“Fanchie?” I called to my daughter who was in the kitchen when I heard the crash.
“Scusa Mamma,” she said in her I-am-guilty voice.
“Stand where you are, DO NOT MOVE.” I quickly rinsed my toothbrush and headed that way, to check the damage. She had gotten into the new habit of breaking things in my kitchen because she wants to do the dishes. It was my Batman mug. I just had coffee in it a while ago.
“Scusa Mamma,” she said again and started to move.
“FERMA,” I said, “You DO NOT move until all this broken pieces are cleaned up.” She looked at me somewhat confused. I normally would make her clean up her mess and I suppose she expected to clean this one too, but there I was telling her not to move.
“I’ll clean it,” I clarified.
“I was only trying to clear the table,” she said. I smiled at her. Lately she has been exhibiting a sense of responsibility a little too advanced for a five years old and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I wanted her to be a child and to enjoy her childhood.
“It’s okay,” I said, bending over the pieces with a waste bin. I started picking the bits.
“I’ll help you.” She took a step towards me. She was barefoot .
“NO.” And a piece cut right through my thumb and index finger.
“Shoot.” I instinctively raised my fingers to my mouth but was aware she was watching me. “this is what happens when you break mugs.” The irritation sounded in my voice. She nodded, I could see she was fighting to keep a straight face.
“Mamma is sorry, I didn‘t mean to yell at you.” With that she broke into a wail and I exhaled. Now that’s a normal child, I thought.
Well another habit she developed is to cry until it becomes one long annoying sound with no connection to the original reason why she started it in the first place. She carried on and I ignored her because I knew any minute now Arianna, the babysitter, will come and it will be all over. As soon as the doorbell rang she stopped and ran to it.
“Sono brava?” Fanchie asked Arianna without even saying hello.
“Of course you are a good girl,” Arriana responded with a puzzled smile, "and hello to you too,” she added, ruffling Fanchie’s mad curls. She took a hold of Arrianna’s hand and led her to me.
“Arianna said I am a good girl,” she announced.
“Of course you are a good girl,” I replied.
“But Arianna thinks so,” she said as though Arianna’s approval was more authentic than mine. I smiled and looked at Arianna who simply shrugged and smiled back.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” I said.
“Tranquilla, today is my day off so you can take two if you want,” Arianna assured me, then went on to ignore me as she went over her plan for the day with Fanchie. Which reminded me to be thankful I found her as a babysitter. Unlike any I had used before, there is never an idle moment for Fanchie with Arianna. I headed out.
Amleto was shining his tumblers when I walked in.
“Ciao Bella, come va?” he greeted, I nodded and planted myself on a stool in front of him. There was a beautiful calming music in the background playing. It was an improvisation of Yanni’s Almost a whisper. It was soothing. I let it wash over me for a while then I remembered why I was there.
“Amleto, un bicchiere di vino per favore,” I ordered a glass of wine, feeling a bit awkward.
“Frizzante vero?” I nodded. He set the frizzling drink before me, I picked it then cleared my throat.
“Listen, I need to find the boy that bought me a drink yesterday. Do you remember him?” “Him?” he said, nodding to the far end of the bar and there behind the pianoforte was Matteo playing. I felt a weird sensation wash over me as I realized the music playing was indeed a life performance and even more so from a boy I already found fascinating.
“Impressive,” I said as I sat there mermerized by the beauty of the sound. The way his fingers caressed the keys and his big green eyes fluttered in oblivion to the rest of the world made him somewhat delicate. Who is this boy? I thought. For the eight years I had lived in this little town, I had always gone to Amleto’s for my drinks and I had mastered the faces of the regular crowd. I even learnt to spot the visitors, most of whom were regular tourists. Matteo had a local accent so he must be from around but I didn’t recall ever laying eyes on him. He was good on the pianoforte and I found myself wondering what else his hands were good at.
“Why do you want to find him?” Amleto interrupted my thoughts.
“Who is he?”
“What do you mean who is he? He told you his name yesterday didn’t he?”
“Yes, but who is he? I have never seen him here before.”
“What difference does it make? Rapallo is a tourist town so people come and go, what does it matter?” “He has a Genovese accent Amleto. He’s from around here.”
“You don’t want to know him,” Amleto said in a tone rather protective.
“Oh but I do. Very much.”
“He is a lot younger than you, you don’t want him.” It sounded almost like a warning.
“What does it matter to you how old we are?” I asked suspiciously. Amleto had never been one to really care who was lusting after who. He was content serving drinks and treating all his customers equally. There was a protectiveness about him towards Matteo that was almost paternal.
“Is he your son?” I asked. He laughed. It occurred to me for the first time that he might just be. I had never let myself think of Amleto in any way besides the guy behind the bar. For the first time it hit me that he could have a family and probably a life quite different from the one portrayed behind the counter.
“No, but I knew his mother though. She died when he was very young and I had watched him grow. He is a very good boy but very delicate and I care a lot about him.” Amleto said. I felt a thin rush of anger wash over me. I may be a decade older than Matteo but I was not a sex predator. I didn’t like Amleto’s attitude. I chose to ignore it because it was the first time in all the time I had known him that he had been in anyway disagreeable to me.
I sipped my wine in silence and drifted away with my thoughts.
“Ah, you came,” I heard and turned around to find those big green eyes looking at me. I didn’t even realize he had stopped playing the pianoforte.
“Matteo,” I said, offering him a handshake, he took my hands and said
“I am Matteo.”
“I know that.”
“I haven’t been to this little town in ages, I keep forgetting how expensive things are here in Rapallo,” he said, sitting next to me. He exhaled then ordered for a glass of frizzled water. I watched him quietly as he drank. He was delicate, he had a really beautiful face, very symmetric. It was the sort of face that I usually found unattractive. I am not a big fan of perfection in humans. I found faces with a crooked nose for instance more interesting than ones with nothing to criticize. Matteo‘s face was perfect, yet there was something in his eyes that made me forgive his perfect face. It was a hunger, a yearning, a cry, for something I couldn‘t figure out. What was it about him that made Amleto so protective.
“So, where are you from?” I asked finally. He turned around fully to face me, he stared at me as though trying to see into my soul. I noticed that he didn’t smile much although his eyes were always tender.
“I’m from here, but haven’t been home in ages.”
“So where have you been?”
“The UK mostly.”
“What brings you back?”
“I don’t know.” He frowned briefly as though contemplating the question.
“So, who are you? Who is Binta?” He directed the conversation back at me.
“A single mother, a writer, an English teacher.”
“You told me you were a sex therapist.”
“That too,” I said laughing, “although not certified.” I didn’t know why I was still claiming to being that, especially since I knew very little about the matter. He nodded.
“What do you write?”
“Short stories, poetry and general interest freelance, but I am currently working on a novel.”
“What is it about?”
“A woman. It’s a little difficult to describe.”
“So how old is this woman?”
“About my age.” I saw his first smile.
“Not really, just fiction, but it’s in a memoir style yes, which is why I decided to make the main character female about my age, can’t imagine trying to be someone else.”
“It is a memoir then,” he insisted.
“A fictional memoir.”
“I’d like to read it, if you’d let me.”
“What happened to your fingers?”
“He took my hands in his and ran his fingers over my Whinnie the Pooh band aids.” I smiled.
“My daughter put that on for me.”
“She broke one of my twin mugs and I cut myself cleaning up and she felt bad about it.”
“I collect mugs in pairs.”
“Why?” He peered into face pulling my hand to his chest and drawing me closer to him. I didn’t know if he was feigning interesting but I found it intoxicating
“It all started when I decided it was time to find the love of my life and settle down. You see, for me, sex and love had always been interchangeable. So finding the love of my life automatically meant bed-fellows and breakfast for two.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“About ten years.”
“How many pairs have you got?”
“Thirteen mugs, twelve now with that one gone.” He leaned away and let go of my hand.
“How many pairs?” he repeated.
“Right now, none.” I thought I saw a ghost of a smile quickly wash across his face.
“So when do we go shopping for the next pair?”
“When I find Mister Right,” I responded when what I really wanted to say was ‘I shop alone’.
I found the conversation a little awkward then. He was in my intimate space and it bothered me somewhat. I have never had problems talking about my sexual relationships before. Not that I considered this conversation really about sex. But I didn’t want him touching a topic that may likely never concern him. As much as I found him fascinating, I still could not really marry that to the fact that he was much too young for me. Which was why it felt like I was desperately trying to pervert an already sexually active child. My mind went back to when my aunties had asked me questions about our encounter with Magdalene. Did they feel any sense of moral responsibility towards me at all then?
“I’m glad you dropped by here today,” Matteo interrupted my thoughts, “Amletto wouldn’t tell me how to find you but he did say you drop by almost daily so I came hoping….” He looked away suddenly. I smiled.
“I really like you and would like to get to know you better,” he added. He seemed slightly nervous. He was fidgeting with a bottle top. He had really beautiful hands. He didn’t look at me. I stared at him in silence. I liked him. A lot. I didn’t feel that clandestine sense of lust I felt the previous night. The feeling that afternoon was odd. I couldn’t really describe it. It was a sense of wanting to protect him, it was almost maternal but in a weird way incestuous because I kept looking at his mouth and wondered what it would feel like to French kiss him.
He reached over and picked a paper napkin from the holder at the far end of the bar then scribbled something and pushed it over to me.
“That’s my number,” he said. I took out my cell phone punched the numbers and dialled. His phone rang.
“And that’s mine,” I said. I didn’t want to be left with the option of calling him. I didn’t consider myself a traditional female waiting to be wooed, but I couldn’t quite define my attraction towards the boy or how to treat it. It felt safer for me to give him the option of taking the next step, whatever that was.
“I have to run now,” he said, standing up, “I do volunteer work at the cat shelter and I’m expected in about thirty minutes.”
“What cat shelter?”
“The one by the theatre.” I looked at him blankly. I had no idea one existed. He flipped open his cell phone and showed me photos of a few furry felines.
“Would you like to adopt one for your kid?” I shook my head.
“You like cats,” I stated rather than asked.
“Very much,” he said and his eyes lit up, “I had one for sixteen years then it died and I haven’t replaced him yet. But I constantly need the purr of a cat so I get a daily dose of that at the shelter, which is why I am volunteering,” he laughed for the first time. I smiled.
“I better get going,” he leaned over and kissed my cheeks, his were soft, warm and stubble free.
“I’ll be in touch,” he said. I waved and watched him leave. For a split second, there was a familiarity about him that made my heart beat faster. This feels like the Rohn experience all over again, I thought.
....To be continued.