Bradley | Sep 13, 2019 | 0
Ch. 2: Is seeing believing or do you have to believe it to see it?
I just would like a little WiFi, please.
This is Chapter 2 following from our drop-off-a-cliff ending to Chapter 1.
That’s the sound that the rolling metal doors make when they are rolled up to open your city shop at 7 in the morning. It starts out slow and speeds up until it stops with a ka-dud thud and it’s all over faster than it started.
It was so close, it almost felt like it wasn’t the bakery downstairs but my eyelids rolling up in a bad cartoon version of my waking self. Maybe I just watched too many zany cartoons as a kid. Isn’t that where words like ‘zany’ come from anyway?
Apparently, no one else in my family of lifeless zombies heard the racket downstairs, but I already knew the feeling: I wasn’t going to back to sleep. It was only 7 and we didn’t need to leave until 9. Perfect.
I quietly put on whatever clothes I could find, ideally of mine and not my 13-year old son’s, although he was getting close to me in height. I found my laptop, checked the battery and headed out the door in search of tea, something savory, and a dollop of WiFi.
Like morning people, I wonder if there are morning countries or cities. Maybe it’s active cities. Boulder, Colorado comes to mind. I can imagine bakeries or cafes opening at 6 am to cater to mountain bikers looking for a coffee or some energy-infused smoothie. Florence, Italy, was not a morning city.
I managed to find a cafe open and asked in part Spanish, part French and probably zero Italian, if they had WiFi. They not only had that, but they had pastries and tables and an old man sitting in the corner sipping his cappuccino as if he did it every single day–which he probably did. He looked straight ahead and only saw me if I passed through his line of sight, which I did a few times. I’m not sure he blinked.
I brought my laptop up to the counter so I could make sure the WiFi password would work. The woman was happy to give it to me and she started typing on my keyboard but wasn’t getting very far, so she turned to her pen and started writing on a receipt, but her pen conked out after the first few characters.
She then started talking in single letters, “M,” she said. “Big.” I typed in a capital M. “A,” she continued, “little.” “Err, say, oh,” and then she paused and said, “Eh,” but I wasn’t sure if that was a letter, maybe an ‘a’ or if that was her sound to search in her memory for the next letter. I didn’t type more yet.
“Uno uno seis,” she said. I typed 116. “Si,” she seemed rather pleased with herself. We both waited for the growing and contracting little symbols to connect. We waited for Italian waves of WiFi and I looked at her and she looked at me.
She had fully coiffed brown hair as if she had spent two hours even earlier in the morning at the hairdresser. Either that or she was just one of those Italian women who just wake up and walk onto the set of a modeling photo shoot and magically look radiant, perfect, and natural all without any effort.
Her brown eyes softened as I looked into them. They were motherly and loving and either she was quietly telling me that she loved me and wanted to run away to Venice with me or she was just hoping the WiFi would kick in so she could heat the water for tea. I’ll never know.
But then she did something that threw me completely off track. She winked. I have a thing with people who wink. More often than not, I don’t know what to make of it. First of all, I’m not a very good winker and I usually have to scrunch up half of my face in the effort to make sure my eye is closed, which defeats the whole purpose of the entire subtle act of winking in the first place.
But she was a pro. She probably gives classes at the local night school in ‘Winking for Professionals and Politicians.’ She was that good.
Again, I need to read the manual on winking because I didn’t know what to do in return. Do I wink back? What kind of message does that send? What did hers mean in the first place? Is there a left-eye or right-eye hierarchy? I didn’t know and I didn’t have time to ask and that would have been in Italian and I was pretty sure I couldn’t have explained this in English, so just forget it. I did what I do in situations of extreme caution, I smiled. Like Dopey or maybe Sleepy, I just smiled slightly and looked back to my screen.
The password was incorrect.
She went off on another long sentence that sounded melodious and extremely important–as most Italian does to me–but it didn’t really move the conversation along as I had no idea what she was going on about. Then she brought her hand up and with her palm facing up and with a forefinger, made a motion for me to come closer or maybe come with her or maybe it was just a twitch and it had no meaning.
She turned and headed down the counter over towards where it opened up to the cafe. She turned her head towards me, looked directly at me and again with the hand, the palm, and the finger.
My eyes opened wide and I did what came naturally, I took my own forefinger and pointed at my chest in a completely idiotic, Do you mean me? gesture.
She gave a quick nod of her head to confirm, not to mention that the only other live human in the place was the 93-year old cappuccino-drinking man in the corner who hadn’t moved, breathed or had another sip of his drink since I last checked.
I couldn’t think of a reason to say no or balk or question, so I did what any good soldier does when the commander says to come along, I followed her.
Behind the counter was a short opening that led down to a cellar. She barely fit into it but she moved with such grace and ease that she slithered down the stairs before I could say, Do I really need to go downstairs for a WiFi password? and I followed.
There are certain people who have such confidence and control of a situation that you don’t question or comment or even judge. You just know they are in command and you do as you are told. Yeah, that wasn’t me, that was her, in case there was any confusion.
The staircase spiraled down and down and soon the light of the daylight above was gone and we were only following what seemed like coal mine lights complete with the protective cages around them. Finally, we arrived in a collection of subterranean rooms that could have been used as a fantastic wine restaurant.
Deep red bricks vaulted up to points in the ceiling with white plaster lining on five sides like a spider’s web.
She was no longer waiting or talking or even summoning me with that powerful forefinger, but instead, she kept walking through one room and into another. In the third room, through two doors and another passageway, she finally stopped.
There were two bar stools, another relic of a mine in a lantern that hung from above, a small table and what looked like a cork board full of small notes thumbtacked to it. She sat on one of the bar stools and gestured for me to sit at the other. I did.
I opened my mouth to say, well, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say at this point, but probably something like, Um, I’d really just like a cup of tea and I can do without the WiFi. Or maybe keeping it simple with something brilliant like, I need to get my bag upstairs. Or possibly, using my more James Bond School of Interrogation skills, Do you take everyone who needs the WiFi password down the stairs through a collection of beautiful caverns and sit them down at a little interrogation table complete with light overhead at seven in the morning to do, well, I don’t even know what we’re doing?
But I said none of that because I’m just not that clever. I was too curious about what we were doing here, and I don’t speak more Italian than hello and goodbye which can be the same word. Ciao.
She pointed at the board. I looked at the board. I looked at her. She pointed at the board. I looked at the board.
There were a collection of maybe 50 receipts and on the bottom of each one was a word written in blue ink.
I looked back to her and finally, she warmed my heart. She smiled. I was so relieved. She was so motherly and pure, somehow I felt at ease and safe and even at home. But still, she didn’t talk. Then she did something that I can never un-see.
At first, I thought it was just another friendly wink like upstairs, but this time when her one eye opened, her eye was no longer the same. It was like the girl on the street last night. It was warm and yellow and bright and mesmerizing. It was like a cat at night, but she wasn’t a cat and it wasn’t night.
She winked again and her eye was back to the brown.