I was working in Milan before Christmas 1996, and my new pupil then was Michela. We met through Roberta, another pupil, and I had met Roberta through her cousin, yet another. It was like that then: one would recommend me to another, and she to another, and so on until my days were filled.
Michela was going to Canada that Christmas, in five weeks time, and she wanted to improve her English for the trip. Routine conversation work, I thought: shopping vocabulary for ladies who lunched and loved the cachet of a private English tutor, their own tall, blond, blue-eyed stranger... But I was wrong, Michela was not like that.
A block of ten lessons was arranged on the phone, two lessons a week, discount for cash in advance, and I turned up at the door of her condominio on a beautiful late autumn afternoon, with a hazy sun at my back and the clear Alps visible. "Ah, Signorina Michela," said the porter, "sì, terzo piano" and he rang up before me.
She came out to meet me, I remember, came out of her apartment and stood on the landing to see me as I walked up the stairs, and as I turned the last flight I looked up for the first time to see Michela broad and smiling, Michela tall and welcoming. It was a moment when nothing is said, when nothing needs to be said, for you both know that here is Change: that the daily stream has suddenly altered course, has sprung over a lip of rock and hangs, suspended for a moment in perfect clarity.
She was an artist, drawing for a well-known animation company. Her work was to sit at home and produce drafts of cartoon characters, for which she was paid not very much. She rented the flat with another woman, whom Michela did not get on with, although I met her only once and cannot confirm her awkward character. This flat mate was to move out while Michela was in Canada, then two American girl students would move in for a few months and help to pay the bills.
Well, the lessons were had, though it did not take long before our minds were not entirely on the pluperfect tense; more on the quick eyemeets that intensified; on the brushing of hands where contact was each time broken just a little later; on the after-lesson conversations that became quickly more intimate. Each going to Michela's became more important, each leaving took longer, and there came a point when we looked at each other with a wonderful rightness, and smiled.