Heyyyy! Ciao! Angelo weaves towards our table with outstretched hands and a grin on his face. He’s a little bit the worse for wear, but then I think I probably would be, too, if I owned a bar. Where you go? We miss you! We think we not see you again! He’s pumping my hand up and down, greeting me like the oldest friend in the world, instead of just a girl who came and drank in his bar two weeks previously. He turns and spots Lucia, who hasn’t been here before. His eyes rake up and down before coming to rest on her face. Wow. Your eyes – they are … beautiful … He takes her hand and starts to caress it. What’s your name? Lucia does her best shyly flirtatious Lady Di smile as she tells him, knowing that the fact that she has blonde hair and big blue eyes, but an Italian name, is an absolute killer for Sicilian men. True to form, he melts instantly. He does a turn around the table, both greeting old friends and making new ones, but at the end he’s back at Lucia’s side, like a bee to honey.
It’s not long before the lid of the white baby grand in the middle of the bar is open. Angelo bangs out a quick tune. He waves me over. Come! You play! I feign reluctance, but if I’m honest this was the whole reason I suggested coming to this bar this evening. I haven’t played piano properly since before I came to Italy, and my fingers are itching to get to the keys. I sit down and start to play. It comes a bit more easily than it did the last time I tried, two weeks ago. The muscle memory is there – it’s just been asleep for a very long time and needs a louder alarm call. I try Bridge over Troubled Water. In days gone by, this was a tune that I could – and did – always play without thinking. Friends of mine got sick of hearing it. Now the fingers are rusty. They don’t always hit the right notes and my mind gets distracted. I get further through than I did the other week, though. Not to the end, but through a verse at least. I can hear the girls discussing the music and trying to remember the title. They finally get it, with a cheer of recognition. I smile and switch to I Know Him So Well. Their voices tune out and I carry on playing, losing myself in the music, singing along softly, wrinkling my nose at wrong notes and feeling my fingers get more and more accustomed to the once so-familiar, now almost-forgotten movement over the keys.
I head back to the table. The girls ‘awww’ at me: Why have you stopped? I’ve run out of material … How about chopsticks …? I shout with laughter. I’m not playing that! Two minutes later, of course, I’m teaching Lucia the fingering. Angelo appears again and chivvies me along the stool so he can sit and play. With a cheeky glint in his eye he starts knocking out a basic accompaniment to a song that he makes up on the spot. Lucia! Guarda mia! Lucia giggles, embarrassed, and then realises: Wait a minute – did he just say look at me with ‘me’ in the feminine form? I roar with laughter and give her a rather filthier possible version, using the possessive form, a few ellipses and a raised eyebrow. Angelo carries on busking while Lucia and I run back to our table in paroxysms of giggles.
It’s midnight. Angelo’s friends have come into the bar to join him. It’s time for us to head home. Jade wants to take an anthology of Emily Dickinson poetry from the books which are piled high on the shelves behind the tables, but there’s a sign saying it’s no longer possible for people to borrow them. She puts it back on the shelf and we go to pay. Angelo homes in on Lucia. Bellamia! Your eyes! I look into them and I just – ohhhh … He clasps his hands to his heart and turns the full force of an adoring Sicilian gaze on her. For you, I write poetry! Jade sees her opportunity. So, if Lucia wanted to borrow that Emily Dickinson book, would that be OK? Angelo, true to form, doesn’t miss a beat. But of course! Lucia, for you, anything! Come tomorrow, I give you the book! It’s a – how you say – *colpo di fulmine*! You understand? The bolt of lightning that Angelo talked about has clearly hit him hard. His friends are all in on the act now, and the whole group of us are standing bantering at the doorway to the bar, enjoying the mix of cultures and languages as both English and Italian flow freely. To passers-by, it’s the perfect Sicilian scene. Friends, laughing and joking together in the early hours of the morning as the light spills out from the doorway onto the street.
*This* is why I came to Italy.