From the life of Alba
By Daniela Bragato
They say I’ve got a nice smile, but I don’t smile often these days.
“What’s the matter Alba, c’mon, where’s that smile? Where’s that smile?” they say.
“Oh, I’ve lost it.”
I lost it the day my husband left me and my children to go off with another woman and build another family. My son Rob was only 3, Polly 18. But what did I know back then? I was 21 when I got married and my husband Hugo was 18. He was in the army and after we got married they wanted to send him abroad, but I was ill so they didn’t. I had a collapsed lung. The doctors said that it was probably a collateral of the TB I caught when I was a child. But I never found out.
I was too scared Hugo might die in the army. In the end I lost him anyway. When his mother found out that I had caught TB she didn’t want me to marry him.
“When you’re gonna have a baby, you’re gonna regret it,” she said.
Now I know that my husband married me to get away from his mother, but I was too in love to notice that back then. Every time I tell people I was only four months courting into the relationship before we got married, they’re shocked. Now I know it was too quick. After the proposal, Hugo’s father said “yes”. His mother tried to stop me again but, in the end, she put a hand on her heart and we went on with the wedding.
Now I know that I should have listened to his mum. Oh yeah, I should have listened to her. £47 a week was all I had to bring up my little boy. Hugo used to give me £12 but when he had the first child with the other woman he stopped giving me anything at all. It’s still hard to think that he went off with another woman. Why me? Why me? Why me? That’s all I wondered back then, and what I still wonder now.
Our marriage was lovely before he left. We used to go to pubs every Friday and I used to sing him my favourite song by Connie Francis, Who’s Sorry Now. Then one day he phoned the landline and from that moment my life wasn’t the same anymore.
“I’m not coming home, Alba,” he said. “I found someone else.”
He told me that he had had sex with someone else and had a baby, then he asked me for a divorce. And that was all. That was all he said before hanging up. He didn’t want to meet me face to face. He left me and my children with a phone call. He didn’t even bother to give me an explanation. The next time I saw him was in court, and he was with the woman he was going to marry.
“It’s too late. I’ve made this woman pregnant and I’m gonna marry her,” he said to the judge.
I was in tears. His voice was loud and clear. Not a single sign of remorse. Was he unhappy with me because when we got married we had to live separately for quite a long time before we found a house? Was that the reason? Or was it simply that there was no reason at all, that this was just how it was? Sometimes things break and you can’t fix ‘em. Sometimes people fall out of love and there’s nothing you can do about it.
When Hugo died, his mum invited me and the children to his funeral. I bought him a cross and a big flower tribute shield. All the other woman bought him was a tiny basket of flowers, and she even came in late. Hugo’s mum and sister were shocked. I can never forget what happened after the ceremony was over. Never, never in my life. We got into the church and when they brought Hugo up in the coffin, I touched his hand and said goodbye to him. All of a sudden, my mother-in-law turned towards Hugo’s wife and yelled:
“You killed my son!”
“Really?” she replied.
“Yes, you did. You had no time for him. You didn’t look after him. You killed him.”
And that’s stuck in my heart. I’d heard that she didn’t look after him at all. Nothing. She didn’t even wash his cup. Oh no, she didn’t. She wasn’t clean, that woman. After the funeral, she tried to be friends with me, but it was too late. I would have never.
“Alba,” Hugo’s mum said whilst approaching me, “I’m sorry about what happened. He should have stayed with you.” She paused for a moment. “If he had, he would have been alive today.”
She seemed quite certain about it, but we both knew he had a kidney failure because he loved his beers. That’s what killed him. In the end, Hugo’s mother and I got on. After the funeral she even started to come down and see me and the children. She was a funny woman, oh yeah, she was.
When my daughter Polly started to work she promised she would help me. And she did. She’d always come home with something for me. If I focus hard enough, I can still picture that blue soft woolly coat she once bought me. I liked it so much I even took a picture outside my mum and dad’s council house. I leaned against the brick wall, my right arm resting on the windowsill, my hands clasped in front of my long black skirt. I had a long bob with a side fringe those days. I think I was even wearing red lipstick. It was one of those winter days when the sun gently stroked my face; I looked at the camera and smiled after a long time. I smiled under the illusion that spring was finally coming.
I don’t know why I didn’t have a happy life. I simply wasn’t meant to. My biggest regret? In a way, I regret married my husband. Oh yeah, I regret having married him. The way things turned out. And I still don’t know why. When I married him, I thought we would have grown old together. But no. Didn’t happen. I could have gotten married twice after he left me, but no. I didn’t want to. Not after what I went through.
My son Rob grew up hating Hugo and he still does. My daughter was too busy helping me out; she had no time for what he had done to us. My husband was a nice-looking fella and when I look at Rob I can see Hugo in him. And it hurts me. Oh yeah, it hurts.
They say I dance well. But I don’t dance these days.
“C’mon Alba, show us some moves,” they say.
“I can’t, my legs are gone now.”
I loved dancing. It took all the worries away from me. When I danced I didn’t care about anything. I just moved to the rock and roll music. My wide chiffon dress fluttering as I turned, as if there was no gravity to keep me grounded.
I’ve always protected myself, always kept myself out of trouble. But bad things happen when you least expect them. I should have known better that night at the picture palace, that that was only an omen for something much worse happening later on in my life. But I was too young to think that far ahead. And at that time, I thought I handled it quite well when this bloke came up to me and his hands started to wander. I reached for my handbag. I had a pair of scissors, I’ll never forget this. I got the scissors out and stabbed him in the leg. He yelped in fear and pain, so loud that another guy appeared and asked:
“What’s the matter, love?”
“He’s touching me all over my legs,” I said.
“Get out, get out, get out,” he shouted to my attacker.
This was nothing. Nothing could prepare me for what I went through when I was much, much older. In my house, where I thought I was safe. I was raped. And I never got over it. Once a bloke does that to you, it’s always in your mind and memory. You can never forget it. Even after a long time, when I would walk on the street in my neighbourhood, I wouldn’t feel safe. If I saw a man walking behind me, I’d stop, look back, and wait until he passed before I started to walk again. And now my daughter does the same too. I can’t bear having men behind me.
I wish I could dance again one more time. But now I can’t fly no more. My kneecap has gone completely. Polly and Rob, my kids, are the only thing that’s keeping me going at the moment. If it wasn’t for them I’d give up. I would. Oh yeah, I really would give up. I’m proud of them, the woman and man they’ve become. I mean, I have got the best children you could ever wish for.
The ring I’m wearing? It was my mum’s and it’s the only ring I’ve got. It’s a silver ring with an engraved blue little star. I took it off her finger when she died. I did it because I wanted her to be with me forever. Sometimes I speak to her when I’m on my own and I think she knows what I’m going through. I think she’s here with me.
Time for my daily tablets now. The one I’m taking are making my bones a bit stronger. I still can’t walk for long, but it’s something. I thought about one thing recently as I’ve heard my favourite song on the radio. I know the lyrics by heart but sometimes I forget the words. Someone left someone and they’re sorry. That’s what’s the song is about. And it goes like this:
“Who’s sorry now
Who’s sorry now
Whose heart is aching for breaking each vow
Who’s sad and blue
Who’s crying too
Just like I cried over you.”
It hurts to say, but if he had been alive today I would have loved to dance with my husband. I keep humming along:
“Right to the end
Just like a friend
I tried to warn you somehow
You had your way
Now you must pay
I’m glad that you’re sorry now
Right to the end
Just like a friend
I tried to warn you somehow
You had your way
Now you must pay
I’m glad that you’re sorry now.”
If this is my last dance, then I’ve saved it for you, Hugo.