I have never relied on a man for anything. Except that time when I was a kept woman. Totally kept.
I had arrived in the south of Italy, having hitched around Europe in a ratty cheesecloth dress. I was trying to find out about ferries to Greece when a man picked up my tatty bag and threw it into the back of his Porsche.
“Change this,” he said, sniffing my smelly dress. “We eat.” I changed into basically the same dress with fewer holes. He rolled his eyes and took me to the best restaurant. Everyone knew him and no bills were paid and this was it. A relationship.
Every morning, two guys would come to the door with coffee and pastries for me. In the afternoons we would go to the harbour and pick seafood to be taken to the restaurant for our evening meal. Sometimes we would drive to beautiful houses in the countryside.
“Whose house is this?” I would say.
“Mine,” was always the answer.
Fresh figs grown on his land would be brought for me but I’d never had them before and told him they were horrible.
He would take me to shops and try to buy me beautiful beige cashmere that Italian women wear but I didn’t want any of it. He was mostly exasperated by me, not least during sex, when the language barrier became an issue.
“Ask me my name,” he commanded.
So at the appropriate moment I tried, “What is your name?” or sometimes, “Who are you?”
I think he had muddled ask and tell. Nothing made him as angry as when I asked him where he worked.
“You English. So stupid. With your jobs.”
Once he told me he worked in a pharmacy but I didn’t know any pharmacists who had a hovercraft, as he did.
For a while, though, I liked being looked after but I still wanted to be free again and go to Greece.
“I will only be gone for a while,” I said.
“You go and you never come back. You live here now with me.”
He drove me to the boat and refused to kiss me.
“No woman leaves me,” he said.
Soon, of course, my luck and money ran out and I was back in Italy without a penny to my name.
But I knew which restaurant he would be outside, drinking with his minions. By now I knew the nature of his game. Everyone was in his pay.
So there I was again, with a small holdall and a largely desperate smile.
“Bruno, it’s me.”
He did not even look up. Nothing.
I was destroyed but could not show it. I walked away. Out of nowhere another car appeared. And another man put my bag in his car. As I got in, I only hoped he was under instructions from his boss.