There are certain days when god smiles upon me, Pietro Trigiani. Such a day was the Monday in April, 2000, when Anna Maria Maraj entered my office. She looked very uncertain. She looked about, to see who was in my modest room even before she entered.
"You are Avvocato Trigiani?"
"Yes." I believe I was smiling at the woman. She was very lovely, even though she wore the cloth of a vedova, a widow.
"Come in please."
"I have no appointment."
"You do not need one today, Signora Maraj."
"You know me?"
I smiled again. I wished her to be at ease.
"I know you from the town. I see you in the market each day."
"Do you know my husband, Ridvan?"
"No, I do not. Is it important?"
"He is lost. Many days now. Weeks even."
"Ah yes. I remember. I read it in the newspaper. I am very sorry for your loss."
"They say he has drowned ... at sea. He was a fisherman. He and his brother. They are both lost."
"It is a great tragedy. Is there some way I can help you?"
"Yes. I wish to divorce him. I wish to have my name back."
I was startled by her request. It was very unusual. I did not understand.
"Signora Maraj, you must tell me more. What you ask is unusual. I must know more."
"I want to divorce Ridvan Maraj, my husband. I want my good name returned. Perhaps, if I am fortunate, I can have my dignity returned."
I opened my journal and began to write. Anna Maria Maraj. Divorce?
"Signora, will you please hand me one Euro or one thousand lire."
She looked at me oddly for a moment before opening her purse and finding a one thousand lire note, handed it to me.
"Excellent. From this moment, you are my client and I am your lawyer. Anything you tell me will be held in confidence. No one else will know unless you choose to tell them. Do you understand?"
"Very well. I must know all the facts. Everything. Can you do that?"
She nodded. Her face held no expression. No frown, no smile. Her eyes told me nothing.
"Why do you wish to divorce your husband if he is lost?" I began.
"I do not believe he is lost. I believe he has returned to Albania."
"Why do you think this?"
"He is a criminal. He and his brother are using their boat to do illegal things."
"What manner of illegal things?"
"Smuggling people to Italy. Perhaps drugs as well."
"How do you know this?"
"He has caught no fish for many months and yet he has money. I heard him talking with his brother Olek. I know they have been bringing people from Durres to a place near Vieste." She paused for a moment, he eyes searching for something.
"These people they bring. They are criminals too. They pay Ridvan much money to be transported in secret. They must pay in either American dollars or Euros. Nothing else."
"I see. Do you know why he has not returned to his home?"
"No. I am not sure. Perhaps because he knows I do not love him. I have never loved him. I kept my part of the bargain. That is all. I have paid the debt."
"Tell me about this debt ... this bargain." The woman was now quite fretful and unsettled. She was wringing her hands and pursing her lips as she looked downward, swaying in the chair. I wanted to know more about her and this strange situation.
"My parents got into some trouble with Ridvan. I was never told the nature of this debt. I was given to him as his wife in payment. It was against my will, but I could not risk him doing harm to my family."
"I see. Has something changed?"
"My father died suddenly and my mother left to be with my brother in America. She is safe now. My other relatives live in Campania, away from his influence. Ridvan knows he cannot hold me, despite his threats."
"What are his threats?"
"He said he would kill me if I tried to leave him."
I was shocked. I had never encountered such a thing before in my career.
"Did your parents know of his activities?"
"No. I did not want to upset them."
I sat back, thinking. I was drawn to this woman. I did not know quite why, although she was very lovely. I thought that she was not much older than thirty years. She was dark, southern in appearance, but much more refined and exotic, almost like an Egyptian queen in ancient history. There was a deep, golden cast to her perfect skin with very straight, long hair as black as coal. Her eyes were so dark, I was sure they were black as well. I had no choice. I would help this woman.
"Please, Signore Trigiani, I wish to be known again as Anna Maria Delvecchio. That is my family name."
"Of course. May I call you Anna Maria?"
"Very well, Anna Maria. Have you reported the activities of your husband to the police?"
"No ... I do not trust them."
"I see." I stopped for a moment to think. "If I could find someone in authority that you could trust, would you be willing to tell them about your husband and his activities?"
"Perhaps. Provided he cannot find me and hurt me."
"I would never allow you to be in danger. I could not forgive myself if you were harmed by something I did."
She looked up at me now, and I saw the beginning of a smile. I felt my innards tighten and my head swim. She could destroy men with a smile. Why was I burdened with a faithless wife when a beauty such as Anna Maria was here, living in the same little town?
"I will prepare the papers for application to divorce Ridvan Maraj right away, but as you know, it will take three years for it to be legally acknowledged. I can tell you that from my own experience. There is no shorter method. However, we can date the separation to the day he disappeared."
"What if he did disappear at sea? If he never comes back, will it still be three years?" She was anxious again. Frustrated? I believed she wanted this over with much sooner than three years.
"That will take some investigation on my part. I do not know the law on such matters. I will study that and tell you what I have learned. It may be much quicker and less difficult than divorce."
I saw a look of hope on Anna Maria's beautiful face. I would treasure that moment. I felt the stirring in my loins and cautioned myself. She was a client and not available to me.
"Anna Maria, how are you living? Do you have sufficient money to survive?"
"Yes, the money in the bank has not been touched. There are over twenty million lire in the account. I can live for many months without concern."
"So, you have access to that money then?"
"Yes. There was never very much money in that account until last year. I was using it to buy food and necessities. Then, last year, I noticed a large amount appear unexpectedly."
"Did you ask your husband about it?"
"No. I was sure it was illegal money. I did not want to know."
"Yes ... probably wise. Your husband sounds like a dangerous man. Did he truly threaten to kill you?"
She nodded, her head down, looking at her hands folded in her lap. "I had no doubt he would. He saw me only as someone he could use for his own pleasure and to keep our home."
"I can only hope he has truly gone," I said. I wondered if she could understand my sincerity.
"No more than I," she replied.
"Anna Maria, I will look into the law on his disappearance and tell you of your choices. I should know by Thursday, this week. Can you come to my office that afternoon?"
"Yes. I am anxious to have this marriage end. It matters not how that is accomplished."
She rose and after I gently held her hand for a moment, I said goodbye. She turned and left my office.
I stood for several moments before walking to the window to watch her leave the building and walk slowly toward the piazza. I would do whatever I could to rid her of that black cloth and return a smile to her face.