Massimo had had a very long day. But that was no excuse.
He’d been driving John, his father, to his home for the weekend, when they stopped at a service station on the motorway. And he had inadvertently left without him.
Only when he’d reached home, did Massimo realise what he’d done. He climbed back into his car and drove back to the service station to collect his father.
When Massimo got there, several young fast food employees were comforting his father, and they looked at Massimo as if he were a war criminal. They had given the old man a coffee and a bun. Massimo offered to pay them, but they would have rather killed themselves than taken his money.
On the way home, his father, who sat in the backseat as usual, didn’t say a word. Massimo spied him in the rear-view mirror to see if he could get a smile out of him. He tried to make light conversation, but he soon gave up.
He looked into the rear-view mirror again and asked his father, “Will you ever forgive me?”
“Not in my lifetime.” Replied the old man, without missing a beat.
As Massimo was letting this phrase sink in, he heard his father’s explosive laughter.
“Got you!” he said.
“Hilarious,” said Massimo unable to see the funny side.
“Well, you did forget about me. You did leave me behind at the service station,” said Massimo’s father, “I wasn’t exactly happy about that.”
“I know Dad, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, Massimo.” Said the old man, “When you were very young, I did the same, so we’re even now.”
“Is that true, dad? Did you leave me behind in a service station? When? How old was I?”
“No, nothing like that. Soon after you were born, I had a motorcycle accident, and I hit my head and lost consciousness. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember anything.”
“You mean you didn’t remember the accident?” said Massimo.
“No, I mean I didn’t remember anything at all. I didn’t recognise your mother and I didn’t recognise you. To make matters worse, I couldn’t remember any Italian. And your mother and I had to speak through an interpreter because her English was dodgy at that time.”
“You’re kidding! This is a joke, right?” asked Massimo.
“No, Massimo, it’s not. And what happened next would have destroyed any other woman, but your mother, rest her soul, was as tough as they get.”
“Why?” said Massimo.
“Because I went back to the US, Massimo. I was young, and I didn’t know how to deal with the situation. I didn’t remember your mum, I didn’t remember getting married, and I didn’t remember you. I panicked and took the first flight back to New York.”
“And mum? What about mum?”
“She stayed here with you in Milan, and started writing me letters. One a day. But she didn’t write to me to ask me to come back as you would expect. She wrote to me about the life we’d had together before the accident sliced us apart. Long letters that a friend translated and typed up for me. Letters that stunned and seduced me, in equal measure. The type of letters that you can’t stop rereading. And your mother could write, Massimo. She could have been a writer, but she saw writing as something too personal, something to be shared only with loved ones.”
“Did the letters help? When did you get your memory back?”
“No, Massimo, I never did. I have no memory prior to waking up in hospital to find this strange but beautiful woman smiling at me while cradling a baby in her arms. But it didn’t matter.”
“What do you mean it didn’t matter?”
“I mean that, after reading those letters, I realised God had blessed me once already, and he’d given me a second chance, and that if I didn’t take it, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
“So what did you do?”
“I studied, Massimo, I studied.” Said the old man.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your mother was no fool. And I felt that I couldn’t go back to Italy without having done my homework. For starters, I visited all my friends and relatives, and asked them about the wedding and my life up to the accident. I wanted to know everything. Then, I joined night classes to learn Italian, and started working in a restaurant in Little Italy. A year later, I knocked at the door of an anonymous flat in Milan and the woman from the hospital, the one who’d written those eloquent letters, came to answer the door. From then on, we were together night and day. Right up to the moment she died.”
“Didn’t mum suspect anything? I mean, didn’t you ever discuss this whole thing?”
“Your mother never talked about it, but, on her deathbed, she told me that she knew I hadn’t remembered a thing, she knew it from the second she opened that door, but that she loved me even more because of it. She also told me that when I was in hospital, she’d gone to church and had lit a candle for me in prayer. However, after lighting it, she had dropped it and it had split in two, so she’d lit the second half as well, and placed it alongside the first. She said that’s what I was - two candles.”
Neither Massimo nor his father spoke after that. There was nothing more to say. Massimo had many questions, but he knew there would be time to answer them. And for those last few minutes before they got home, they let silence bridge the space between them. And for the first time, it felt right.