Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Truth about Alice and Bob

This story took place centuries ago, in the quaint Mediterranean city of art and culture, Florence. The Renaissance was at its peak. There are no instances of threats to network security, plagiarism or the likes in this simple story that inspired the need for secure communication.
When Roberto beheld Alicia's face for the first time, little did he know of the impending repurcussions of that single gaze. He saw her at the festival of the sacred Madonna. There was to be a masque after the divine procession. The sun was about to set, the street was covered by swarms of people wearing masks. Roberto had slipped out of his mansion without the knowledge of his father and his servant Lorenzo. Masques were for common folk, not for pure aristocratic blood. Roberto had a protected childhood, away from the streets of Florence, so that his mind wouldn't be tainted by the radicals who preached new things. Roberto heard the commotion in the street and sauntered quietly out of the house to satisfy his curiosity.
She was beside him. He noticed her uncanny beauty when she took off her mask to gain respite from the heat. She had raven coloured hair, deep blue eyes and a startled expression. She noticed him and covered her face quickly. He later came to know that she was Alicia, daughter of Alonso the skilled cobbler. Thereafter, Roberto made several trips to Alonso's workshop, everytime with a pair of boots that needed mending, with the hope of seeing Alicia. She would come in occasionally, bearing refreshment for Alonso's customers, casting a cursory glance in Roberto's direction. Within a few weeks the two found themselves in the middle of a whirlwind romance, to the knowledge of almost everyone in Florence. The families soon became aware of this affair. 'It is shameful! You are a disgrace!' , hollered Roberto's father. 'They are not people like us', dismissed Alicia's father, as he locked her up in the basement. Young lovers back then didn't have the luxury of computers or the internet, but they had the sympathy of their friends and servants. Alicia's trusted friend Maria and Roberto's servant Lorenzo devised a cunning scheme that would enable the lovers to correspond with each other through letters. Roberto would send Lorenzo on an errand. Lorenzo would carry 'the letter' in a special crevice in the sole of his boot. He would travel through a forgotten underground passage to meet Maria and hand the letter to her.
The correspondence served no purpose. In a few months Roberto was married, against his wishes, to the plain daughter of a wealthy landlord. (It is said that the keeper of records in the mayor's office detested Roberto's wife so much that he erased any trace of her existence from the official books. People prefer to call her Trudy for no apparent reason.) Alicia was married to Gattusso, the local idiot, as punishment for her disobedience. The lovers felt more vulnerable than they ever had. Trudy was a shrewd woman who did more than mind her own business. She soon became aware of her husband's illicit affair. Alicia started to receive anonymous death threats.
Alicia and Roberto started to use codes for their messages. The letters were routed cleverly, they passed through several hands before they reached their rightful receipients. Still, Trudy wasn't to be deterred. Not only did she figure out the codes, she also worked out the way the letters travelled on different days of the week. Roberto and Alicia were found guilty of adultery by the church and the government. Alicia's father, knowing that his life in Florence was doomed, moved with his family to the quiet town of Tuscany. Roberto, disillusioned and devasted, died an untimely death at the age of 30. It is not known what became of Alicia and Trudy.

1 comment:

Abhijit Pai said...

An ancestor of mine was the confidant of the keeper of records in that mayor's office. Just before the keeper died, he let this person know that Trudy, in fact, stood for Gertrude. People managed to get the name Trudy out of the confidant before he passed away. This "expansion", however, was a closely guarded family secret until I made it public now.

Gertrude, by the way, is also Hamlet's mother's name.