By Elahe Nassr
Casey knew I hated crowded places, yet he insisted on taking me to the Venice Carnival for our anniversary. Watching the masquerades with such exaggerated delight, he handed me a mask of his choice. When he saw the pizzeria, he ran straight in like a twelve-year-old, without asking me what I wanted or if I was feeling hungry at all. He thinks he’s doing me a favor, always planning out everything by himself. He assumes he knows everything about me, all my likes and dislikes. But that is just impossible. People change. That’s what he doesn’t realize.
Watching him stand there with his ridiculous joyful grin pushes the most vicious idea into my head. I think I’m even starting to get superstitious, taking his run for the pizzeria as a sign, a rare chance that by no means should be wasted.
I start running in the crowd, glancing at them from the side of my eyes. Some are wearing glamorous gowns, looking like people from the past. For the rest of us, a Colombina mask is the only Venetian costume we have. I take my black hoodie out and put it on fast. I need to cover my entire face too. At the next booth, I buy a new mask, a Bauta, hoping that it’ll make it difficult for Casey to find me. Today, behind these masks, we don’t need to pretend to be someone we’re not. Today, we are not afraid to be ourselves. No, I’m not running away from Casey. I love him. I guess I still do. But now, I just need to be left alone; I need to get lost. The vibration in my pocket says it all. He’s already looking for me. I need to get as far away from here as possible. I run to the nearest gondola stop. As soon as the gondolier starts to propel, I see Casey in the crowd. I giggle, for the first time today, or perhaps in a year. The gondolier warmly smiles, assuming my jolly mood is because of the ride. And I am enjoying it, truly. We reach a quieter place, surrounded by beautiful old houses. “Can I get off here, please?” The gondolier looks surprised, for the ride is not over yet. But unlike Casey, he won’t disagree. “Sì, certo,” he nods.
“Grazie. Arrivederci,” I say, as he helps me get off the boat.
My phone keeps vibrating in my pocket. Eight missed calls! I throw my phone in the water before the ninth one drives me insane. As I see it sinking, I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time, the heat of excitement. I even feel victorious. I will have enough time later to think of the tons of excuses I have to make for Casey. But it’d be a shame to ruin this moment with such thoughts now. I slowly walk down the quiet alley, touching the old damp brick walls. I no longer need to run.
A smoky aroma of coffee takes me to a cozy place, the word “Bar” written on its glass door with white ink, the letter B a little bit faded. I go inside. “Buongiorno signora!” The lady behind the counter gives me the most cordial welcome.
“Buongiorno. Un caffè per favore.” I try to recall all the Italian I learned back in my college days.
Behind my beautiful Venetian mask, I smile. And it’s not one of those smiles you’d make to appear courteous or to look like you care when you don’t. It’s a genuine smile, a rare one. Casey wasn’t wrong after all. The Venice trip and the carnival were indeed lovely. I only wish this could last longer, but it won’t. Tomorrow, I will be wearing my invisible mask again.