The last name from the list of clients to be heard is crossed off, marking the end of the consultation day. Stacey and Mate both breathe a sigh of relief marking also the end of that long week, made up not only of heavy work, but also of emotional turmoil, due to the atrocious events that hit the national news in a couple of days window. No woman felt alone in her pain anymore; each could count on their sister's story, but not on the support of all men.
The two of them said each other goodbye, each turning towards their respective route for the weekend.
She opted for a home delivery, to share dinner on a video call with her friend Loren, who recently moved to Oslo. He heated up in the microwave a leftover burrito from the day before and after starting a washing machine, joined his friends at the pub for a beer.
"Hey Mate! So, how was your week?"
"Don't tell me, I'm exhausted to the point that if it had been up to me, tonight I would have preferred to send you all to hell and stay holed up in the house.”
"Maybe with your redheaded colleague" – they laughed; "How much is she making it hard with you, bro?"
"C’mon guys, work is work. I would never ask out a colleague. Oh, speaking of Stacey, today she told me about Giulia, that poor girl who was killed by her ex. Have you heard/read anything about it?"
The four looked at him perplexed but didn't hesitate to reply back.
"Yes, I heard, but that asshole wasn't that right though. He deserves to rot in jail."
"Yes bro, but it takes a lot to kill a person, duh. Who knows what she might have done to trigger the click in his brain. I think she went looking for it a bit – unless he's completely crazy."
"Shut up, I've already seen the hordes of feminists calling out loudly about 'murder at the hands of the patriarchy'.”
"Those are the worst; they pretend to be considered victims of harassment or assault when maybe someone was just creating a bit of an atmosphere to try with them. Do you think that putting a hand on someone's leg is harassment? To me it seems the minimum to try to create a little closeness. If you don't like it, then go to the convent."
"It seems like you can't even hit on a girl anymore..."
What was happening was nothing more than a script already written and staged thousands of times, but this time Mate was not part of it.
"Well, does it seem bad to you to approach a woman by simply talking to her? I mean, don't you find it a bit primitive that to conquer a person you necessarily have to hold out your hands? What if she doesn't like being touched? Because maybe she didn't like you or she simply doesn't want to. What do you do?"
"Man, have you seen me? Who wouldn't want to sleep with me?" Mark said, sparking laughter at the table. “They must understand that if they want gender equality, they must also be able to play our game, simple as that.”
"Bro but this poor girl was brutally killed by her ex just because he did not accept her dumping him. Do you realize it?"
"Of course I realize it. I'm sorry for her, who fell into this son of a bitch, but I mean: just because some nut killed his girlfriend, I must feel guilty about her death? Seriously? I repeat, I'm sorry for her, but what can we do?"
"Maybe realize that there is a problem in our society and that we - or rather, our mentality - are part of it?"
Silence fell. They all stared at me as if I had said something blasphemous, yet it was the most normal thing I felt like saying.
"Me, you, none of us seem really impressed by the slaughter of women that every day takes place right in front of our eyes, by the hands of ordinary men. Ordinary men, exactly as we are. Doesn't this disgust you? Are you really so anesthetized to empathy, that you don't feel even a little bad at the thought that if today it's Giulia, tomorrow it could be your girlfriend, your sister or your mother?"
"Look Mate, it's better if we end it here. I don't want to argue and besides, these are topics that are too complex to be discussed on a Friday night, in front of a beer. So don't ask yourself strange questions and order yourself another drink, please."
"No thanks, I'm fine. I'd better leave."
"Do as you want and don't get too excited. What's in it for you in the end? Mind your own business Mate, take it easy."
There is no room for dialogue here, there is no will for it. I put my jacket back on and leave the pub.
I hope things can change one day; it won’t be that difficult: how can you not get goosebumps thinking that one day any of the women you love - from your mother to your friend - could be victims of the same hatred, which has its origins in a millenary society based on possession and prevarication as the only forms of power and emancipation of the human being. I take the way home and I can't help but relieve this grip that tightens my chest.
I feel anger and frustration. Why others don’t? But hey, what am I surprised at? Until just a few hours ago, I may not have been exactly like them, but I was certainly as guilty as them. Was it really enough to "wake up" from that squalid and silenced torpor by just listen and not limiting myself to hear? I don't know, I'd like to talk to someone about it, but with whom?
As I get closer to home, instead of wandering off listening to podcasts, I decide to force myself to observe who and what surrounds me. I think I read somewhere that this helps to re-center yourself and have a greater awareness of yourself and others. Look at that group of girls, they laugh light-hearted; that couple on the other hand, who knows what intentions the wrist by which he holds her has; then, her: a young woman walking alone, with one earphone on and one off, intent with one hand at keeping the collar of her coat closed. She walks at a brisk pace, but when she fleetingly crosses my gaze, she accelerates and lowers her head, as if she feels somehow scared by me. Was it really like that? The thought of being able to scare someone, even just with my presence, had never crossed my mind before. I don't know, maybe she was cold, she was in a hurry, but that look, suddenly lowered as soon as we met, struck me. I hope that's not the case; of course, if it were, it must be horrible to live like this, always with your guards up, feeling like a hunted animal – at least, that's what I imagine it feels like. Feeling like a prey at the mercy of a totally random fate, in which understanding whether you are dealing with a hunter (ruthless or not) or an ally is a real lottery. Well, if that girl really had even a sliver of fear when I passed by, I would really like her to have known that I would never hurt her. No one should experience the discomfort of having to speed up their pace to feel "safer" – just as no one should display inappropriate attitudes of any kind, even more just to show off unscrupulousness and power over the others, “to have fun". But what can I do to change all this even a little? How can I really help?
I put the keys in the lock, flush my thoughts down the shower drain, and try to fall asleep with a happy thought by scrolling videos of red pandas.
"Bzzt-bzzt", "bzzt-bzzt", "bzzt-bzzt".
If your phone keeps buzzing with a call at 9am on Saturday, or it is an emergency (possibly extraordinary work issues), or your dad has forgotten that it is the one day of the week where you exist only from noon onwards, or something dares to challenge the order of things of the only morning of rest of a consultant at the edge of burnout.
Incoming call from Stacey.
"Hey Mate, what’s up?"
"Well, I would have preferred to continue sleeping, thank you. How was your evening? Was it nice?"
"Let's say 'yes'. Look, I know it may seem bizarre to you, especially so suddenly, but... do you have any plans for this afternoon?"
Surprised, I straighten my back on the pillow to sit down – "This afternoon? No, I don't think so."
"Oh great! Then you can't say no to me!"
I smile – "For what?"
"Be ready by 2pm and you'll see."
"I'll see what?"
"You'll understand! Just, please, be ready for that time, ok?"
"Can you at least tell me how I should dress?"
"Casual is more than fine."
"Now excuse me boy, but I got to go, see you later!"
"Don't worry, I'll see you lat–" she already hung up.
Well, at this point, I'd say it's time to get up, since any hope of being able to go back to sleep, now that the neighbors’ son has started to play the scales with the piano, has just vanished.
1.59pm, at the same time as I leave the door, I see Stacey crossing the street with a small group of people – who, I suspect, are with her. I admit, if I was already confused about what was going on earlier, now I'm even more so.
"Hey, you! You're right on time! Mate, meet my friends: Sonia, Janet, Emma, Rick and Julio."
"Hi everyone, nice to meet you guys!"
"You'll have time to get to know each other better later, in the meantime let's get going or we'll be late."
"Do you finally want to tell me where are we going or this is something so off-limits that once we are done, we will have to disappear from the face of the Earth?" – curiosity was eating away at me and honestly, I wasn't used to not being in control of my actions. It was a strange sensation. Her "You will see" wrapped in her placid smile, however managed to quell my curiosity, while all around I started noticing a frenzy that I hadn't realized until a few moments before. As we proceeded, it was more and more present and I couldn't help but notice the progressive formation of many small gatherings of groups of mostly girls and women, of all ages. Gradually I also began to distinguish a roll of drums, coming from the back of the block that separated us from the main square and the shouting of the crowd, which was gradually consolidating, progressively increased.
"What event is this?" I asked, raising my voice so the others could hear me. My question was immediately answered, without even having to wait for a response: “International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’s March – GATHERING POINT HERE” the gigantic banner was waving right in front of us.
How funny, it is really true that what we see and hear is what we choose to see and hear.
“Y la culpa no era mía, ní dónde estaba, ní como vestía! Y la culpa no era mía, ní dónde estaba, ní como vestía!”.
The drums and choirs resounded, burning in the chest like an ancestral fire. I had never felt such an astonishing and vibrating human strength in my life – nothing comparable even to a World Cup final, at all. Here every person roars for oppressed and denied fundamental rights, not for teams of privileged people. Here is the scream of life for those who haven't had the strength to raise it. Here I can only recognize my privilege and choose to listen to what women have to say, ask and demand. Here I can choose to start doing my part in dismantling the patriarchal culture of our society, impregnated with toxic masculinity, and become an ally of those who experience discrimination firsthand every day, at the cost of their lives.
“Insieme siam partite, insieme torneremo, non una di meno, non una di meno!”
Not one (woman) less.