Ch. 3: If this is a game, I’m losing.
- Ch. 1: Maze Runner in Firenze? The walls are closing in on me and the eyes are watching.
- Ch. 2: Is seeing believing or do you have to believe it to see it?
- Ch. 3: If this is a game, I’m losing.
- Ch. 4: Maybe it’s time to go.
- Ch. 5: Do you believe in something greater than yourself?
- Ch. 6: This is what intuition feels like.
- Ch. 7: So this is how it starts.
I wasn’t sure whether I should have run, smiled, screamed or sat still.
I think what happened was I sat still, screamed inside of my head, smiled nervously and didn’t run.
This is Chapter 3 of the accidental tourist novella that’s accidentally happening as I’m here in Italy. Just trying to get a little WiFi.
As if there had been no yellow eye winking and nothing had happened, she again took her hand and raised it up slowly and pointed to the board of receipts.
“Prego,” she said and the translation was clear: it was my turn. But my turn to do what?
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Prego,” she said again as people do who don’t realize that, no, you really don’t understand, but they still often do because they don’t know what else to do or they’re just stubborn and will keep saying what you don’t understand in hopes that, at some point, you’ll finally just get it.
I wanted to ask her what she wanted me to do, but again with the language barrier, so I didn’t bother.
OK, think! I thought to myself. What does she want me to do? She keeps pointing at the board of receipts and it’s clearly my turn to do something. Wait, weren’t we down here for the WiFi password? Does she want me to guess? Fine, I’ll play her game.
I would have said all of this aloud if I thought it would help, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to help, so, thankfully, it all stayed in my head. I would play her game.
I had to physically exert energy to move my eyes away from the lock she had on them. Her brown eyes weren’t just brown but somehow glistened. I tried to look even more closely without being invasive and it looked like warm brown chocolate with sprinkles of rocky salt that were slowly swarming within pools of pearly white. The salt sparkled and glistened in different places and I wondered if those little flecks you see in people’s eyes were always moving, but I couldn’t remember.
Apparently, I wasn’t doing such a great job of not staring into the delicious warm baths of her eyes because the next thing she did was take her hand, bring it up to my face, lay it softly against the side of my cheek and my eye and apply the slightest pressure to turn my head away from her and towards the board.
I resisted unconsciously because I physically couldn’t stop looking at her. It was like when you’re staring into space and you have to consciously stop doing it. I couldn’t stop looking at the salt specks in the brown pools of chocolate delight. This either said something about the mesmerizing power of this woman or that I should really get a hot chocolate and definitely ask for whipped cream–and maybe salt.
She applied a little more pressure and I gave in. I was looking at the board of receipts. Again, she spoke. Again, just the one word.
I realized they weren’t all the same. They had a variety of dates of them and were tinted in color the older they were. Some had a cappuccino, others had an espresso and a pastry item. But they all had the blue ink and what I supposed was a password on the bottom. I scanned for a pattern but saw none. They were seemingly at random. No, wait, there was often a name and then a few numbers. I looked for a hierarchy of some kind. If they had more items on the receipt, was that better? Were the newer dates better than older dates?
I wanted so much just to look back at her. For some guidance or help or just a little taste of those milky soft eyes, but that hand would probably have brought me right back to this. I heard a soft sigh and it wasn’t from me. I somehow felt that she was going to say Prego yet again and I didn’t want that.
I raised my hand towards the board but had no earthly idea which little paper I should choose. I let my hand go where it wanted to go as my brain was long out of rational ideas. I followed my own hand and watched as my forefinger extended and landed on a receipt that looked just like the rest of them.
As it landed on the paper, I felt a warmth on the tip of my finger as if the wall were heated, but almost hot like a pan on a stovetop. I saw that my finger left an impression on the paper and then it transformed before my eyes into swirls of lines, blue like the ink of the password, and eventually turned into what could only have been a fingerprint. My fingerprint.
The lines were clear and crisp as if a fine-tipped ball-point pen had traced my exact fingerprint. I would have watched that longer if I didn’t feel a longing to turn back to her.
I had become so focused on the whole transformation of the fingerprint that she might have left the room and I wouldn’t have noticed. I hesitantly and carefully turned my head and my eyes followed along. I could see that she was still there and that she, too, was looking at the board. When my eyes found hers, they were thankfully still brown and the flickers of salt were still there and she also slowly turned her head towards me and a smile formed on her lips in painstaking slow motion. It was my turn to sigh. Maybe we could get out of here now.
Just as a waterfall of relief was making its way down my spine, I noticed that she started to look back to the board. Then she looked back the other way as if she were shaking her head. Then I realized that she was shaking her head. She tilted her head ever so slightly to her right as if to console me on doing something wrong. Her lips went from a smile to what said, no language barrier here, Yeah, that’s really too bad for you, but that’s not the right one.
Just then a door closed somewhere behind me. It was a deep, heavy thud. I quickly turned my head, looked behind me, and saw a light go out in the room we had come through. My heart skipped a beat.
I felt her hand on my forearm as my head was still turned towards the room from where we had arrived, towards the room I would have rather been in because it was that much closer to the cafe upstairs, to my beloved laptop and maybe even a cup of tea.
But now her hand was on my forearm. It wasn’t just laying on my arm but had a bit of a grip. Not forceful, but enough to hold onto me should I think of, just as an example here, run away as fast as I possibly could. The thought hadn’t occurred to me until I realized that maybe I couldn’t run away.
I wasn’t as worried about the arm or the door or the light going out or even the board of papers as I was about her eyes. I continued to look back towards the other room for no other reason than a stall tactic because I wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with her just yet. As I now longed to be back in that other room on my way up the stairs, my rational brain kicked in and started throwing questions at me as if I had answers: Why didn’t you just turn on international roaming? Wouldn’t a hotel lobby WiFi have been just as good? Why didn’t the personal hotspot work yesterday?
I thanked my rational side for bringing me back to the simplicity of the technical world and I pained for life’s tedious, mechanical issues that can be solved without salt flecks that swim in pools of dark chocolate and baristas who wink with the eye of a lioness. No, I think it was safe to say that, at this point in the morning, given the choice between figuring out an IP address conflict between a laptop and the router and puzzling over which receipt to choose on a wall in the dungeon of a Florentine cafe with a cat-like countess, pass the keyboard.
With the alacrity of an aging turtle, I forced my head to turn back around to face my newest bestest friend. I kept my eyes down as I wanted to see if that was her hand on my arm and I brushed my vision along my right shoulder to my elbow to my forearm. Indeed, there was a woman’s hand on my forearm and I continued to follow that up to her own forearm, up the white of her blouse and at this point, I was pretty content with fabric and skin and wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to get back to those eyes anyway, but it was inevitable and if I kept going it was bound to happen, but, oh well.
A shoulder, a neck, complete with the ruffly neckline of her chemise, a strong chin, and lips that, this time, were saying nothing at all. A nose that had no distinguishing features even as I tried to slow my gaze so as not to get to the eyes and finally I had to bite the bullet and I made my way up and up and her eyes were closed.
Time was traveling so slow at this point that it might have been a blink, so I stayed there and indeed, they opened and, much to my relief, they were brown.
I could see the crow’s feet form next to her right eye and the right side of her lips rise up as something of a sly smile started as that one right eye closed again, the wrinkles next to it forming caverns and crevasses and here it came, another wink. Damn.
Before I could analyze, hope and project what I thought might happen, it happened. As little as I wanted it, as much as I was curious, but above all, as much as the fear of that eye came through me, it was there.
The yellow eye with the mirrored teardrop black pupil stared back at me, through my own eye, somehow made its way into my head, down the back of my neck, detoured through my heart to give it a quick but firm shudder and landed squarely in the pit of my stomach to the extent that I felt it as if I had swallowed a ball of broken glass where it sat and made me instantly queasy.
As fast as it arrived, it was gone with another heavy closing of her eyelid and the soft brown eyes returned and looked into me as if they were my own.