There’s Something About Rome

~ A short story ~

Sweat dripped from her forehead and her white cotton shirt, soaked. Sally could have sat inside the cafe, the air con could have cooled her down. Instead, she sat outdoors because the view was better. Pavement cafes lined up on that narrow cobblestoned street. Bougainvillea vines crawled down from the second floor of the building down to the glass windows of the cafes, albeit neatly cut. Café Romana, that’s where she sat; its wooden tables topped with lacey white runners, chairs were cushioned with either pink and white or mint green and white stripes. White ceramic vases with artificial pink and lavender tinted flowers sat on the center of the tables. She nibbled on the strip of Focaccia bread served with garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar that was served to her while she waited for her main course. She already halved the glass of white wine. She wasn’t a wine drinker as from where she came from, common drinks were local pale Pilsen and cheap gin. But she was in Rome anyway, so why not savor the best Italian wines. A blonde guy in a white shirt, with a tiny black apron on top of his blue jeans came and delivered her Rigatoni Carbonara and Pizza al Taglio and said, Buon appetito before leaving.

She wiped her consistently sweating face now and then as she indulged in her pizza, topped with tomatoes, mortadella, and fig. The pasta was equally satisfying. She really wanted to order gelato afterward but so much for her greediness, she didn’t have space for it anymore. Instead, she asked for another glass of white wine. She liked it. Light. Semi-sweet. 

‘How was your lunch?’ asked the blonde guy.

‘Delicious, thanks!’ 

‘That’s great to hear! I’ll be back with your wine.’

Sally placed her elbows on the table and placed her palms under her chin as she dreamily watched the crowd passing by. That was the last day of her ten-day Euro trip that started in London, then Paris, Lucerne, then Florence, and finally, Rome. That was her first solo trip, one that she needed, a breather. She needed to be away, to have a break from her monotonous life: an eight to five clerical job in a small town government office she’s been in for nine years and a seven-year relationship with her childhood friend that she has been wanting to get away from for the longest time if not for all the inconveniences she’d bring to both their families. She’d been thinking of how to get away and where to.

The blonde guy came with her wine and started chatting with her. It wasn’t rush hour anymore and there were just a few tables occupied in the café. Usually, servers would start chatting with their guests when they are either bored for lack of customers, when they are taking a break, or running away from their back of house tasks like wiping cutleries or refilling sugar caddies. And servers are quite good at that, the chatting part.

‘So you’re from the Philippines! Wow, I’d really like to go there for island hopping.’ Sally thought this was quite strange. All of them back home wanted to leave for the West and here’s one western who’d like to go to the South East.

‘Me? I’m originally from Germany.’ He said as Sally started asking him back. ‘I was here for a short vacation but I really liked the place and I’d want to learn the language. There something about Rome that I can’t explain if you know what I mean.’ He looked at the sky, seemed occupied in his own reverie, and yes, she knew what he meant.

‘And here I am,’ he said as he spread his arms wide like a bird ready to take flight, ‘working part-time to be able to stay here and pay my rent.’ He smiled a cool, charming smile before he excused himself as new customers flocked in.

Sally smiled and pondered about that idea – to stay there longer and get part-time jobs like that. If that was possible for her too, why not? She loved the place more than all the other places she visited during the trip. The city never seemed to sleep. Its contrast fascinated her, a place so alive yet almost in ruins. Full of history combined with modernity. 

She thought about the pros and cons. She was bound to fly home the next day. Should she cancel the flight and stay? What will she lose? The idea was too bold for her but that’s what she was there for. She wanted change, and change won’t happen if she won’t take risks. She downed her last glass of wine and paid for the bill. She bid the nice blonde guy goodbye and walked until she reached St. Peter’s Basilica. Its majestic structures and stunning architecture made her eyes pop out. The splendid place was packed inside out, buzzing with murmurs, humans sounded like bees.

She looked up at the majestic dome and for a moment, closed her eyes.

Sally wasn’t a devout Catholic but somehow, entering St. Peter’s Basilica made her utter a prayer. The type of prayer that she said in a whisper, not through her lips but somewhere between her heart and mind, a place that she could not really locate, a part of her that she couldn’t physically identify.

With eyes closed, she whispered, please give me a sign. 

It was almost five in the afternoon when Sally left the cathedral. The crowd still flocked in and out even as the sun was finally coming to a rest. The temperature went down a bit and a miraculously soft breeze on a very humid summer day touched her face. She walked slowly and enjoyed the sky’s natural Obra Maestra

She saw a Gelato shop with just two tables outdoor. She ordered biscotti flavor, for why else was she in Rome? She scooped the dessert consecutively as she relished the bursting sweetness inside her mouth. She closed her eyes in delight, raised her shoulders a bit, and smiled as she took in the scoops. She wasn’t good at hiding her emotions. Anyone who would have seen her might say she’s mimicking some TV ad.

The wind picked up, and dark puffy clouds covered the mellow twilight. Thin streaks of lightning lit up the sky for few seconds, one after the other, only to disappear and leave the sky in darkness once again.

Midsummer rain, she thought. For a moment, she wanted to run somewhere to shelter herself from the impending downpour, but then she decided to stay seated. She watched as people started moving quicker, searching for shelter. She felt the wind on her face along with some cold droplets. She raised her hand, palm upward as if asking for the sky to give her something. Droplets trickled down on random places, scattered, far apart from each other. 

For a moment, she thought a huge drop fell into her palm, but when she looked closer, she found a tiny white star that slowly melted, like a tiny lake amidst her palm.

‘A snowflake, isn’t it?’ Sally looked up to search where the voice came from and found the blonde guy from Café Romano standing in front of her, his hands placed on both the back pockets of his pants. 

A drizzle of soft cottony round snowdrops fell on her, she felt like an ice cream, topped with tiny marshmallow sprinkles. For a minute, the world seemed to halt until the sky stopped its mystery and all the evidence of the midsummer snow, quickly melted and disappeared. And once again, the Earth went back into its actual pace, as if nothing happened.

Sally could not believe it. For one, that was her first time seeing a snowflake in her life. Two, why did it snow in the middle of summer? And three, why was that blonde café server guy there?

‘It’s called the midsummer solstice, snow in the middle of the summer. A supernatural occurrence that comes once in a hundred years.’ His explanation made Sally even more skeptical. She looked at him with an eyebrow raised.

He laughed. His voice, deep, yet he had the kind of laugh that was gentle and sweet. He was loud, but the big crowd didn’t care about that. He was carefree like that, and that was his charm. 

‘Well, if you’d like to hear more about the solstice and other German legends and folklore, I know a better place for Gelatos. Or wine if you’d like. I’m Markus, by the way.’

Sally thought for a second about her messy luggage in the hotel room, waiting to be packed for her long flight the following day. She thought of the bold idea she had during her lunch. She thought of what’s at stake and what chance she would miss. She also thought that she still didn’t have enough Gelato and fine wine. And that there might be a lot of cafes in Rome that needed part-timers.

She wasn’t sure if the snow was really brought about by that midsummer solstice or maybe, by climate change. She will never know. But that was one memorable night in Rome. Snow in summer. A snowflake on her palm. A charming German guy. Sweet gelato and fine wine. That was one Italian summer. And that for her seemed like a good sign.

 

***

If you are still here, thank you for reading my short story 😀

This short story was written for the prompt ~ Write a story set in the summer, when suddenly it starts to snow. I first thought of a sad family story that then evolved into a sad relationship and I finally ended up in romance. This is my first attempt into this genre and I’m not sure whether the right elements are there. It’s quite refreshing to write something new and light and I enjoyed this brain exercise. I hope that the story didn’t sound like Eat. Pray. Love. I heard about it but I have actually not read nor watched it. I was afraid at the beginning, that my story will sound like it.

***

Cropped featured image from https://unsplash.com/@junefoodhist

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