It was our second last day in Rome. We where soaking up the atmosphere and sipping cappuccinos right in front of Trivi Fountain. Mum broke the silent. “They say if you throw a coin into the fountain and make a wish you’ll return.” “Go on then,” I smiled, gently nudging her towards the steps. Rummaging around the bottom of my bag I retrieved my camera. In the burning glare of the sun I tracked her navy cardigan weaving down through the crowd. All at once her hair looked whiter than I had noticed before and her movements slower, hesitant even.
It was six months since she tucked the piece of carefully folded newspaper under the side of my plate. I had scanned the advert, ‘Trip to Rome.’ “Will we go?” she dared. There was an air of anticipation about her. My Mum, now in her seventies, hadn’t had much opportunity for travelling. The highlight of her travels consisted of a taxi drive to the hospital to deliver one of us or an odd day to Bundoran or Portrush. Snatched moments in between rearing a family of seven on a farm in rural Tyrone, where only books and radio kept alive her love affair with far away places. None the less I had never heard her complain. I looked up at her then, balancing a teapot in mid-air with the help of her elbow jammed against her hip-bone. Her reality caught me by the throat and I longed to free her from steaming tea-pots and the kitchen sink. “We will” I laughed, leaving no room for ‘what if’ questions to fester and multiply. Life is for living, I thought.
She was laughing now, her back to the fountain, one arm lassoing her handbag, the other high in the air tossing a fistful of coins over her shoulder into the clear aqua water. I took the shot, my mother, Trevi fountain and a camera lens of strangers knowing the image would be imprinted on my memory forever.
When it came to board the plane, the departure lounge pulsated – bulging luggage, goodbye hugs, carrier bags crammed with duty-free goods, mobile phones with manic ring tones. I glanced at Mum. She remained seated, fingering her boarding pass. Touching her elbow I guided her towards the elevator. As the queue thinned and trickled she gingerly stepped on to the moving staircase. We began our ascent. Without warning she turned, her energy heightened, a sense of urgency in her tone. “I don’t want to go. I would love to stay…for a year.” Her eyes searched about her like that of a lost child. “Not just in Rome” she continued, “but the rest of it, I want to see the season’s come and go in the vineyards and on the mountains, Tuscany, San Remo” her voice trailed. The elevator droned, mocking the trail of illusive dreams in our wake. Unsuspecting passengers moved in slow motion behind us, all on their own journeys, absorbed in their own dreams.
Near the top I swallowed hard bowing my head to concentrate on my feet. I reached out my hand to steady Mum but there was no need. My mother was already on solid ground with her hand outstretched to steady me. As she walked towards the departure desk, I silently wished that her wish, plunged deep in the waters of the Trevi Fountain, would, one day, come true.
© Aileen McGee
This story was first published in the Belfast Telegraph and broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster as part of a non-fiction writing project 2005.