Italy

Carole Wyatt
 

© Copyright 2004 by Carole Wyatt

Photo of Corfu.
    Cantaloupe-flavored gelato dripped down my hand, as I juggled my carry-on, purse, and a shopping bag. Janet, my best friend, hugged me and waved me off with a simple “ciao.” Stepping up on the train platform, I took a last look at the sun dappled streets of Palermo. Women strolled in colorful, chic outfits with an attitude that said they were well aware that they looked good. They never bother to glance around to see if the dark-eyed men stopping at espresso bars were following their leisurely walk through the shopping district with their eyes. Their posture said it all, they knew.

Pushing my suitcase in the rack above my head, I settled back into plush seat and pulled out a paperback to pass my time away before the next stop. Slipping off my red Florentine leather heels, I sighed audibly. In the one unguarded moment, he appeared slightly bedraggled and smelling of smoke. Caught with my bare feet plumped up on the other seat, I flushed and lowered them. Enter talking must have been his motto; unfortunately I didn’t have a clue to what he was saying. My grasp of Italian was minimal at the best and non-existent at this time. Instead of attempting conversation, I smiled and immediately returned to perusing my book. Smokey, as I was now calling him in my mind, decided to sit next to me and babble, soon he was scooting closer as I scooted even closer to the window. Hip next to the train’s metal frame there was no place left to go it was then that his hand descended on my knee. Appalled, I jumped up, announced I was leaving and turned to go, only to be blocked by a dark suited man standing in the door.

“Can I see your ticket?” He held his hand out. He glanced at my ticket and handed it back. Mr. Smokey slunk away with a grumble, not even showing his ticket.

“I’m so sorry you had to experience that. He did not have a first class ticket and only popped inside this compartment when he saw you. My name is Vincenzo and I’m an officer for the train line.”

His smile was open and charming, I naturally smiled back. Soon we were seated, exchanging information like old friends with slight language disabilities. It was like a Nebraskan talking to a Georgian—it could be done, but certain words were used differently, despite the fact we were both speaking English. He revealed that he was on his way to work at the main station and naturally he always took the train. He offered in a shy confession that he was very happy he took the train today so he could help me. Perhaps it was then I noticed his eyes were brown velvet soft. Blushing pink, I nodded my agreement and looked out the window as the train pulled into the station. For a second I imagined that I was Audrey Hepburn and this was Roman Holiday; after all I was heading for Rome. I blinked again and realized that I just bumped into a decent person, and not my soul mate.

Reluctantly, I shouldered my tote and reached for my shopping bag only to find Vincenzo already had it. He escorted me down the steps with a gentlemanly hand at my elbow. It was a sweet interlude that was nearing its end. Ready with my goodbyes, I inhaled deeply.

“Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Vincenzo scurried off in the direction of the ticket office. Emerging moments later, his brilliant grin announced his triumph. “I take the day off to show you the town,” he announced throwing out an arm for emphasis. Soon that same arm landed around my shoulder. “What would you like to do first?”

The beach was my first request even though I spent the past week in Palermo; I hadn’t been to the beach once. Soon we were on a crowded city bus, hanging from hand straps, and competing for the initial view of the beach and the accompanying Mediterranean Sea. “There it is,” I announced as I pointed in direction of the blue water.

The day went quickly as we strolled along the beach hand in hand. I scampered into the waves, threatening to splash him. He looked so ridiculous and sweet with his dress pants rolled up to his knees and his shoes and socks in hand. Lunch consisted of pimiento cheese sandwiches and cokes bought from a strolling vendor. It could have been ambrosia or cardboard and I wouldn’t have noticed as much attention as I paid to it. We talked about everything and nothing, cavorted like dolphins, stole kisses, and made promises neither of us planned to keep. Everything seemed more brilliantly colored, the sky was azure instead of merely being blue, the sand like corduroy instead the gray grit back home, and Vincenzo was like the Christmas bonus I never got.

The bus driver stood on his horn long and hard signaling to the beach goers that the last bus to the city was about to leave. The sun was starting its descent painting everything fuchsia. So this is what they meant about looking at everything through rose-colored glasses. The bus ride seemed unusually brief, just the thought of its inevitable end made it difficult to talk. The bus stopped not far from the train station. Silently holding hands, we stepped off and headed for the station where my luggage was stored.

This was goodbye; I knew for sure now. Vincenzo shook the sand from his pants as I levered my red heels back on. The train in the distance was the express I had planned on taking. Now I resented the gleaming red and silver train as it slid into the station. Glancing at the train, I searched for my ticket. Vincenzo pulled a ticket out of his pocket as we walked toward the train.

“I upgraded your ticket to a berth so you could rest.” He winked, but instead of coming off as flirtatious it seemed more like a wince. “I wished I had something to give you so you would always remember me and this day.” He searched his pockets and pulled out a silver lira. “Perhaps, you could make a necklace out of it to remember me by, yes?”

My hands closed around the lira and Vincenzo’s hand holding it. “I don’t need the lira because I don’t need anything to remember you or this day. Your slightly crooked smile, your laugh, your kindness, this day will remain with me forever.” I closed his hand back over the lira as I stepped onto the train. Twenty years later, I still remember----but I really should have kept the lira. Perhaps I could have had it made into a necklace, and then one of my students could ask me what it was. I could tell her I was young once, and I met a gorgeous Italian man who was as sweet as chocolate, but then again they never believe me—just another example of eccentricity often found in old English teachers.
 


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