“Hey, it’s the kids from Catania!” The rangy, middle-aged man in the grey safari hat greets us with pleased surprise, calling out to his curvy, catlike wife in the water. She’s one step ahead of him, having already said hello to us as we picked our way across the rocks. She gives her husband a knowing smile as she floats in the shallows, her ample bosom resting on an inflatable cushion, bobbing in time with the waves. Davide laughs: “You remember well!”
We met them first two or three weeks ago, when we spent the day down here at Plemmirio just us two. On that day we ended up in conversation with rangy man and his wife, along with a retired couple who’d spent time living in Germany. Three generations shooting the breeze, talking about politics, travelling, recycling and every other subject under the sun.
“Where are you from? You’re English?! Oh, goodness, I hadn’t realised! Your Italian’s good, isn’t it?” Davide chuckles quietly – he knows better, having spent so much time hearing me making crashing mistakes – but keeps schtum. I shoot him an amused, wry glance and turn back to my conversation with the retired man, who looks like Father Christmas. He used to speak English well, apparently, but years of living in Germany and now having returned to Italy have taken their toll and he stumbles over the words, mixing English, Italian and German. It’s fine. God knows I do the same thing enough of the time.
Father Christmas smiles at me. “We’re going now, but I’d like to invite you and your …” He nods towards Davide and gives me a questioning glance, not wanting to use the wrong term to refer to him. I crinkle my eyes at him in understanding. “Boyfriend.” Father Christmas nods in relief. “Wonderful. We’d like to invite you and him to tea one day.” His wife laughs. “Tea?!” Father Christmas chuckles. “Well, she *is* English!”
They clamber out of the water to dry off. Davide and I, meanwhile, get drawn into a political discussion, sparked off by a passing mention of attitudes towards the environment, with rangy man’s wife. “I love Italy, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but people’s behaviour here drives me crazy!” She rants with sardonic good humour underpinned with genuine frustration until Father Christmas shouts from the beach. “Kids! We’re leaving! Phone number? Tea!” Davide and I pick our way carefully over slithery submerged rocks and out of the water onto the beach, where he swaps phone numbers with Father Christmas. He and his wife wave us goodbye with fond smiles and promises to call us soon. Rangy man, meanwhile, starts to make pointed comments about what there is to eat at home. His wife laughs. “We’ve got things in the kitchen and I’m sure I can sort something out. Just a little longer, though – the water’s so lovely …”
Today we’re here in a bigger group, with Davide’s twin brother, his best friend and their two girlfriends. We start to hunt for a good spot in which to set up umbrellas, towels and picnic for six people. It’s not easy on this small, rocky beach, but Davide mutters to me quietly, “Don’t worry. I think they will go soon.” Sure enough, rangy man’s wife calls out from the water, “Kids, we’re leaving soon. There’ll be space when we do.” Rangy man looks surprised. “We are?” His wife raises her chin and pulls down the corners of her mouth in a very Sicilian-looking gesture. “Well, what time is it?” Davide answers for him, having just looked at his watch: “Twelve twenty.” Rangy man nods in surprise. “Eh! OK, yes, I suppose we will be going soon then.” His wife nods in confirmation. “About half an hour, then there’ll be plenty of space. Don’t you worry!” She bobs comfortably on her inflatable cushion, her feline eyes drooping closed with a blissful expression of contentment on her face.
We set up a solitary umbrella to shade the cool bag and head into the water to make the twenty-minute swim out to the little island that sits just offshore.
When we get back, they’ve gone.