Street Stories

The little boy on the plastic tricycle stops outside the half-shuttered window. “Bello!” he roars. “Bellooooooo!”

His mother shushes him. “Not like that. Call him gently.”

The boy looks up, uncomprehending, before shouting again. His mother rolls her eyes, but this time there’s an answering bark from inside the house. The object of the boy’s affections, a black cocker spaniel, leaps up onto the windowsill and sniffs the air, silky ears twitching as he listens to the different sounds on the street. Satisfied now that he can see his friend, the boy resumes trundling along the street, the empty rattle of heavy plastic wheels over uneven tarmac sounding his presence even after he’s turned the corner. Mamma doesn’t seem worried that she can’t see him. It’s only when the noise stops that she hurries after him, calling his name to check that he’s OK.

A boy swaggers out onto a first floor balcony, stripped to the waist, showing off the perfect olive-skinned torso of Italian youth. A voice calls him from inside and he flicks his chin up with a soft ‘huh’ sound to indicate ‘yes’ to whatever the question was. He leans forward, hands on the edge of the balcony, surveying his domain with the arrogance that being 18, beautiful and on your own patch brings.

A door creaks open. An old woman emerges. Her skin is ghostly white and she moves with difficulty. This may be the only journey she makes each day: out to the street to hang the washing out, and then again later on to bring it in. Her gnarled hands clutch the clothes horse on the pavement. It’s draped with heavy table linen and she has difficulty moving it at first, but she perseveres. She backs her way up the shallow steps, inch by tortuous inch, heaving the still-laden clothes horse with her and wincing as each sudden movement jars her aged, arthritic joints.

Three girls sit at a table outside the cafe on the corner. One is showing another photos on her phone, while the third gazes around her, a picture of studied boredom. She pushes her chair back, jerking to her feet. “Caffè, ragazze?” She barely waits for the answer before stalking inside the cafe to place the order with the barista. Her demeanour softens as she talks to him, and a shy smile appears. The girl with the phone looks up at the scene inside and snickers before whispering to the girl sitting next to her, whose eyes light up with delicious amusement as she watches the third girl flirt unsuccessfully with a man far too old for her.

A couple in their sixties emerge from a flat. The woman’s body language is stiff and unyielding, and she seems angry. She gestures sharply to her husband and turns on her heel, walking away from him even as he tries to speak to her. She passes the girls and looks them up and down, disdain on her face. Her husband, behind her back, is far more appreciative, taking his time raking his eyes upwards from their feet. When he meets the knowing amusement in their eyes he flushes and turns away. They laugh as he hunches his shoulders and turns back into the house.

The baker stretches and yawns. He walks to the door of the shop and stands there, hands on hips, looking out for customers and conversation. A young woman with an already full shopping bag enters. From the way she gestures and cocks her head it seems she’s asking him a question. In response, he shrugs and spreads his arms wide, a doleful half-smile on his face. Whatever the question was, the answer is no. She smiles and shrugs back: “Never mind …”

The men gathered outside the Juventus Club gossip like old women, cackling over the latest stories and tutting at bad news. The mechanic in the next door garage good-naturedly ignores the heckling that he receives in the form of well-meaning advice, only joining in when it looks as if one of the men is about to grab a spanner and do the work himself. “Eh, Giovanni, basta!” A pair of older teenage girls walks past and the men fall into bashful silence while the mechanic grins and chats with easy familarity. “Ciao, Mariella! How are you, bellamia?” The friend fiddles awkwardly with her hair while the old men stare in silence. Mariella and the mechanic exchange goodbye kisses and her friend hustles her away, eager to escape. The men relax.

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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
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