Dacia Maraini

was born in 1936 in Florence, the daughter of the orientalist Fosco Maraini and Topazia Alliata. She lived the first eight years of her life in Japan, two of which she spent in concentration camp to atone the anti-Fascistic views of her parents. Her first novel Holiday (1961) was followed by The Age of Evil (1962) which received the Formentor Prize. Her other novels include: By Heart (1967), The Train to Helsinki (1984), or The Silent Duchess (Campiello Prize,1990). Her short stories and poems are collected in Cruelty of Open Skies (1966), Forgotten to Forget (1982), Travelling in the Gait of a Fox (1991). “She is now a best-selling writer, vociferous about women and the Left, who has turned detective.” She is also well known as a playwright and essayist, noted for her text The Child Alberto (1987), an interview with Alberto Moravia, her companion for many years. Dacia Maraini lives in Rome.
Voices (part)

The taxi drops me in front of the gate in the Via Santa Cecilia. But why do I have such a feeling of suspense? I am back home again, I say to myself, I have come back. But how is it that I can hardly recognised this gate, this courtyard, this apartment building with its array of open windows? It feels as if I have a thorn in the roof of my mouth, like the premonition of some disaster. What is waiting for me on this mild morning that brings with it all familiar smells of returning home? What is that weighs down my thoughts as if it wanted to twist them and obliterate them?
My eyes search for Stefana, the doorkeeper. At this time of day she is usually in the porter’s lodge sorting out the mail but I do not see either he or her tall. Lanky husband Giovanni. I cross the courtyard pulling my suitcase behind me; its wheels drag reluctantly across the gravel. I stop for a moment in the middle of the courtyard with its surface of crushed stones and look around me. As always the oleanders and the pink geraniums are still there in the flowerbeds even though they are veiled by a film of summer dust; the little fountain of mossy stone still drips with a noise like the trickle of a broken tap; the two big lime trees are laden with flowers. They seem the only things that are not drooping in the heat and which are impervious to the heavy atmosphere that today hangs oppressively. They stand there with their bundles of downy scented flowers tossing gently in the light summer wind.
The windows overlook the courtyard as if they were watching eyes but today they all seem blind; the stairs too are deserted and strangely silent. With a weary sigh the lift deposits me on the top floor, my floor.
While I am looking for the keys in my handbag, I become aware of a strong smell of hospital disinfectant. I turn round and see that the door of the opposite apartment is half-open. I take a step forward and push it with my finger. I watch it swing back very gently, revealing a passage bathed in sunlight, the fringed edge of a rolled-up carpet and a pair of blue canvas tennis shoes placed neatly beside the door.
My glance lingers. I am puzzled; my eyes are held by those blue shoes so clean and bright in the sunshine, bringing to mind the memory of happy walks, skipping on tiptoe, chasing balls as they fly across tennis courts. Why are they lying there, paired together, motionless, unlaced and undamaged, beside the open door? They are too carefully placed for anyone to have thrown them off impatiently as they came into the apartment. There is something so neat and precise about the way they are exposed to public gaze with the laces wound round the upper part of the shoe.
I can hear voices coming from the other end of the apartment, and then suddenly I see Stefana’s face in front of me with her sad, plaintive eyes.
“Didn’t you know?”
“Know what?”
“She died five days ago, she was murdered.”
“Yes, twenty stab wounds from a frenzied attack … and they still haven’t found him … poor us!”
A soft, expressive voice, the pupils of her eyes sliding up to show the white of the cornea. I am reminded of a painting by Delacroix; a look of alarm as if someone has seen catastrophe hanging above them in their mind’s eye and has been unable to find words to describe it; an indoor pallor that “feeds off the lives of others”, as Marco says. Yet Stefana Mario is an intelligent, well-informed woman. I look at her large capable hands. Can it have been those hands that laid out the body of the dead woman?
“But why on earth was she murdered?”
“No one knows, it seems nothing was stolen … it was just terrible, you should have seen it. Then when the police arrived, along with the examining magistrate, forensic scientists, journalists, photographers, the lot; their dirty shoes went trailing up and down the stairs … The funeral was the day before yesterday … Now we’ve cleaned up everything but there’ll still be police in there measuring … they say that today they’ve going to put seals on the doors.”
I am aware how I am clutching hold of my keys with such force that they are hurting my fingers.
“Stefana, would you like to come in and I’ll make you a cup of coffee?”
“No, I’ve got go back downstairs. There’s no one in the porter’s lodge.”
I heard her quick footsteps as she goes downstairs in her patched shoes that give out a light muffled thud at each step.
I open the door to my apartment and pull my suitcase inside. I sniff the air , which smells shut in and fusty. I throw open the shutters, I bend down to look at the plants. They are flagging, all pale and dusty yet not short of water. Stefana has been watering them every day as we agreed. But being shut away in the silence of an empty apartment makes them lose heart; my plants don’t like being left on their own and they are telling me this very clearly, whispering behind my back in husky voices.
I sit down at my desk in front of a pile of letters which have come while I was away. I open one but realise that I am reading the words without taking in their meaning. I go back to the first sentence two, three times, then I give up. My thoughts, like the yellow donkey I once saw in a painting by Chagall, are flying mysteriously out of the picture frame. I ask myself what I know about this neighbour of mine who was stabbed to death. Nothing. A woman living behind the door opposite to mine and I do not even know her name.
I would meet her sometimes in the lift. I would look at her much as one looks at someone on the next seat in a train or a bus, with a feeling of guilt for my ill-mannered to be interested in the person who lives in the apartment opposite mine?
My neighbour was tall and elegant; her light chestnut hair cut short in the shape of a helmet, a small delicate nose, a well-defined upper lip that when it wrinkled into a smile, revealed slightly protruding infant teeth. The smile of a rabbit I thought when I saw her for the first time, shy and timid like someone who is accustomed to nibbling at secret thoughts. Big grey eyes, a broad forehead, a soft white skin strewn with freckles. Her voice, on the rare occasion I heard it, seemed muffled as if she were afraid of exposing herself or being a bother , a colourless voice lacking expression and surrendering to shyness, yet with unexpected flickers of light-heartedness and daring.
Like me she lived alone while Stefana and her less visible husband watched over us like two indulgent, elderly parents, although in reality they are more or less our own age.
But why did my neighbour often come back so late at night? Sometimes when I was half-asleep, I would hear her door close with a thud and the key being forced to turn in the lock. Even the shutters were bolted with a loud, energetic clatter. Every morning and every evening I’d heard them being slammed open or shut. Why did she sometimes leave looking so furtive and carrying with her nothing but a yellow rucksack?
According to our neighbours, both of us were in need of protection because we lived alone, because we had tiring jobs that often kept us away from home, me with my work for radio and she … but here I am brought to a standstill because I do not know any more.
I pick up the letter again and start reading it. It is a bill from my accountant. Then there is the electricity bill already overdue and the telephone bill only a few days before it has to be settled. Lastly a chain letter telling me to “copy this and send it off to ten friends. If you do this you will have good luck in the future; if you do not you will have trouble for seven years.”
Just like when one breaks a mirror … I thrown it into the wastepaper basket.
My glance falls on the answering machine, the red eye is flashing imperiously. I press the message button.
“Hello Michela, it’s Tirinnanzi. Are you still not back from your refresh course? Ring me as soon as you get back. Bye.”
A click, a rustling, a metallic voice that accentuates the syllables. “Thursday June twenty-third twelve-twenty p.m.” And then a female voice I do not recognise. “Dear Michaela Canova I am …” but the message is interrupted by a mysterious click. The voice reminds me of my neighbour but why should she have wanted to ring me?
Another click, the metallic voice intoning “Friday June twenty-fourth eight-thirty a.m. Excuse me if … I’d like to talk to you about …” But once again the sentence is abruptly interrupted. It really does sound like my neighbour’s voice. But when did she die? Stefana said it was five days ago. But five days would be precisely the 24th of June.
I go on to listen to other messages but I do not hear any more of that hesitant voice with the sudden interruptions. I must find out the exact time of her death, I tell myself. I remove the cassette from the answering machine and put it away inside an envelope.

On the crime pages of the popular press the headlines report the murder in Via Santa Cecilia among many others; a young woman named Angela Bari has been stabbed with a knife and killed. Was it her lover? This “lover” is called Giulio Carlini and lives in Genoa but used to come down to see her once a week.
I try to remember if I ever encountered him either in the passage or in the lift, but my mind is blank. I cannot remember anything about him. If it were true that he came every week. Then I would surely have met him, but whenever I saw her she was always alone. According to the next day’s papers, Giulio Carlini has a cast-iron alibi and a man living with her called Mario Torres, known to be violent and already arrested once before for getting into a fight and causing a public disturbance. Why did the two of them not react immediately to the news of Angela’s death? Why had Mario Torres sold his car only a few days after the girl was murdered? But as someone pointed out, neither had any reason to kill Angela and Torres is a car dealer with plenty of cash. Ludovica is well off with money of her own and the two of them have been living together quite happily for many years. But is their alibi to be believed, demands an insistent journalist from the Corriere della Sera, since although they state they went together to the cinema that evening, they have not kept the tickets?
As the days go by, the papers start criticising the police for failing to discover who is responsible for the crime. What are they doing? Why are they not investigating the case more thoroughly? How could someone kill a girl with such ferocity and not leave any traces? Angela Bari was unknown during her lifetime but now her photograph appears day after day and she becomes notorious and talked about: that fragile smile evokes feelings of tenderness, her childlike body which looks as if it grew up in too much of a hurry, her tight-fitting trousers, loose shirts, the helmet shape of her hair style, her little sky blue tennis shoes. The notoriety she had looked for in life through her appearances in films and in heaven knows how much other humiliation and grief, she has now obtained in death.
Now, a week after she was murdered, journalists are trampling inside Angela’s life with both feet, without any regard for her. How did she manage to survive without having a job? Why did she keep such odd hours? Is it true that she once acted a part in a pornographic film? No one really knows the answer, yet people say they recognise her. Could she have changed her name? It is hinted she was a prostitute … However there is a good interview with Stefana Mario which ends speculation; Angela lived on her own and did not have male visitors except for Signor Carlini who came from time to time, and that was that.
In the Messaggero I come across a lengthy interview with Giulio Carlini, who was in Genoa on the day of the crime; there are four witnesses ready to swear to this.
“Were you the fiancé of Angela Bari?”
“No. Well, in a sort of a way … we saw each other from time to time … but I didn’t have any binding relationship with her.”
“When did you last see her?”
“A few days before her death, in Florence where her mother lives. I met her, we had dinner together, then I went to stay in a hotel and she slept at her mother’s. the next day I went with her to the station where she took the train for Rome and I took one for Genoa.”
“Do you remember what day that was?”
“It was Sunday I think; yes, it was Sunday.”
But if it was on Sunday that Angela went to buy a paper from the local kiosk, how could she have been in Florence with Carlini?
“Did you ever hear of Angela Bari having any enemies?”
“No, not that I knew of.”
“Did she ever tell you she was afraid of anyone or that she was being threatened?”
“No, she seemed quite calm and confident.”
“How would you describe her?”
“Basically she was a shy person with sudden moments of gaiety which took people by surprise because no one expected this from her.”
The black and white newspaper photographs portray a tall thin man with a sunken face; two wrinkles across his forehead, small bright eyes, a clearly defined mouth, something indolent and disquieting around his sensitive nostrils. For several days the newspaper columns are flooded with all the various suppositions about the crime in Via Santa Cecilia; it was her lover, no her ex-husband, but he has been living in America for years. Then it was perhaps a lunatic. Or a maniac, and so on …
They reconstruct the events. On the morning of June 25th the porter Mario goes to the top floor of the apartment building in Via Santa Cecilia in order to collect the rubbish bags as he does every morning. He finds the door of Angela Bari’s apartment half-open, and the light on inside. He rings, he knocks, he calls, and in the absence of any response, he goes in. There in the living room he finds the woman’s body. She is lying on her back naked and lacerated by knife wounds. He is astonished that there should be so little blood on the floor. “The girl looked as if she were asleep,” says the porter. He rings for the police who, after their initial investigation, established that Angela Bari died between ten p.m. and midnight on the 24th of June from an internal haemorrhage caused by knife wounds.
Her sister Ludovica Bari was informed that morning, but does not present herself until the evening. And when she arrives accompanied by her “fiancé” Mario Torres, she refuses to enter the apartment and insist that it should be cleaned immediately. She does not shed any tears and seems more irritable than grief-stricken. A photograph shows Ludovica Bari looking elegant in white trousers, a long shirt of pink silk and a leather jacket falling softly over her hips.
Within the next few days, the accounts in the paper become ever more fantastic and improbable; the police have not succeeded in identifying the killer, so each reporter feels he has the right to invent his own theory. In the imagination Angela Bari becomes transformed into the mysterious victim of a mysterious attacker who kills her because she is a spy, or a drug dealer, or perhaps even belonged to a secret society, or on the contrary, was herself a secret agent working for the police.
The one and only photograph, taken on the terrace against a background of geraniums, with her shirt open showing her thin neck, her sunglasses slightly askew on her nose and her mouth widening into a friendly, childlike smile, gets published in one paper after another throughout Italy. Later on, other photographs are found among her things: photos of her taken for a film, seductive, half-nude, voluptuous pose. Yet they have nothing indecent or vulgar about them. It is now realised that although Angela was described by one journalist as being “like so many young girls, eagerly chasing after a contract”, in all these poses she maintains a composed and innocent look, dignified yet slightly awkward, and this arouses feelings of tenderness and sympathy for her. And possibly this is the reason for her “failure as a sexy actress”, insinuated by one malicious commentator.