Nina paid no attention to what her mother told her. They had been driving the southern highway for over an hour in the direction of a small coastal town, where they planned to spend two weeks of summer vacation. She gazed absentmindedly at the sprawling green vineyards that they were rapidly leaving behind on the other side of the highway. She was struck by the perfect alignment of the plants, where large bunches of grapes should already grow, but which would not yet be mature enough for the harvest. The large farmhouses that housed the wineries and the sumptuous residences of the owners of the extensive vineyards also drew her attention, which she envied, because she would have liked to live in one of those large farmhouses. Other times she would look up and stare ecstatically at the whimsical clusters of white clouds that formed figures that she was trying to identify, such as a large elephant, an angel, an UFO, or a giant with a large, white body.
Her mother tried in vain for her daughter to pay attention to her because Nina did not want to make that trip and did not want to listen to her arguments to justify it.
The extensive vineyards seemed to have no end. At intervals, some gaps were opened, planted with other crops, or lush groves of Mediterranean pines emerged. Other times, roads were opened that led to the mansions, with the margins limited by stylized cypresses, asymmetrically separated from each other, that gave cozy shade to those who circulated or walked through them.
Towards noon the radiant sun shone and the shadows caused by the leafy foliage of the trees fell vertically on the ground. From time to time flocks of wood pigeons crossed the sky, chased by a falcon. Flocks of noisy crows perched on the tops of the erect cypresses, restless, passing from one cypress to another, in an endless territorial struggle.
“Nina, daughter, you are distracted and you don't pay attention to me.”
“I don't care what you're saying!”
“My mother would have slapped me if I had answered that way.”
Nina could not have respect for her mother, because she believed she did not behave like a responsible mother, but like a capricious girl who did what she wanted, regardless of her opinion.
“My grandma would not have made this trip! “Nina replied with an angry expression.
“Your grandma lives in another century!”
It seemed to Nina that the answer made no sense, because in all centuries mothers are the same.
“Well, I keep the century of grandma!”
“But what is strange that we spend two weeks on the beach?”
“Nothing. But you are not going on the beach, but to meet a man who is married!”
“He is very unhappy in his marriage, but his wife does not want to grant him a divorce. They can be said to be separate. What's wrong with my friend?”
“Say rather your lover, and also your boss!”
“Nina, you are very cruel to your mother! You blame me for things you can't understand! There is no shame in having relationships with a man. I am a free and adult woman!”
“You are a divorced woman!”
“And what is the difference?”
“I think you still owe Dad a respect!”
For Nina the divorce was just a separation, but not a rupture.
“Then why did we get divorced?”
“Are you asking me? I do not know!”
“Nina, your father is the most boring person on the planet!”
“It doesn't seem so to me ...”
“I know that you love your father more than me. But someday you will understand. The years fly by, and the youth in a sigh! At the age of fifteen you have no idea what it feels like to look in the mirror and you begin not to recognize the image that appears on the other side. I am 42 years old. Before I know it I will be 50 and then we will no longer need to make these trips, because there will be no man to meet with ... Someday you will understand ...”
Nina felt violent and sad at the same time. She wanted to maintain a good relationship with her mother, but her way of behaving exasperated her that she, just 15 years old and with little experience in life, seemed irresponsible.
Nina tried to imagine herself twenty or thirty years older. Possibly she would look the same as her mother: sagging arms, light double chin, some cellulite on her hips, sagging and sagging breasts. Yes, her mother was right, it must be very painful to grow old with all those symptoms. But that was not enough to justify her behavior. “Everyone grows old,” she thought without taking her eyes off the landscape they were leaving behind, “but they don't behave like her.”
The vineyards had disappeared from the landscape and vast fields of orange and lemon trees were beginning to be seen. These trees were also in perfect alignment on the ground. They had left behind several of the country's most popular tourist cities. The rural landscape of scattered country houses became denser, and from the highway you could see numerous small towns surrounded by orange groves, but also by other kinds of fruit trees adapted to warm areas, such as avocados and mangoes. Nina was tired and hot, but there was no point in opening the window, because the air from the desert in North Africa was so hot and dry it burned on her skin.
“I'm tired, thirsty and hungry!” Nina protested. “Can we stop at the next service area to refresh and eat something?”
A few kilometers away they found a service area. They parked the overheated car and, still numb from several hours of inactivity, entered the restaurant. Nina chose the dish of the day: fresh fish from the local sea and her mother just a simple salad. They took a seat by the large windows from where the heavy traffic on the highway could be seen.
“Is the fish fresh?” Asked the mother to break the silence. Nina nodded with a slight nod.
“I know you like fish more than meat. Where we go you will enjoy the most delicious fish grills in this country.”
Nina understood that her mother wanted to return to the subject they had tried to talk about during the trip.
“Nina, the day after tomorrow my boss will meet us.”
“Yes, yes; my lover! But he will only stay three or four days.”
“In our same apartment?”
“Sure! Do you think I could afford an apartment by the sea in one of the most expensive tourist areas in this country?”
“So, has he paid for it?”
“And, of course, you have to sleep with him!”
“Why do you insist on martyring me? Couldn't you be a little more understanding and avoid telling me things so harshly?”
Nina felt that she had indeed been very hard on her mother, but her behavior was intolerable. However, she apologized.
“Well, fine, but you have to understand things and be less fussy, not to say puritanical! You want to be a great singer, who do you think pays for your music classes? With my salary we barely get to eat, get dressed and pay the rent. Yes, it's true, I sleep with him, because the extras are also paid by him. Everyone sleeps with everyone! What is wrong with having sex when you are my age and you are a free woman? I understand that you see things differently, and I'm glad it's the case, but don't be so light judging your mother, just because she knows how to get everything we both need.”
Nina was listening to her mother, but could not agree. There was no justification for her to sleep with a boy if she wasn't in love. But she didn't want to contradict her mother and let her speak without interrupting her.
“When I was your age we women could not do anything without the consent of men. We had no freedom and we could not take the initiative in anything. It was all sin! At the age of fifteen we still wore white socks and it was a whore to wear pants. Now you can dress as you please, you are free to take the initiative and nobody asks you whether or not you are a virgin, because it no longer matters. Would you like those times to return?”
Nina shook her head slightly in denial.
“No, of course not! That is why I do not find it wrong that if two people like each other and want each other, they will have sex without the need a promise of eternal love.. You are free to think otherwise, but at least respect my way of thinking and don't judge me lightly.”
The mother seemed to doubt what she wanted to say next to her confused daughter, but she needed to know.
“Nina, since we will be all together in the apartment we have to do something so that you know when you should or should not enter. I will put the red bath towel on the railing of the terrace so that you know when you should wait on the beach, and when it is not there you will be able to enter. Do you agree?”
That indecent system seemed intolerable to Nina, but for nothing in the world did she want to surprise her mother in bed with a man, so she agreed with an energetic response, which made her discomfort clear.
“Yes, mom, I agree!”
“Well, it's time to continue the trip, we still have many kilometers left, and I wouldn't want to be too late.”
The two women joined the highway and continued the journey without either of them breaking the tense silence created by the restaurant's conversation.
Now the landscape had changed again, and the palm groves were abundant and there were few spaces that were not urbanized. On soft hills there were countless summer houses, with large well-kept gardens, in many cases, with refreshing swimming pools. Twilight reddened the clouds as the sun sank below the horizon, freeing the environment from its suffocating influence.
A few kilometers from their destination, they left the highway and were driving on a narrow road, on whose sides was a sea of plastic with hundreds of greenhouses, under which vegetables were urgently maturing that would invade the supermarkets of northern Europe. It was common to meet Arab-looking greenhouse workers, walk on the shoulder of the road, or ride on ramshackle bikes, so driving on those roads was a constant danger.
Finally they went up a smooth hill from where they could see the town of their destination. The few street lamps were already shining, and a bright full moon illuminated the small bay where a line of apartments settled a few meters from the beach. On the slope where they descended there were spectacular summer houses, many of which were illuminated and their lucky residents, lazily rested on deckchairs on their large terraces. The two women were relieved and amazed at the beauty of the chosen location, but each had a different cause.
“What a wonderful town! Let's try to enjoy this beautiful place without complicating our lives! Okay, Nina?”
Nina did not answer, because she did not share the same enthusiasm as her mother for the expectations of an unforgettable vacation, but she was also overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape.
The town, now dedicated exclusively to tourism, had been an insignificant village entirely devoted to fishing, because the terrain was too dry and arid to allow any kind of cultivation. Torny cactus grew on its slopes, arriving from Mexico five centuries ago, and thriving with threatening profusion throughout the surrounding terrain.
When they entered the main street, which died on the same beach, the two restaurants of the place were still open. Its cozy terraces, lit by Chinese lanterns, were occupied by laid-back tourists and residents of the hillside mansions. The bright light of the full moon was reflected on the bay, nestled among cliffs resembling giant heads that emerged from the sea. On the horizon was the flash of the lights from the lanterns that attracted the valuable sea bass fish, of the few fishing boats that remained in the town.
At that time of night there were still some vacationers lying on the sand, contemplating that overwhelming landscape, or the faint glow of some stars hidden by the mist that remained suspended in the air, after a hot summer day.
Their apartment was on the seafront, a few meters from a golden sandy beach. The highlight was the large terrace, with direct views over the beach and the immense sea, which communicated with a spacious and bright living room through large sliding glass doors.
Nina's mother suggested that a hot bath would take away the fatigue of the trip and they would be in a better shape to finish that first day of their vacation by dining outdoors in one of those busy restaurants. But Nina preferred a quick shower to go to sleep as soon as possible. The mother accepted her suggestion and after showering and changing clothes, they went to the restaurant.
“Do you feel more animated now? Isn't it an ideal place for a vacation? Tomorrow we will spend the whole day on the beach, and we will have a huge and delicious fish grill for lunch. Isn't that what you like?”
Nina knew that her mother was trying to please her to accept the situation in the best possible way, but she still believed that it would not be a happy vacation and did not hide her negative mood.
“They will be good for you, but not for me. I would have preferred to have stayed with the grandparents. I don't know why you insisted that I accompany you.”
“But how can you say that you don't feel good in a place like this? I'm your mother, but frankly, Nina, I don't understand you! I do not know anyone who does not want to spend a few days in this paradise. Don't you like the beach? When you were 3 years old you cried when the last day of the holidays arrived, and we went to some horrible beaches!”
“Dad was there too!”
“Your father is out! Are you never going to accept that we are divorced? There are millions of divorced couples with daughters like you in the world, and they accept it with resignation, parents are not perfect! Daughter, give me a truce, and let's enjoy this short vacation! Agree?”
“I will try.”