Once upon a time, there was a river and upon its banks, there was a town, called Fra Martino alla Riva. It was a long name for such a small town, but it suited at best the proud of its residents. Along the right bank of the river, built upon solid rocks, was the largest part of the town, with the major church, the town hall, the main square and all the shops. On the left side of the river, low and muddy, were the oldest and most humble houses, aligned in a single row facing the river. Most of them used to be home to the farm workers, who departed from their brick shacks before dawn to reach the rice fields at sunrise.
At the times of our story, the residents of the right bank still used to call the left side of the town “The Ruin”, though nice detached houses had taken the old shacks’ place. It has to be told that not all of the brick shacks had gone. One of them had proudly survived ages and floods, and more than doubled its dimensions in the meanwhile. It was the last house of “The Ruin”, the only one built on a rock hill, which saved it from most of the river’s floods.
In the house lived a small old lady, her hair all white. After her husband had died and her two children had grown up and married, she lived there all alone but for a big black cat. That evening she was waiting for her granddaughter, who was used to visit her quite often, and was rather worried. At that time of the year – it was October – the road got really dark after the sunset and her granddaughter was nowhere to be seen.
The moment her grandmother left the front window, the seventeen years old girl, whose name was Nadia, came out from the net of alleys of the upper town and reached the road that coasted the river. She caught a dark figure approaching the bridge on the opposite side, as she was doing the same. On the left side of the river, beyond the gloomy figure and the little villas, the sun was setting, colouring the sky in red.
Nadia moved some steps ahead, staring at the dark figure far at her left – something similar to a man wrapped in dark clothes – but a sudden gust of wind slapped her in the face with her own hair and she had to stop walking and free her eyes. When she looked again towards the end of the stone bridge, the man had disappeared.
But she tightened the ends of her woollen coat around her chest, she lifted her hood up on her head and started to walk again. Nadia was a tall slender girl, with long dark hair and red chalky lipstick. She used red lipstick to divert the attention from her eyes, downturned just like her mother’s and used her hair to cover her broad shoulders, a gift from her father. Whilst she tried to walk as if she felt safe and in control, inside her boots her toes kept on tapping the shoe metal tip, and she was mentally reviewing how to deliver a strong kick at somebody’s crotch.
She kept looking far ahead until she reached the arch entrance of the bridge, annoyed by the cold air twirling under her short tartan skirt, the low sun rays that hit her eyes and her own socks. Whilst at every step her left loose knee sock collapsed a little down along her leg as if it was trying to hide itself down in her left boot, the right one was very tight around her upper knee. The cold air under her skirt made her feel at the same time silly and vain, the socks unbalanced her and the light hitting her pupils obliged her to squeeze her eyes. She was watching with disdain towards the setting sun, when the stranger appeared from behind a column, smoking a cigarette.
He was a little taller than her. He had dark ruffled hair and dark circles around his big eyes. He was pale and all dressed in black. And if all that wasn’t enough to make her gasp, Nadia recognised him.
She was tempted to stop and arrange her left knee sock, but that would have been a lot less cool than a loose sock. Instead, she left the ends of the coat. They flew apart in the cold air, revealing a cropped white sweater, which barely covered her skinny ribs. As she was walking towards the man, she knew he hadn’t recognised her. Indeed, many years had passed. But when they were close enough to speak, the man bowed his head to greet her and she stopped.
“Hello, Little Red Riding Hood” Smiled the man, pointing at her red hood with his cigarette.
Nadia answered with a half smile. The man smiled again in return. He had a rather broad and sharp smile, indeed.
“And, if I may ask, where are you going all alone so close to the dark?”
Nadia bit her bottom lip.
“Ahem, to my granny’s home?”
She nodded. The man scoffed her with a laugh, then offered her a cigarette. She lifted a hand to stop him.
“I have mine” Said Nadia, reaching a secret pocket of her satchel bag.
“Tough times for a big bad wolf if he can’t even corrupt the youngsters with a cigarette”
Nadia looked at him from above the cigarette she has just put between her red lips while hiding again the packet. Then she came closer to the man.
“You can light me”
Wondered the man reaching the lighter in his jeans front pocket. She offered her lips to his lighter and the man looked at her for a while. Then he lit her cigarette.
“Thanks,” Said Nadia moving away from him.
“So… didn’t you tell me you were going to your granny’s home?”
“Do I know her? – he turned around and looked at the houses on the other side of the river – Maybe I should escort you to your dear granny. I think I might know her”
“Might be – Nadia moved forward, and pointed with her hand at the left end of the lane – she lives there”
The man looked at her again, this time with less lust and more surprise. Then he smiled broadly.
“I know that house. Definitely, I should escort you”
“Definitely, you should not – she smiled – see? It’s not yet that dark and you can see the house from here clearly. But if you’d like – she smiled again, coming closer to him – you can watch me go from here”
“I will watch you”
She kissed him on the cheek, leaving a red mark.
Then she walked away from him, calm and confident, holding back the desire to ride.