Part I of III of "Lidia's Day"
The reluctant darkness returned the hills of Rome to the light, the first conquest of the daily struggle. Clients at the doors of their patrons, families gathered around their shops and ateliers, turning the sitting in something more welcoming for the Fortune-favored at the top. Two palms above the rest of the crowd, Lídia navigated it with calm confidence, head humbled low and a joyful smile, letting herself be cradled by the routine and simplicity of her morning duties: fill the enormous bronze vessel under her arm, not much heavier than her conscience.
Her grin widened as she found herself beneath the shadow of the magnificent stone structure whose massive raised arches invaded Rome. The legacy of the spoils seized from Pyrrhic’s ambitions that turned the dream of destruction into life-giving elixir.
Through way of human ingenuity, the Anio valley was persuaded to abdicate its precious water, singing across new paths, gurgling about freedom and harmony.
Lídia allowed her mind to wander, resigning herself to wait; dozens of women, children and slaves waited for an opportunity to approach the fountain. It was arduous and ungrateful work, whoever, one essential to the industry and survival of Rome.
Hugging her vase, Lídia waited patiently, appreciating the lazy beams cast by Apollo Sol as they caressed her face. A shadow befell upon her and interrupted this moment of casual leisure, her eyes opening wide as she recognized what quickly replaced contemplation with horror. The metallic clamor of bronze hitting the stone slabs communicated the end of the placid hour, spreading murmurs and pointed fingers as all attention turned to the top of Aqua Anio.
A young woman, her arms covered in bruises and a vitreous gaze climbed the aqueduct; her limbs shook and trembled due to the effort, only finding strength in her despair. Finally reaching the top, she turned and looked back to the city that slowly woke hill to hill, a city that had no place for her. She discarded her sandals and approached the edge, where stone and water wielded to the domain of air. Behind her, only tragic oblivion.
Forwards, the only opening for liberty.
At her side, a speeding scarlet streak.
“I swear to the Manes, I will throw myself if you get one step closer!” She shouted, threatening that which soon took the shape of a tall woman covered by a scarlet hood. “I really mean it! I need this more than life itself!”, the wind dances across the rushing water of the aqueduct, marking with ripples the silence between the two women.
“I understand.” Aeneid declared after calm observation. “It makes sense that you wish to end your life. Your life sucks.”
The suicidal woman stopped, mouth gaping wide. Lídia shrugged and crossed arms.
“Am I wrong’ Is it only apathy that brings you here, without a driving despair that seeks a solution of such finality?”
“N-no.” The youth muttered, not without hesitating for an instant, the slightest hint of incredulity in her own words. “It is true, my life is horrible. I am well within my rights to see it over.”
“Who knows, maybe you will complete it this time.”
“How do you...”
“I was the one that saved you the last three times” Aeneid extended her hand, palm open towards the sky. “Despise my striking looks, I can be discreet when I wish to. The majority of folks do not need more than a few nights of reflection after a close encounter with Dis Pater to find other alternatives; so many only need a nudge in the right direction. Someone must be in deep trouble to force me to reveal myself.”
“I do not understand what is going on.” Genuinely confused, the youth wondered what had brought Aeneid to the top of the aqueduct. “Are you here to persuade me to live?”
“Let me put this in no uncertain terms: if you throw yourself down, I will catch you. If you try to drown in the Tiberis, I will drag you to safety. If you leave home at night and wander the alleys of Rome in search of a violent end, I will follow you and assure that you will not find any ruffian until the new dawn shines again.
“What did I do to deserve such cruelty?” The eyes of the youth brimmed with tears. “Do you want to blackmail me into living this life? This is ridiculous. What do you care about it or what I do with it? Are there no tyrants to kick or fires to put off?”
Aeneid closed in despise the previous warning, pulling her hood back just enough to present the youth with a most radiant smile.
“If you finish this, you will be the first person to make such attempt for the fourth time after I tried to save them. I think that once you do that, your situation becomes extremely important to me.”
The youth unleashed a cynical laugh.
“I should have expected something of the sort. I insulted your heroic pride.”
Steady in her strong and inspiring smile, Aeneid did not say another word; if it helped the youth to believe that pride motivated her, let her continue to believe that is the truth. Despise her deceptively casual tone, Lídia’s mind was galloping furiously, trying to cover all the dark paths that could have led the woman to this mire. If she was definitively determined to end her life, she would have killed herself in secret at her house, where Aeneid or others would have problem intervening. Such public suicide attempts were a cry for help, a tragedy in the making all too easy to avoid with just a pinch of empathy. If the youth really believed that there was nothing worth to live for, the first step had to be validating her opinion, confirm her fears and finally extend a reassuring hand after having established themselves as someone that comprehended your problems. Having achieved this grounding gesture, Lídia finally could focus efforts in improving the fate of other woman.
“What is your name, girl?”
“Novia.” She replied, bored. “Can we go down? I have other things to do if I am going to see the end of today.”
Aeneid leaned her head.
“Curious words. The dead people with which I usually deal do not have that many plans for the rest of their lives.”
“My husband is expected to return back from his voyages during the next days. I want to have the house well-tended and a new tunic waiting for him.”
Hymen Clementis. Husband? The girl was not much more than a child, Lídia uncertain if she had had her first period. And there she was, married and with a household under her care.
“They sound like happier plans than those that brought you all the way up here.” Aneied approached and put her left hand over Novia’s shoulder. “Houses and tunics are only things. How much would your husband suffering, arriving to a home in mourning?”
“Relief, most likely and little else. He would finally get rid of me.” Novia bit into her lower lip. “I am dead weight imposed upon him by our parents, a way to transfer proprieties in Pompey as dowry, and to establish a new branch that could directly manage such houses. We are both mere pawns for the ambitious of our elders, cold tools without any bonds between them. He is nothing to me, a stranger without care and whose gestures fail to touch me.”
The youth winced, Lídia immediately reading the implications hovering over them, unsaid. Intimacy and love would only open new fears and dangers to someone that young.
“Why did you not just sell the proprieties?” Aeneid inquired.
“We would be left at the mercy of the decisions of the State and Municipium, as my father does not have full citizenship.” Novia explained the best she could, doing rather well for her limited comprehension behind her matrimonial situation. “This assuming that the family of my husband would have in the first place the means to pay a fair price; who has that amount of money in coins and metal? Talks dragged on and eventually my father was convinced that this union would be an opportunity to assure that the houses will bring prosperity to the family. After all, eventually he would have to set aside a dowry for me anyway.
“They probably thought this would be the simplest and most obvious solution.
Aineid released her and turned her back to the youth.
“Maybe it was such for them. But here are the two of you, forced into a marriage without friendship, without common purpose or dreams.”
“Not even a common life, Triumphant. As miserable as that would be.” Novia followed Lídia and pulled the corners of her cloak. “You do not know how lonely my existence is. He spends weeks between our proprieties in Pompey, collecting rents, sending money to our parents and following suit with outrageous plan after outrageous plan. What do I have? An old house in the Urbe that I try to maintain by myself. Rome scares me and I do not know or trust anyone, leaving me alone between four walls and with all too much idle time.”
Fertile ground for living nightmares and transforming anyone into a mere prisoner of dread and terror.
“Married life is arduous.” Said the technically single woman without stable relationships or a marriage in sight. “It is made of high and lows; this period is one of the most painful, however, the situation can only improve. Rome can become your home, comprehension will bloom once you have time to know each other, good Fortune can germinate between the two. “
Novia turned her head away, a passive way to communicate how much she disagreed with Aeneid.
“Ah. Of course, we are talking about it atop the aqueduct, is it not so?” Lídia was quick to correct herself. “Obviously you do not believe this can improve. This is all that your life can amount to.”
The youth faced her again, eyes shining with a hope she dared to feel again; someone that could understand her, would such thing be possible?
“Shortly after our wedding, me and my husband traveled to the land of his family ancestors, so that I could present myself to her Sabine relatives and be accepted as the new heir of their legacy, honoring it with our union. I was beyond happy.” A soft smile crossed her lips. “I felt in love with the region and found everything charming and exciting. It was when we reached the necropolis that a dark cloud descended upon me and never dispersed. I read epigraph after epigraph, finding myself surrounded by the testimony of generations of young brides and mothers, not much older than me. Their story terminated before it even started.
Lídia started to choke; Noiva took her hands against her chest.
“There, between those epigraphs, lies my destiny; that is where this tormented path leads and there is no escape for me. I belong to the Underworld, I will never meet the person that I can become, or whom my sons and daughters will be. This idea took root, making a final solution tempting; my life is miserable and will end in a bloody bed. Why should I postpone the inevitable? Why should I not spare everyone the suffering that I cause me and the others by sustaining the illusion that I might survive?
Aeneid was struggling against tears, reminding herself over and over again that she was supposed to be the inspiring torch standing against despair. Bowing before Novia, making sure that her hood covered wet eyes, offered the woman the biggest smile of her life, to much torture of her gums and cheeks.
“Such thoughts do not belong in the mind of a brilliant girl with her life ahead of her.”
There it was, that shine in her eyes.
But what was Lídia offering?
What she could do to save Novia’s life?
Which words could drive off the specter of the history of horrors that she had faced in the necropolis? How could cheering words compete against those that the youth had read?
Wait. Read? Novia was literate.
Tears refused to be restrained any longer; Aeneid released a warm and comforting laughter in an attempt to distract from them.
“Is it not obvious what do you need, Novia? A divorce!”
The youth opened her mouth wide in horror.
“Our families will never accept such thing! I am lonely enough as it is, I cannot become a pariah in the eyes of my own, I have already enough problems.”
“Trust me, Novia. I am sure that your family will eventually validate your choices as soon as they see how much it benefits all parts.” The smile remained firm, immune to all the negativity.”
With the divorce, the proprieties shared as dowry do not revert to your father, but to you, assuring its financial autonomy. Your husband returns to Rome, you return to Pompey; everyone where they belong. The houses will be administered by an entrepreneurial girl that knows more about the family business than they give her credit for. Your in-laws will become investors, and once both of you are mature enough, you can renew your vows.
Lips closing towards Novia’s ear, she added.
“Years will go by and Novia will grow, not only as a woman but as a citizen. Who knows the friendships she will cultivate in the meanwhile? Who knows if broken vows can be reforged. One thing is certain, the Novia that we still have not met will have a family the sort the one in front of me cannot even imagine.”
“I have no legal representation.” Novia replied, stepping away from Lídia. “None of our patrons will help me in what they will see as an act against my husband and his family.”
“Do you think I am the sort to make empty promises? The biggest threat for the freedom of a people is the difficulty the poor and oppressed have in obtaining just and fitting legal representation. I have in my team one of the best legal minds of this generation and he will be glad to defend your case.”
Crying of happiness, Novia hugged Aeneid’s waist. Caressing the girl’s head, Aeneid took the opportunity to cry together.