As he did so, he noticed a purse on the floor. He looked up and saw the young woman who had sat further along his row leave the cinema. He caught up with her in the foyer and handed it to her.
She was so surprised and pleased, that she insisted on buying him a drink.
The girl was in her early twenties, twenty-five at most and Ragno, twenty years older, smiled and said that it wasn’t necessary.
But the girl looked so hurt, that when she asked again, he conceded.
Luisa, the girl, was twenty two. She was charming and very attractive, and Ragno was very happy when he asked her if she would like another drink, and she accepted.
She shared his opinion about the film, and they laughed at how bad it was. They spoke about music and she wrote down a list of her favourite bands, and unsurprisingly, none of the names meant anything to him.
Before long, they began speaking a little about themselves. Luisa explained that she was single, allowing Ragno to make a compliment, unable to believe that a girl so sweet could be alone.
Luisa promised she would explain . . . maybe . . . after another drink. Ragno smiled. He hadn’t been in the company of any woman for a long time. In the company of an attractive young girl . . . he couldn’t remember when. He couldn’t really remember if.
For the last three months, Luisa had been alone. Alone and scared.
“The thing I am afraid of most is loneliness.”
That short sentence conveyed so much to Ragno. He understood what she was saying. He sensed her shame at having done things that she had regretted, even as she had been doing them. He could feel her self-loathing and disgust. And he felt himself being drawn to her. He knew where these feelings were heading and had to stop them. Now.
But, when he said goodbye and she gave him a soft kiss on the cheek, he was defenceless. She told him that she enjoyed speaking to him that he made he feel secure, safe that she could tell him anything.
He nodded and made her a promise; he would never tell anything she had told him. Whatever happened, he would share it with no one.
She asked for his phone number and he wrote it down, not expecting to ever hear from her again.
But she called the following night. Half an hour after her call, Ragno was in a bar, waiting for her.
They began meeting two, three times a week. She sometimes worked in Köln (Cologne), so she suggested they make the most of her time in Berlin. Other nights, there were phone calls, increasingly frequent, increasingly lengthy.
Ragno had been totally honest from the beginning. About his age, his job, (a dead-end office job in a factory), and that he was married. He just hadn’t seen or heard from his wife for three years.
Luisa found him easy to speak to and trustworthy. She even liked that he was older. She had had enough of men of her own age. Now she wanted maturity and experience, someone who would just talk and listen, and not suddenly make a leap or try to get her into bed, with or without her consent.
She loved his voice, his accent. Even speaking in German couldn’t disguise those soft Italian tones. He loved her laugh. He made it his mission to make her laugh as often as possible. He made it his job to be there for her and help her, how ever he could.
Just by being there, just by listening, Luisa felt him helping. No one had ever just listened to her before.
No one had ever spoken to him before, not like this.
But Ragno was worried.
He had told himself that at his age, he would be a father figure, an avuncular friend to give advice and to comfort when this precious butterfly got hurt.
He tried to exclude romantic ideas about her. That would be too ludicrous. He wouldn’t even think about it. He would be a friend until . . . until she met someone, someone her own age, someone who would make her happy, someone who would get all the love this beautiful girl was so desperate to give. Ragno was already jealous of this someone.
But he was mature and experienced enough to know one thing. There is nothing so attractive and sensual as honesty. Nothing more erotic that to open yourself to another person, to let them in, to see you emotionally naked, to tell them your story, your ideas, your dreams, your desires.
It was Luisa who said it first.
One late night phone conversation when neither one was truly expressing themselves, so anxious to say but not to say what they were feeling.
“I’m falling in love with you.”
The effect these words had on Ragno were indescribable. He hadn’t felt anything like it for many years. He hadn’t felt this intensity ever.
He tore down his walls. He stopped hiding and stood without his defences. He told her that he had already fallen in love with her.
That night they both slept calmly.
They said that they wanted to be with each other, to sleep in each other’s arms. They couldn’t be together, Luisa was in Köln, working, but would come back to Berlin the following weekend.
Until then, there were constant phone calls.
Ragno was confident enough to tell her how much he wanted her, wanted to undress her and kiss her. Luisa encouraged him to keep talking. He did.
But they both had a past they were ashamed of. Luisa had hinted several times that she had done things that would drive him away. He said that he couldn’t change her past, but could forgive it. It was the present that now mattered. And their future.
It was never spoken, but they knew they had to share before they became lovers.
One night, in Ragno’s flat, he began.
His main fear was rejection. Emotional, sexual. He had been with only a handful of women in his life. He had gone years without being with a woman. He had tried, but he just didn’t seem to appeal to women. He was the kind that women want as a friend. He was sweet and kind. Not someone who was worthy of being taken into a bed and loved, and fucked.
So he had accepted it. He had married the first woman who had agreed to date him. By this time, he was already in his late thirties.
Then came a familiar pattern. She began going out, alone. She began coming home later and later. Soon she began coming home at eight or nine in the morning, telling stories about falling asleep in bars, or going to new underground bars that stayed open all night. It was Berlin. It was possible. So he chose to believe.
One night she just didn’t come back. Some days later, she entered the flat while he was working, took as much as she could carry and left a brief note.
Nothing since, though he constantly expected a divorce request by post.
Luisa sat on his lap and kissed him. He wasn’t finished, though.
“There’s something else, my Beauty. I was an addict. I know it now. I never considered it then, but it was true. I thought an addict was someone who woke up shaking and had to inject himself in order to function. I was never like that, so I convinced myself I was OK. But I began taking drugs. Anything I could get. Uppers. Speed. Anything to feel good. I’d spend my wages on drugs, go to bars where I knew I could get some. Then try to get girls by sharing my drugs. Even then, nothing. They’d share my drugs, then leave. And, of course, I did some things. As far as I can remember. Mostly I was in clubs, where everyone was stoned or drunk, but I got into fights, began screaming at people, pushing people. Probably tried to pick up women. Became one of those awful men that harass women. And, or course, on drugs, I could drink all night and, well, I did. Began missing work, missed out on some promotions. Began getting high at work. Thinking that nobody would notice. Of course, they all did. I had to stop. The way I chose to was, how can I say ? Something like Zen, or Buddhism. To free myself of desire. I wanted to feel a woman’s love so much, but it wasn’t possible, not for me. If I could just accept this, I would no longer want it, and therefore no longer have to take anything to kill the pain. So, that is what I did. I told myself that I would never be attractive to or attracted by a woman. I would never again go through all the agony of not being wanted, not being desired, not even being seen. I would never suffer when I saw women I like go with other men. It maybe wasn’t ideal, but, it worked . . . until . . .”
“Until . . . ?”
“I met you. And I tried to fight it, and to push you away and to tell myself that nothing would ever happen, but . . .”
They kissed, deeply, warmly. Luisa stroked his hair and gave him the softest kisses on his head. Then she nestled her head against his neck. She had her own story to tell, but couldn’t bear to look at Ragno as she spoke, in case the love in his eyes turned to disgust, or hatred.
“Me too … with drugs. I could never be alone. I did what I had to do to get company. It was easy. I didn’t always go home with them. But most of the time. I thought they would like me. But that didn’t happen. I was used for one night. Then felt even more alone. And I hated myself. Told myself I wouldn’t ever do it again. But I was back. Then someone gave me some coke. First time I felt nothing. But after a time . . . I would do anything to get it. Or do anyone. I won’t tell you, but . . . I can’t even say it. I would do whatever they asked me. Anywhere. To anyone.”
Ragno had been gently stroking her hair, but Luisa felt him stop. She could also feel his heart. It had been beating increasingly fast. The stroking continued, as he kissed her head.
“This was all long ago. But every time I go to a bar, I have a panic attack that someone will recognize me. That’s why I like to go to local bars, with you. If I go to a club, it is a certainty that some people will know me. That’s why I looked for work in Köln. I wanted to move there. Start over. Not know anyone. Never come back to Berlin. Then I had a boyfriend and I stopped. And at first he was so sweet to me and he really helped. I didn’t want to go out, or to drink or take drugs. I didn’t feel lonely anymore. Then something happened. We were out one night and having a nice time, just laughing and he was kissing me and holding me. He went to the toilet, but when he came back, he had changed. Totally. He was all cold. Wouldn’t touch me, wouldn’t even look at me. When I tried to hold him, he pushed me away, but, he was hard. He hurt me. I began crying. He said, ‘shut up you fucking slut!’ I would have preferred he shoot me or stab me. We walked out. He never said what happened, but someone must have recognized me and told him. After that, he wouldn’t sleep with me or touch me. He looked at me with hate. I asked him, I begged him to kill me, it would be kinder. I asked him to tell me, but he wouldn’t. I told him everything, but he wouldn’t listen and he threw things at me. Then he came over and began punching me and he wouldn’t stop. But I didn’t scream. I deserved it, and wanted more, I wanted him to punch and kick and strangle me, I wanted this life to be over.
“I was on the floor and he stood back and kicked me in . . . he kicked me. I thought I would die. And I felt happy. But in pain, such pain. First it was numb, but soon, each second, it hurt more and more. Then I screamed and began crying and couldn’t stop. I was hysterical. That stopped him. I don’t blame him because I know how hurt he was. I still don’t blame him. I only blame myself. But even worse, he knelt down and began calling me all names. Then he spat in my face and packed my bags. I was still on the floor in agony. He picked me up and threw me out, down the stairs. I still felt I deserved it and that I was glad it was out. I went to my parents. I must have put them through hell. I took it all out on them. Wouldn’t answer any of their questions. Made them think the worst, enjoyed torturing them. It made me stronger, that I could hurt someone. So I just wanted to hurt everyone. Of course, the only people I had around me were family and old friends. And I made them all suffer. Yes, suffer and I loved the power.”
Luisa was unable to continue. She was crying so much, but Ragno knew the best he could do was to just hold her. He did. After nearly half an hour of constant crying, Luisa fell asleep, on his lap. Ragno may have slept once or twice, but soon awoke, and carried on with his job, his job to comfort and love her, to kiss her all night, to stroke her hair, to rest her head under his, his lips never to stop kissing, so she would feel his love, feel safe, feel worthy, feel.
Ragno wanted this night to last forever. But day was breaking. Luisa would at some point wake up, get off his lap and leave. It was possible that they would never share such a moment again, and Ragno panicked. She may feel so dirty and ashamed that she would be unable to face him. He thought back to some of her words. She was fond of saying that people must learn to enjoy the present. Not to make impossible plans, but to appreciate that everything dies, so make the most of happiness.
Luisa stirred. She woke up, looked at Ragno, but instead of jumping up and away, she snuggled into him and he held her tighter. She responded and kissed his neck. Then she asked to use his shower. When she returned, wearing a towel, she kissed him, then looked into his eyes. He looked into hers and she smiled and nodded. He took off her towel.
As they made love, Ragno felt it was such an emotional, spiritual moment. He loved her so softly, like she was the most precious, delicate, angelic girl. He kissed her all over and made her cum twice before he entered her, and when he did, holding her hands, he was so gentle, that she couldn’t hold back the tears.
As for Ragno, he felt what it was to be in love. He felt what it was like to be loved back, to be needed and wanted and cherished.
For Luisa, she learnt what it felt like to be respected and loved. And loved. And loved. She felt safe.
They had moments of fear, when small misunderstandings seemed about to destroy everything. Luisa spoke German and English, Ragno Italian, basic English and good, very good German, but he wasn’t fluent. He often missed nuances and inflexions, took jokes seriously, didn’t understand references or know that a number of words had several different meanings in different contexts.
He had complimented Luisa on the amount of love she had to offer. It was abundantly clear that she was the kind of girl that stays friends forever. The kind who loves helping people, that need to be needed. Ragno mentioned this one day on the phone, when she called from Köln.
Luisa had managed to find some work, albeit piecemeal, in Köln but not enough to sustain moving to the city. She knew this was going to be a difficult conversation, but it would be honest. As they were honest with each other, Ragno would understand.
Her old boyfriend had called. Despite all their history, she had loved him, and said that love never dies. How could it ? And she knew that as a way of making up for her past, she must offer herself to whoever needs her. If anyone were lonely, or lost or confused, she would go to that person and love them.
Ragno was silent.
Luisa continued. The boyfriend was having trouble and needed her.
Ragno felt his throat tightening, wasn’t sure if he could even speak.
“So, you’re going to . . . go to him ?”
“No, he’s here. In Köln.”
“But . . . what about us ?”
“I still love you. But you’re not here and I have to love people, so . . .”
“Luisa, please, listen, what are you saying ?”
“I’ll still be here for you, Sweetness, but now he needs me.”
“I’m supposed to be OK with this ?”
“Oh, you’re being silly. There is love enough for both of you. I go to Berlin and love you, now he needs me.”
“Are you really … ? You’re going to sleep with him ?”
“You know me, know I have to give my love, I have enough to give.”
“Please, Luisa, answer me ! Are you going to sleep with him ?”
But, again, Luisa spoke on a different subject and showed no sign of answering the question. He stressed how important it was, but she began on a totally new subject. Ragno interrupted,
“Then . . . it’s over. I can’t see you anymore.”
“What ? Why ?”
“You really have to ask ? How can you do this to me ? Are you just out for revenge ? Are you trying to get back at men ? Well, if so, you can stop, now. You’ve won.”
“Wait, look, I didn’t say anything . . .”
“No. Exactly, I asked and asked . . .”
“But I didn’t say . . . “
“I gave you two, three chances, to tell me, but I got the answer. You didn’t give me a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but you answered. I can’t do this. I can’t. Goodbye. I wish I didn’t love you. I really do.”
Ragno put the phone down, having said the final goodbye to the girl he loved.
She would call back, so he lifted the receiver off the hook.
He looked at the brandy and poured out a large glass. He looked at it, but didn’t yet drink.
She was in Köln. Working. Wouldn’t be back until the weekend.
How would that be ? She’d come here, and no answer at the door, or phone. Have to ask the neighbours. No, no one’s seen or heard him.
Soon have to call the Politzei to smash the door down. And she would see him. In front of the phone. Empty bottle of alcohol, empty container of pills. And she would suffer for the rest of her life.
Ragno took the glass and lifted it to his mouth, but the smell made him stop.
Did he really want to do this ?
He kept the glass raised while he thought.
What had she meant ? How, how, how could she mean this ? He had told her how vulnerable and damaged he was. It wasn’t possible. But she hadn’t denied it. Hadn’t confirmed it. Why had she toyed with him, though ? What sadistic pleasure did she get from that ? But she was so sweet and loving, how could she really mean it ? And so sensitive. Or was it all an act ? But why act ? No one would go to all this trouble just to hurt him.
He sat and asked himself question after question.
He put the glass down.
He put the phone back on the receiver.
Less than two minutes later, the phone rang. He didn’t answer.