Translated by Toshiya Kamei
The Italian woman preferred the windows. Some tourists turned their backs to the light, and fixed their gaze on lit candles and the wood-paneled interior of the restaurant. Others, on the other hand, paid no attention to the hustle and bustle inside, absorbed in the views of the mountains and the wharf beyond the window. <span style="font-size: 13px;">Like red crabs and black ones, tourists appeared during the crab season, were equally profitable, and vanished the same way, in the boats sailing along the bay. Most of them were old people in groups, who turned up en masse to watch whales, stayed in the same place year after year, and were able to tell the whales apart by their names and habits. But young visitors were few and far between, and they rarely came back.</span> The Italian woman was not more than twenty-five and, according to the hotel register, she would be staying for fifteen days. She was very good-looking, with striking cheekbones and creamy skin with olive tones. Else Irene checked her in. By dinnertime, boys had already seen her and approached Else Irene at the reception with an excuse to ask her about the Italian woman. Her name was Ana Petri, and she traveled alone. They slipped into her room, sniffed around inside her toilet bag when they cleaned the bathroom and, while pretending to get the restaurant ready, where she always showed up at the start of the first shift, they sent her to the bar, where it was easy to control her, as it was more likely she would ask for some drink, and conversations sprouted up. Friday evening she paid twice the price of dinner for a bottle of French wine, the second most expensive one on the menu, though that wasn't saying much, and she drank calmly while looking at nothing in particular outside. Except for those details, gathered from sharing the same living space and combing through her belongings, they failed to get anything out of her. She flashed a friendly smile, and then returned to the window, as if she’d found something interesting in the wharf and the mountains covered with lichens, or an explanation for the silly behavior of those around her. The most seriously tormented among them was Jan. Else Irene laughed without making fun of him, because she knew he was shy, and that the woman had made such a deep impression on him that he’d risked showing his interest in her. "Bring her bread," she whispered to him during dinner, even though they were busy with a group of French retirees who didn't know how to use coffee makers, and asked, like school children, where the bathroom was, where they could get cigarettes and what time it was. Jan placed a basket with bread and butter on the table and returned. "So?" "What?" "What did she tell you?" "'Thank you.'" "And you didn't say anything back?" "Yes. 'You're welcome.'" Else Irene suppressed her laughter. "Why don't you ask her something? Look at her, she's alone and bored." The foreign woman, with her eyes stubbornly fixed on the window, was nibbling a piece of black bread. "What if she's married?" "No, she's not. She wears no ring. Besides, nobody has called her; and she hasn't called even once." Jan watched her again, pretending to be professional. "What is a woman like that doing here? She hasn't been on the ferry. She hasn't gone whale watching. She stays in her room every day, goes for a walk, and comes down to eat." "She's an artist or designer. Her room is strewn with folders of drawings. Of glasses." Else Irene had been equally curious. "Of glasses?" "Yes. Glasses. Wine, water, brandy. That sort of thing. And of candelabras. Most of them were hand drawings, quick sketches." Jan shifted his weight to the other leg. "How odd." Saturday, at dinnertime, the two watched her from across the deserted dining room, in their black and white uniforms. In a half hour a group of Scots would come down and the silence would be interrupted for several hours, but in the meantime, in the faint halo of the candles, the space belonged to her. The Italian woman had been poking her plate with her fork for a couple of minutes; suddenly, she tilted her head and burst into tears. She covered her face with a napkin. Else Irene glanced at Jan. "Tell her something." "Like what?" They watched her cry until she calmed down; her breathing went back to normal and her swollen eyes were beautiful again. Jan collected her plate. "Is everything all right?" he asked in a trembling voice. She looked at him as if he were the lichen beyond the window. "Yes, thank you. Everything is fine."