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The day was spent dodging phone calls and fake improptu visits by mum and dad's next door neighbours. Overall though it was fairly quiet and relaxing, compared to what I was expecting.
Dina's morning visit had left me with a deep sense of sadness. I must be honest though... I was not sad for her, I still find it difficult to forget the tough character and start thinking about her as a victim. But a victim she was. I was surprised when she proposed to 'stick together' or 'get closer'.... The old Dina would've rather be standing on top of me whilst holding my head as a trophy. We have always been clashing, since we were very little. I remember my mum telling me to avoid her because she was tired of medicating scratches all over my face and to find bunches of Dina's hair in my pockets.... We could be feral...
We would just fight because.... Well.... Because we did.... No real reason apart from wanting to dominate the other, and when older age put an end to the physical fights, the verbal and psychological fights ensued.
Me and Dina were like members of opposite parties. We loved to hate each other.
We competed in school for the best grades (which I got because, being bullied, I was stuck in my room studying whilst she was chasing boys...), at home to be the most popular with the family (and she was of course), in church to get to sing the solo (I always got that because she used to sing as if she was having a colonoscopy...). I think we both wanted something the other had. In my case, I just wanted the freedom she had of just being herself and being liked for herself. The friends she had, the possibility to live life in the open without being singled out.
I'd love to know what she wanted that I had.... I must ask her.
To me she still is in part the author of her misfortune, but I don't want to digress as I have already dedicated to this case a long and unusually sombre chapter.

I had been telling Steven for such a long time about the Dead Christ Procession that takes place every year down at the village on Good Friday and I managed to build up quite a bit of anticipation in him.
"You should see it hun! Imagine that the whole of the village, at the end of the evening mass, turns out the lights. A total black-out, you can't even see your feet it's so dark in some places. Then one...Two.....Three......Four....And then hundreds of candles flickering at every window-sill, at every balcony." I went on
"Lanterns that glow in every portico and under every stone arch down the old crooked street. All you hear is the crying of the mourners and the steps of the crowd on the cobble stones..... Then the Weeping Virgin comes out of the church and glides silently through the streets high above the crowds, all dressed in black, a thousand rosaries dangling from her hands.... It's hypnotizing...."
"It sounds amazing.... Like a Dolce and Gabbana commercial.... But... Explain to me, did you say 'mourners'? Like, there is actually people that cry for the Dead Christ that evening?" Steven enquired with child-like curiosity
"Yes! You understood correctly!" I explained
"See, there are various groups of people involved with the whole thing... The mourners are the cream of the crop of devout old spinsters that cover their faces with a black veil, trail behind Christ's coffin and weep and cry and beat their chests throughout the procession. Then there's Mary's entourage...." I joked
"What do you mean?" Steven asked
"Well, for instance, the Weeping Virgin they carry just behind Christ's dead body, it's the same statue they use for every other procession that requires an appearance by Mary, only that for tonight she will be wearing black lace and a ton of real gold ornaments, and the ladies in charge of undressing and then re-dressing Mary are called the 'maidens', in spite of the fact that they all qualified for a state pension twenty years ago and cannot even see anymore if they are putting the Holy Knickers back to front or not....." I stated casually
"NO WAY! Does Mary wear Holy Knickers? For real?" Steven asked wide eyed
"OH COME ON MAN! Of course not! Besides, although famously no man has ever seen what's under the brocaded skirt, as my grandmother happened to be one of the maidens when she was alive, and used to take my dad along, he did see what's under there..."
"And what is it?" Steven asked, almost jumping out of his skin
"Wouldn't you like to know...." I taunted him merciless
"Oh come on! Did he see or not?" he kept on asking
"Yes, he did... My grandmother did tell him to wait outside the church until she'd call him, but dad was only five, and he got scared waiting outside in the dark, so he just crept in and saw Mary totally naked, surrounded by the old screaming maidens, all trying to shield Mary's modesty.... But he did see..."
"Oh fucking hell! What? What did he see?" Steven was on the edge of his seat
"Branches." I whispered in a grave tone
"Branches? What branches?" he snapped back, disappointed
"Well, the internal structure of the statue is made out of four hundred year old hazelnut tree branches. Imagine like a huge broom with a very short handle. Back in the seventeenth century, they created the structure out of branches, then covered the 'handle' half with plaster and moulded the bust , neck and head of the Virgin. They kept the lower part as branches because they probably thought it almost blasphemous having to mould Mary's legs, butt.... and muffin!" I winked
"You ass!" Steven pinched me
"You talk so much crap..." he just said
"No, I am most certainly not! DAD! DAD COME HERE A SECOND!" I yelled at my father that was all concentrated in a card game with mum
"WHAT? I CAN'T LEAVE THE TABLE! YOUR MUM IS A TERRIBLE CHEAT!" he replied causing my mum to laugh
I got no reply.
Only a moment later I got slapped across the back of the head by my dad, suddenly appeared behind my armchair
"RESPECT SON! She is your holy mother too...." he quipped
"And YES, she has no lower half of the body, she is made out of very old branches" he solemnly stated returning to his game.
"If she is my holy mother how come I am always this overweight?" I asked trying to be funny
"BECAUSE YOUR UN-HOLY MOTHER FEEDS YOU TOO MUCH !" was my mum's answer, I deliberately ignored it and went back to our original topic
"See? It's all true!" I just said, looking smugly at Steven whilst pouring some more tea and cutting some more cake.
"Which part?" Steven asked
"Both parts..... I can't help it... I like my food.... Why don't you ask my holy mum tonight to help me lose some weight... Cake?" I concluded.

The morning came and I found myself amazingly well rested and without a trace of hangover.
Gabriel had slept through the night almost without moving as he must have been really exhausted from the journey and he was still lying there, asleep with his little mouth open, like a little fish.
I barely had the time to say goodmorning to Steven that Little G woke up calling 'dada' and kicking his legs in the air giggling.
Obviously that was the signal that my mum had been waiting for (God knows for how long... Was she waiting outside our bedroom door? Mmhhh better not go there....) and she came into the bedroom, opened up the window to let in the fresh morning air, then sat on the bed and proceeded to kiss us all.
"Good Morning! Did you sleep well?" she asked euphoric
"Like the dead!" Steven answered
"Like an alcoholic in a trance more like..." I quipped
"Good!" she said picking Gabriel up.
"Breakfast is ready! Why don't you two get going with it and let me sort Gabriel out?"
We didn't need convincing as the strong smell of italian coffee filled up our nostrils.
Breakfast was consumed slowly and peacefully.
Outside, a glorious early spring day was taking our words away. We just sat there in silence, in the conservatory, staring at the expanses of green outside, sipping hot coffee and picking at mum's home made sponge cake.
I could hear dad's shears clipping away at the hedge and a variety of birds chirping in a perfect 'Snow White' moment.
Chelsea and its traffic seemed so very far away, all the pressure and the everyday rat-race were slowly melting in a cup of coffee.
Then again, in the best tradition of every fairy tale, where for every happy moment there has to be one of trouble and strife, courtesy of a usually ugly and downright evil woman, I was to meet my just retribution for such serenity.
The doorbell rang loudly and, being mum too busy cooing away in the kitchen trying to feed Gabriel, I just shouted
I opened and there she was, unexpected and unwelcome like a bad attack of diarrhoea.
I had no time to even say 'Hi!' that she had flung her boney arms around my neck and was hugging me as if I was her long-lost best friend.
"MY GOD HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN!!!!!!" she exclaimed in a dramatic tone
"Ahem... It's been long hasn't it?" I just managed to say awkwardly.
In the meantime Steven, hearing the commotion, had the insane idea to come and have a look at what was going on and, seeing me in the clutches of my cousin, went to turn away and hide but it was too late
"STEVE! COME HERE YOU! IT'S BEEN SO LONG!" and she literally jumped on him from behind, like a sort of skinny Ninja.
"Oh... Hi... Nice to meet you!" he politely introduced himself to that human backpack, as they had NEVER met before.
"Dina what are you doing here so early? It's barely nine..." mum said to her in a reproachful tone.
"Oh zia darling, forgive me, I just couldn't wait! I'll stay only five minutes I promise..." she apologised theatrically
"Would you like some coffee?" Steven offered, trying to get her off his back
"Oh no.... No carbs for me thanks!"
"But.... There are no carbs in coffee..." I said
"Oh, whatever...." she just shrugged me off.
"Well, we are having breakfast, so..." I hinted as if to say '... so fuck off...' but I didn't. Obviously.
"Perfect! Let's sit in the conservatory then!" she just said as if it was an obvious statement making her way to the breakfast table, and took my place, of course.
I looked at mum in disbelief, she just rolled her eyes and got back to the kitchen where Gabriel was waiting for his bottle.
Great, thanks.

Dina was painfully thin. Her dark hair was straw-like and scraped back in a ponytail, her face was gaunt, her eyes sunken and feverish. The green blouse she was wearing hung from her shoulders making her look even thinner, her jeans were gathered up around her waist with a belt that had far too many holes punched into it and her strappy platform shoes looked so heavy as if to keep her from flying away in the wind.
Last time I saw her she was the toast of the family. Pretty, popular, with an annoyingly arrogant attitude.
Some things hadn't changed in all these years but a large part of what she used to be was gone.
It was as irritating as always to see how quickly Dina made herself feel at home. She cast aside my mug, my plate with the leftover cake, placed her bag on the table and began producing in rapid succession: a pot of vaseline, a nail file, a nail polish remover and some cotton pads.
This was going to be a long conversation.
"So, tell me everything..." she just said casually, without even looking at me, still rummaging through her seemingly bottomless handbag.
"What's there to say Dina? Why don't you ask and I will answer?" I replied trying to be just as casual
"Oh... Well.... Where to start?" she laughed
"Ok, I will start for you! Let's see shall we? Do you want me to skip the introduction and get to the point where my mum caught me in the arms of a naked man? Or do you want the details of our heart-shattering fight when she found out I am gay and she expelled me from her life?" I taunted her
"Oh Marco.... Come on.... I know that none of that is real.... Give me some credit for goodness sake!" and she carried on
"I think your mum and dad took everything that happened with a lot of dignity..."
"EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED? My life as a married gay man and a father is not a terminal disease Dina!"
"You know what I mean.... It mustn't have been easy..."
"No, it probably has not been easy for them, considering that they had to deal every day with a family that thinks I am a gay Antichrist thirsty for power..."
"Well, now you give yourself too much credit.... Why do you think we care? You have always been the flamboyant one.... The smug one.... The one with 'colourful' friends..... The one that went to study fashion when we all stayed at home waiting to be married off to some other village guy..... The one that has always snobbed our family gatherings..... Believe me, the family is used to you being somewhat.... Out of the box..."
"Oh Dina, don't flatter me....." I said affecting a laugh
"Why? Am I wrong?" she just said, whilst trying to remove some nail polish from her thumb nail
"No, not at all.... In fact you are absolutely right! Don't make the stupid mistake to think that I don't remember the looks I was given as a child when I was found playing with dolls in my room by either your parents or whoever was passing by mum's kitchen.... Why do you think I always snobbed your social events?"
"Because you always felt superior to all of us?" she rushed to answer, as if she had been waiting to put those words out in the open
"No! Because every time you and the others where in the same room, I was to become the attraction of the evening and the object of everybody's speculation. 'So, Marco do you have a girlfriend yet? You are almost sixteen, what's wrong with you? Don't you like girls perhaps? Why do you wear you hair so long? You look like a girl! Why don't you have friends in the village? Why do you want to study fashion? Don't you know that all those designers are poofs?'. That's why! You know better than me that in this family being different and wanting different things is something that must be smothered quickly...." I concluded, almost panting...
"Oh dear.... I got you all worked up haven't I?" she said in a patronising tone, reaching for the nail file
"Dina, why are you here? We have been avoiding each other for almost 15 years...."
"Oh, what do you mean? I am here to say hi..." she answered widening her eyes to look shocked
"I came to see the baby and congratulate you on your victory..."
"Victory? What victory?"
"The victory against all of us, against all the people that believed you were destined for a lonely and shameful life. The victory against whoever thought that your parents should've hang their heads in shame in front of the whole village for having a gay son. The victory against all your church-going aunts that doubled their prayers in an effort to save your soul from damnation."
She answered, still busy with her nails, without looking at me.
"Dina.... Do you honestly think that this is why I have done what I have done? Do you think that I picked what I wanted in life to be spiteful to my family? I embraced what life gave me and made the most of it.... I built my own happiness. Do you really think I give a shit about what you all think?" I said, trying to sound calm
"Oh but you do! You care immensely! You always have.... Since we were kids.... The very thought of being gossiped about drives you insane... That's why you've always made it hard on yourself .... That's why you've always been on the run....
You sit there, acting like Mr Big Balls when in fact you are a cowardly village boy, just like the rest of us. Just like me.
You see? We are very similar creatures you and I.... I cowered under the life scheme my family imposed on me and got married to the very first guy I had ever slept with and you had to run away to London to build your life far from the preying eyes of the village.... Not that I blame you, look at what they have done to me..." she said, pointing at her inner arm, where the marks of the IV feeding tube was still evident,
"I think that being victims of the system should bring us together, even after 15 years...." she added, looking up straight into my eyes.
I looked at her. I didn't really know what to say at that point. I knew from mum's weekly reports that Dina was forced to stay married to Mauro by her family.
Divorce was a no-go area for them and she had to endure a loveless marriage for years, then her alleged infidelity came probably as a rebellion, then the anorexia and then, eventually, the very public divorce (apparently even the village priest made several attempts of discouraging the couple from splitting up with regular home visits...).
"Dina, I really feel for you, believe me I do, but me and you are two very different people. We have always been.
See? I don't have track marks on my arms.... I am quite happily overweight and the little one in the other room proves to you that what I have with Steven is real, strong and beyond any imposed scheme... The rest to me is geography and gossip, and I am happy that this is all I have to deal with." I went on
"I never ran away to London.... I simply decided that I was not going to spend my life living like my parents did at my age. I wanted more, I wanted better things and I got the support to go and make it happen... That's not running away, that's being proactive in the search for happiness and fulfillment... I think you have just been unlucky and, forgive me, a little naive to hold on to something broken for such a long time just to avoid the village gossip...."
Just as I ended my sentence, I noticed that Dina's face had begun twitching. It was sad really. She just sat there, doing her nails, knowing that her face was screwing up, betraying her true feelings and totally unable to control herself. Her mouth would kind of droop on one side and her left eye would wink....
Pity that Steven did not feel my same empathy and was struggling to stifle a laugh. To avoid being seen, he went to the kitchen to pick Gabriel up and introduce him to Dina.
Obviously, his attitude was due to the fact that none of the above was translated to him as he busied himself sorting out the hundreds of emails on his Blackberry during the whole conversation.

Steven returned with our beautiful son in his arms, mum was following still trying to feed him a last spoonful of cereals.
"My... He is gorgeous.... I am so happy for you..." Dina said wide eyed in a feeble voice, her face now totally out of control
while gathering up her things in a nervous hurry.
Now Gabriel was staring at Dina and every time her face screwed up he would let out a loud chuckle.... He thought she was being funny.
Dina was in meltdown.
"Darling sit down...." mum enticed her
"I AM FINE!" she snapped back at her "I am....fine..."
She stroke Gabriel's cheek and said looking at me
"It must be comforting the thought that now you will never be lonely..." and she kissed him on the forehead.
I didn't truly get her full meaning, but our meeting was over. She slung her bag over her shoulders and kissed Steven and mum goodbye walking towards the door.
I followed her out, pulling the door behind me slightly
"See you later Dina, I hope that...." I started to say, but she cut in
"Marco, I don't know if you have heard, but I will never be able to have children... And it's all down to the protracted anorexia.
You'll probably hear that I contracted some disgusting STD from one of my lovers... The truth is that I destroyed my body to punish my family... I crushed myself as a woman... I am happy that you had the courage to find your happiness. I just wish it was me."
I really did not know what to say and started to wish her all the goodness in the world as a retribution to her words, but she cut in
"Don't.... Marco, don't pity me. If there is something you should remember about me is that even when I am broken I am still a bitch.... Do you remember our fights as kids? It's when I am down that I bite the hardest... Your right shoulder should remember..." she smiled, her face slowly regaining composure and added
"I will be fine... I am not worried... At least with you in town they will have something else to gossip about for a while..".
Funny how mum thought it was going to be the exact opposite: Dina was supposed to steal the headlines, but I guess she was just trying to dispel some of my apprehension.
Married fudge-packer father of one beats anorexic divorced whore 1-0.
Lucky me.
"Dina, let's meet again before I return home.... Not because I pity you, but because I want to.... " I was sincere.
"Let's see... Tonight is the Good Friday evening procession of the Dead Christ down the village.... Everybody is going to be there. It should be fun. The 'village queer that got married' and the 'anorexic whore that is getting divorced' standing side by side..... Who's gonna look at Jesus I wonder? They better not drop him...." she kissed me on the cheek and left.
Poor Dina.
Was this the beginning of a truce? Was I supposed to start looking for someone else to bitch about from now on?
I just smiled to myself and closed the door.