Rome, end of the sixteenth century
When I first saw the painter, back in 1594, I couldn't get a very good look at him. I wasn't working. One of my earlier clients had been, shall we say, a little rough. My eye was black and blue and my ribs hurt when I breathed in and out. He had broken my ring finger on my right hand. The bones never grew back properly and that finger would always be a little bit crooked. This was before I had a pimp. My aunt and my mother whored me out back then.
I wasn't born in Rome but in Sienna. The painter used to use a lot of sierra-brown paint. It reminded me of home. My father died not long after I was born and I have no real memories of him. If he hadn't died, I used to wonder, would we have been respectable, but poor? But no matter, he did die, and we had no source of income and only debts in Sienna. My aunt Pietra waited tables in Rome. My mother and my brother and I made the journey there. For everything would be possible in Rome. Everything seems possible when you are twelve.
We made the journey by coach. It was on that voyage that I met Anna and her family. She and her family were also making it to Rome and our two families hit it off. Anna was a year older then me and I had often tought that we became friends because we met on the way to Rome, not in Rome itself. You don't make friends in Rome.
Anna was so shy. She had long red hair and was smaller then me. She was pretty, compliant. Which is why it suprised me when she was the one to object when were sent out on the street, not long after our arrival in Rome. But we had no food, no clothes and waiting tables was not sufficient. There is no bread in respectability. What else were we to do? So we both did it. I heard her cry with her first customer. I resolved not to cry out with mine.
We always sought out clients together. If we used the back of alleys to hitch our skirts up, the other one would be on the look out. It was Anna who pointed out the painter out to me, that afternoon in the tavern.
I was just a common street whore then, not yet the courtisan they would call me. He was about ten years older then me, in his mid twenties. He was drinking in the tavern. I was skulking in the back, Anna next to me. Like I said, I was pretty beat up from my former client. It would at least be two weeks until I would lose my blue eye. He didn't see me. As I found out later, he didn't look at you, unless he really wanted to look at you. Then he saw everything.
But even if I couldn't see him very good with only my one eye, I looked and liked what I saw. He always dressed in black. He had bushy eyebrows, too long hair and a sardonic smile. A smile should be happy or make a person attractive. It just made him slightly repellant, like his smile forewarned the trouble he was going to cause.
And he was trouble.
I must have made the moment of seeing him for the first time bigger in my mind, made it more then it was in hindsight. I think that's because that was the first and only time that I could watch him without him watching me. Without the endless battle between us. When I saw him again, three or four years later, when I was eighteen, he looked at me in return. He didn't look away after that.