It’s two years, almost to the day, since I met Raia. She was one drop in the flood of women who come to Italy from Eastern Europe looking for work and I was interviewing for a live-in carer for my mother. Raia got the job, and for the remaining six weeks of my mother’s life she cared for her with a tenderness I will never forget.
Raia’s story is a fairly typical one. She was born in Siberia and in her teens married a soldier and went home with him to Moldova. Which means she has lived most her 60 years in two of the shittiest places on earth. She raised three children, put them through college and then, having given up all hope of her husband ever putting down the vodka bottle and getting out of his armchair, she caught the bus to Italy.
After my mother died Raia found work looking after another old lady, and then another. There’s no shortage of this work but by definition it’s short-term. It’s also very hard. At the end of a long day of lifting and wiping and soothing and feeding, there’s no family to go home to. Just a bedroom and maybe a text message from one of the kids. Sometimes, on her day off, Raia would come to us, for a meal and some company. But not lately. Actually I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, and when she arranged to see me yesterday I thought maybe she was coming to say goodbye. I thought maybe she’d had enough of other people’s troubles and decided to go home and live with her own. Wrong. I knew the moment she walked through the door. She looked fabulous.
Raia has met someone. A widower, with a comfortable home. His children like her, his grandchildren like her. They should. She’s a doll.
She said – and writing it down brings a tear to my eye – ‘He says he wants to take care of me but I don’t know. I never met a man who said that before. What do you think?’
What I think is it’s early days, but I’m rooting for a fairy tale ending. Poor girl from Novosibirsk ends days on a Lido sun-lounger eating peeled grapes.