Thursday, 18 April 2013

Tornerai - Part Two

Let's pick up on Josie's progress with the RAF Flight Engineer. This story is based on a real-life encounter, recounted to me by my mother. So don't expect burning Messerschmitts and loud rat-a-tat-tats.

“You live far?” she asked.

“No.  Just up by Pype Hayes Park.  I ship out with the squadron tonight.”

“I’d have thought you’d have wanted to be at home then, this being your last day.”

He smiled.  “That’s the reason I’m here actually.  My Mum gets a bit emotional and it was just too damp at home.  She thinks I’m bound to be killed, which cheers a chap up no end.”

Josie inspected her cup, unsure how to respond.  The music from the loudspeaker changed and she brightened.  “Oh, I love this one!” She sang softly along to the singer’s thin soprano, “J'attendrai le jour et la nuit, J’attendrai, dah de dah de dah.”

“Yes, my mama used to sing it around the house.  It’s called ‘Tornerai’”.

“No, it’s called ‘J’attendrai’:  I will wait.  She’s French.”

“It’s in French, but she’s Italian.  So is the song, actually.  It’s called ‘Tornerai’: You will return.”  He sang a fragment, “Tornerai da me perché l'unico sogno sei del mio cuor.”

Josie was impressed despite herself.  “You speak Italian?”

“No.” He laughed.  “But when your mother’s Italian you pick up the sounds.  I’ve no idea what it means.”
“Italian? But isn’t she…?”

“The enemy?  No, she’s nobody’s enemy, my Mum.  She met my Dad at the end of the last war and came back to England with him.”

They listened in silence to the song.  The rain had stopped and Josie began to think of leaving.  Tony put down his cup.  “Look, I know this was supposed to be just a chat, but…”

Josie was faintly disappointed; he was a little boring, but he’d seemed so genuine.  “But…?”

“But could I buy you lunch?  I really couldn’t stand to be back in the house, with all the tears and wailing.  We could go to the Stockland.”

“That’s miles away.  We’ll get soaked.”

“It’s not, and it’s stopped now anyway.  We can walk it in ten minutes or so.  Please: my treat; us aircrew get paid fortunes.”

She thought for a moment.  It wasn’t uncommon for her to stay out until early evening on Saturdays, and with these summer nights it wasn’t dark enough for the bombers until well after nine.  And she didn’t get to eat in a restaurant that often.  And he was quite nice-looking in his RAF uniform…

“OK, but I’ll have to go home after.”

They bumped shoulders several times as they walked down to Five Ways and Josie eventually threaded her arm through his to make it easier to move through the Saturday shoppers.  She noticed his slight smile and suspected a faint blush on his cheeks.  There was something old-fashioned about him; she noticed how he took care to switch to the outside when they crossed into Reservoir Road.

“What’s in the shopping bag?  Anything nice?” he asked as they passed the hospital, where a great, wrinkled silver barrage balloon rippled between a cluster of olive-dun trailers behind the spiked railings.

“I loathe those things,” she said.  “They look sort of slimy, like a giant slug or something.”  She looked back at him.  “The bag?  Oh, yes,  I’ve bought a new frock.  Been saving up.”

“Really?  You must show me when we get to the restaurant.”

She laughed.  “And why would a chap want to look at a frock?”

He laughed with her.  “Well, for a start I can imagine you wearing it.  You know how you see those tickets in drapers’ windows?  They’ll have a dress and a sign by it saying ‘Lovely on’.  Well I bet your new frock will look lovely on.”

“So you’re interested in dresses and you look in drapers’ windows?”

They were both laughing now.  “Yes, it’s part of our training.  If we’re captured we have to operate undercover as a rather ‘so’ spy.”

She looked at him quizzically.  “Really?”

“Of course not really.  My mother used to drag me round the dress shops.  You notice things.”

“What’s she like, your Mum?”

“Very Italian.  Always dressed in black, never stops cooking or talking, and she wails at 100 decibels when it’s time for her son to go to war.”

The Stockland Inn was an imposing stone-faced building with tall gables.  To those from the city it was a large Ansell’s pub, but to a seventeen-year-old girl, the youngest daughter of a Birmingham gunsmith, it was the Ritz.  She stayed shyly behind Tony, despite his courteous attempts to have her precede him, as the black-uniformed waitress led them to a table.  Music played softly from somewhere, though she could see neither a band nor a wireless set.

The menu was a typewritten sheet in a shiny, padded folder.  Tony opened it and presented it to her, flicking back the gold tassel with a flourish.  “Would Madam care to make her choice?”

Josie accepted it regally, “Thank you, young man, allow me to peruse,” she replied in the tones of the draper’s shop lady.

Little perusal was necessary; the choice consisted of tomato or potato soup to begin, with either fish or meat of the day, with seasonal vegetables, to follow.  Dessert was apple pie or cheese.  Her eyes widened: three courses.  On a Saturday.

Continued in Part Three

No comments: