We rang the bell at the gate and waited. The sun was beating down on my back, sweat beading on my chest and dripping towards my belly button. The gate buzzed open and we looked up to see Nonno standing in the doorway. Always in a button up shirt, tucked into a leather belt and trousers. I still didn’t know his first name, but I supposed grandfather would do.
It was summer in San Nicola, a small hamlet near Palinuro, in the south of Italy.
He kissed us both on both cheeks and we entered the house, which was slightly cooler than outside. We headed to the heart, the kitchen, taking a seat on the little red leather couch, cracked in several places, while he sat at the small kitchen table. He regarded us with a grin.
Allora, che dite?
Niente Nonno. Come sta?
They chatted a few moments while I sat politely, hands clasped in my lap. I always found it difficult to follow their talks, with the thick accent of the south and the unfamiliar dialect which I would never understand. I could feel my legs sticking to the couch each time I shifted. My skin would peel away from the seat with a suck as I searched for a cooler, more comfortable position. I gazed around the room: the unlit fireplace telling of cool winter evenings, the t.v droning the news in the background, the spotless tile floors. I wondered if he had a cleaner to help him. The house was always immaculate. My attention shifted back to Nonno as he rose from his chair, shuffling over to the counter where he picked up a large bowl overflowing with yellow fruits. He set them down on the table and waved his hand towards the bowl as he settled back into his chair.
He looked expectantly at us.
Ma che cos’è? I asked, timidly taking one between my fingers. It was about the size of a plum, but soft like a peach on the outside.
Nespole. Non avete queste in Canada?
I don’t think so…I said, taking a bite. I had never seen them before.
Juice dripped between my fingers, running towards my elbows.
We peeled and ate the fruits in silence, punctuated with the occasional mangia! from Nonno if we slowed. My eyes rested on the bowl, where ants crawled freely over the remaining fruits, which had been picked from the garden that same morning. I didn’t know what to do with my sticky hands, so I folded them into my lap once more when I had finished eating.
We rested a few more moments, mouths sticky with the residue of the fruit, before I stood up, following Herman’s lead.
Alla prossima, Nonno.
He rose too, and we all made our way towards the door where we all kissed once more, both cheeks, before walking to the gate. Nonno remained in the doorway until the gate had closed behind us. We walked to the car where we had left it on the narrow street, tucked up against the stone wall.
Nonno re-emerged a moment later, a jacket slung over his arm, and got into his old car.
Where is he going? I asked.
Probably to the bar, to play cards with his friends, he said, turning the key. Nonno started his car too, waving once more as he backed out of the driveway. Heading the same direction, we followed after him. He drove perhaps a hundred feet down the road before stopping in front of the old bar and getting out, while we continued on our way. I craned around to look.
Is that it?
What do you mean?
He started his car to drive thirty seconds down the road!
Yes, what else is there to do?
I sat back, laughing to myself. This slow, beautiful life was a marvel to me. Eat some fruit, play some cards, call it a day. It was a stark contrast to our racing life in Rome, always on a bus or train, always rushing to work, always counting money for the rent. I wondered how long one could simply live by the sea, before life would catch you. There was beauty in every bend in this place: flowers bursting over gates, trees laden with lemons, rolling waves lapping at your toes. My heart ached for that simplicity, the ease with which these people seemed to happily exist.
Someday, I will live by the sea.