The Real MJH – #6 At the Cafe

“Is this seat taken?” she asked as the shadow she created made me look up.

“No, not at all.” I’d been sat outside the cafe for about two hours but had no real inclination to move on just yet. She smiled sweetly and sat down. In the awkward moment that followed a man walked past carrying a ladder and some paint pots and we both watched him silently; secretly glad of the distraction it caused.

“It’s far too hot to be working like that today,” I mentioned when he past.

“Hmmm,” she replied looking out at the square.

I turned back to the book that I was reading and attempted to concentrate on the words, but after a few seconds I found my eyes rolling up towards the lady sat next to me. She was still looking forwards and I was able to discretely hold my gaze for a while. Her long brown hair had been tied up in a loose ponytail, showing off her beautifully sculpted cheekbones. She elegantly sat with a straight back and her legs crossed at the knee, no doubt used to being stared at wherever she went. Every man in the cafe had noticed her walk in and the conversation was only now beginning to pick up again.

I could hear two waiters inside laughing as they dared each other to walk up to her for the order and eventually the younger of the two appeared, with a smile that can only be found on Italian waiters in Rome. She politely asked for a cappuccino in very good Italian and continued to look at the comings and goings in the square. The waiter lingered, teasing her with more options for food or drink, and eventually she turned to him and again politely said that would be all.

I was curious to know what it was that brought her to Rome and even what a typical day in her life would be. I wondered how old she was, if she was here working or on holiday, and if she knew how to ride horses across the beach. She just looked like the type that probably would, that’s all. I knew I would have to strike up a conversation with her and girls like this expected it. I had known many of this sort in the past and sadly most of them knew the strength of their own powers, immediately diluting the potency. I had only seen in very rare cases a siren like this that would behave with humility to others and this is what made their kind so precious.

I lifted my head and from where I was sitting I could make out the fountain in the middle of the square, three boys were playing a game where they would push each others heads under the water and I sat and watched for a minute or so. The smallest of the three kept losing and by this stage he was absolutely drenched. Suddenly his mother appeared from one of the balconies and shouted something at the other two and all three ran off in the opposite direction.

I reached for the menu card on our small table and began to look over it. I knew that this would work.

“Hello,” I said cautiously, “I hope you don’t mind me interrupting you but I was just wondering if you could help me? I was going to buy a small bowl of olives but I know that they always give a rather large portion of them here. I don’t suppose you would like to share them if I get some?” She smiled and nodded gently. “Excellent, then I shall.”

I slowly turned around in my chair to get the waiters attention and in so doing brushed her leg with my shoe.

“I’m sorry,” I said automatically. She moved her hand in a gesture that told me it was nothing.

“I hope you don’t think I’m rude,” she said as she turned further towards me. “I’ve never been to Rome before and I’m rather nervous of meeting strangers.”

“Really, where are you from originally?”

“Brighton. I’m here to meet some friends but they’re running late at the moment.”

“Do they live here?”

“Yes, just round the corner in fact and they said that this place was very good.”

“Oh it is, very good indeed. I especially recommend the olives,” I smiled.

“Why are you here?” she asked curiously. “You don’t live here do you?”

“No, although I have in the past. No, nowadays I tend to stay at a hotel near the piazza whenever I am here. I’m actually here on a research trip this time. I’m writing a novel based in Rome at the turn of the century and need to collect some real life inspiration for some of the scenes.”

“How exciting,” she exclaimed. “Have you written anything I would’ve heard of?”

“I would’ve thought so, oh look, here’s the waiter. Cameriere, potrei avere una grande ciotola di olive, per favore? Well, that’s them on the way, ” I said turning back. “What’s your name? Mine’s Michael.”

“Chloe, pleased to meet you,” she offered her hand which I accepted. “Here come my friends now, do you think they can join us?”

“Certainly, let’s pull some chairs over. Where are they? No, it’s not these two is it?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Two old friends who I once lived with in Rome came walking up to the table and after initially being cross with me because I had not told them that I was coming, we all settled down to a lovely afternoon of swapping stories of nostalgia and reminiscing about the good times.

As the night drew nearer my old friends had another engagement and left Chloe in my capable hands to find somewhere for dinner. Someone once said, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans’ but I preferred to eat in the Hotel Palazzo which really was first class. The dinner was a huge success and we both hit it off immediately. As soon as we returned to England we were married and, although brief, that was how I met my first wife.

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