Five days ago. My little girl was at 30,000 feet. Somewhere over central France.
Then she turned left and landed in Rome. Without her mum and dad. Without a posse of schoolteachers. Just Jessica and two of her friends.
At 17 years and 10 months – give or take a day – my daughter had let herself loose on Europe. The Eternal City welcomed Jessica.
How did I feel about it? Relaxed. Resigned. Nervous. Anxious. Terrified. Excited for her.
Was I worried about muggers, pickpockets and Italian men? Of course I was.
I said as much to my wife. “Stop being stupid,” she said. “We’re not going to drag her round town buying school uniform for ever. Children grow up.”
She was right. I glanced into Jessica’s bedroom. Her sensible school shoes had been thrown in a corner. The killer heels had been packed.
We were informed of the impending trip in September.
“We’re going on holiday after the exams. Maybe eight or nine of us.”
“OK. That’s fine. Where are you going?”
“It was unanimous. We’re going to Ayia Napa.”
Ayia Napa? Even allowing for the sheltered life I’ve led I didn’t need Wiki to tell me about Ayia Napa. How much did I want my daughter going there? Not at all.
But my job as a father is simple. Keep quiet. Jessica had worked all summer. She’d saved up the money. It was her choice. And that was that. All through the winter I suffered visions of Ayia Napa, triple shot cocktails and every other fear parents conjure up when they’re awake at three in the morning.
“How are the holiday plans doing?” I tentatively asked some time around February.
“Cool. We booked it last week.”
Great. I tried to look enthusiastic. “Where are you staying?”
“Here. I just showed mum.” A rare show of engagement. I hurried over to her laptop. Collina Suites, Rome, Italy.
“That’s in Rome,” I said stupidly.
“That’s because we’re going to Rome. Duh.”
“I thought you were going to Ayia Napa?”
“Not since November. We’re going to Rome. Just the three of us.”
Awesome. An entire winter’s worth of unnecessary worry. No wonder my hair was turning grey…
The first reports filtered through. Bruschetta and carbonara for lunch. Paninis and beer for dinner. They were planning a trip to the seaside. Florence was only 1½ hours away on the high-speed train. Nerves, anxiety and terror seemed to be giving way to a new emotion. Yep, as I suspected. Jealousy…
I finally started to relax. I’d never really been worried. That was, until last night.
“Have you heard from Jessica?”
“I got a text an hour ago.” My wife was using her should-I-tell-him voice.
“What’s it say?” I asked anxiously.
“Can you check how much money is left on her travel card? She says the cash machines are all in Italian.”
Jessica had told me that only Italian she knew. It certainly wasn’t a word you’d find on a cash machine. “She wants me to go the corner shop in the monsoon?”
“Thirty four euros,” I said five very wet minutes later. “What else does she say?”
“She’s met some men who are in the Mafia. She says they definitely are because they have cigars and a secret handshake.”
“Sounds more like the freemasons.”
“She says they’re seeing them again…”
What!? Why hadn’t she gone somewhere safe like Ayia Napa? Impressionable young girls, men who will say anything…
Of course I couldn’t sleep. I could see it all. Jessica – my little girl – clutching some swarthy Lothario with a bulge under his armpit. “Dad, this is Mario. He’s going to make you an offer you can’t refuse…”