One last month of internship with the tutor colleague, that was the only thing left. And so, a whole August spent in the southern country, between fields and wary farmers. We are vet, coming to check the animal welfare and those who keep them.
The badge usually has quite an effect, I must say, but not this time, not with this man: a rude and bitter old man, forged by the sun and the weather. No, he does not get intimidated, instead, as soon as we arrive, he looks at me frowning, almost worried - where are you coming from? - he asks.
-The City, sir- I answer, under the tutor's questioning look.
The man raises cows and pigs in freedom, and farms the land waiting for nature's timing and autumn rains.
He invites us into his small house to sign some papers.
Inside, the cobwebs and the breadcrumbs of countless meals tell how the lady of the house has been missed for a long time.
He lives alone now, he tells us, since his children went to work in the City.
And there, hung on the walls, the pictures of the ghosts of the house: little children playing, he and his wife, so happy and beautiful on their wedding day, two elderly grey parents, and then ... him.
Curiosity moves my feet a bit closer, to take a better look at the sepia face portrayed in the picture: the hard line of the jaw, the eyebrows, frowning over those eyes that for some mysterious reason I know would be hazel, and that look so ...familiar....
The old man is slowly by my side looking at the same picture, the tutor outside taking something from the car.
I look at the man.- He's my brother, Matthew ... - he says.
Matthew ... a painful stabbing on my chest, hearing that name ... this makes no sense at all.
- he died a few years ago.-
At the sounds of his words, fragments of unknown pictures rush in front of my eyes: running and panting barefoot through freshly plowed fields, getting up at dawn to milk cattle, memories I don’t remember, feelings that don’t belong to this skin, a younger version of Matthew’s face smiling sweetly as he throws me a freshly harvested apple...
-... he never married, you know ... - the man continues but I’m blinded, barely listening.
The wheat swirling in the wind, the first time we knew each other underneath the olive trees, and our laughter gathering the flock of sheep in the pouring rain... and his marriage proposal. ..
-... Not after ...-
But the pain, it darkens everything, the pain in the chest and coughs and fevers ... and Matthew at my bedside, his desperate look while I was too weak to even hold his hand “promise me you’ll come back to me” ...
-... Not after his Daisy died.-
I step back, the memories collapsing, and try to focus on the man's face. He's staring at me too, his eyes sad, glistening with tears. His hand rests on my cheek for a little bit - you are too late, Daisy ...-
-I-I'm Jodie ...- I whisper, more to myself than to him, trying hard to cling to the present and don't slip away in the depths of a past life.
The old man smiles sadly, as if I just told a bittersweet joke.
-you should be the one who keeps it- he tells me, taking the dusty picture from the wall and handing it to me. And as the tutor comes back into the room I'm hiding my face lined with tears.