“If we’re together, I would like for you to actually be here with me.”
“I know, I’m sorry, I’m just scrolling.”
“Exactly, you’re just scrolling. It would be more fun to hangout. I mean, that’s why we’re here, right?
After asking it I was swept with a cold sweat of shame. From my eyebrows to my lower belly. We were lying on the bed in a tiny hotel. Why were we here? He was just scrolling. I should do the same. I should be on my phone too. But I didn’t want to.
We had met online several months prior. I had just moved to Italy for a relationship with a man from Naples. I didn’t anticipate coming to this country alone, but I did. We had broken up in long distance just a month before I left home. From September to March, I was adapting. I would bike through arcades decorated with frescoes, listening to quick voices, big and small, in the neighboring piazze. I would try to insert myself into their conversations, if only secretly. I would sit in the library of my university, make eyes at the front desk boy. I would pretend I was French at the pharmacy. I would eat oranges. I would meet Marco.
I found him on Instagram. He didn’t find me; he wasn’t looking for me. He wasn’t looking to take in a foreign woman. He didn’t want to show anyone his city, his room, him. I dropped myself in his life like a splash of milk.
I followed his band. They were bright bedroom pop, pick and blue neon sound. He played bass, he studied Jazz, he laughed. The posts he was tagged in I was drawn to. Glittery jackets and fishnets, curly hair, crooked teeth. The band sang in English, so I thought it easy enough to get to him. I messaged the account. Someone messaged back.
“Sei una studentessa?” was written.
Yes, I am a student. A female student, I thought. I spoke enough, and understood even more, to feel confident in our exchanges. I was writing in Italian and continued to receive a mix of languages and filter-photos back. The four of them in the band all giving a chip of themselves to me. I could have had any of them, but I wanted Marco.
We would talk here and there through the humid fall and dark winter. The humid north, so humid my mascara would melt off my lashes, steeped me in creamy fog. I didn’t belong here. Home wasn’t this humid. The winter was worse- dark and drunk, two euro spritz and more moon than sun. I was like an old tea bag used twice.
I don’t know why Marco and I didn’t talk consistently over those months. I only know when spring came, and the air smelt of detergent, that we had plans to meet. I told him I wanted to see the city, and that we could meet if I had time. I had big plans of walking, lunch, more walking, and acting adjusted. I took a red train to Milan one morning in March. I traveled three hours to him.
After eating a prosciutto and arugula sandwich, I sat in a park with many blue-haired teenagers and skinny dogs. I drank sparkling water and put my face in the direction of the sun. Girasole, I thought. One of the first Italian words I learned.
After acting cool and occupied for far too long I texted Marco.
“we meet after lunch then” He wrote.
I waited more. I walked through this park, passing joggers and freshly born green leaves. I passed flower stands and tattered, wrinkled people asking for change. It wasn’t so unlike home in this way.
I found Marco in a black and white striped shirt, standing under a tree on a sort of triangle in the road. It was one of those patches of land that didn’t quite have enough space for a café, but there was one there anyway. My legs were heavy with steps, and I approached.
“Sorry I’m late. I got lost. I think I took a wrong turn at some point, but I don’t know. Milan is huge! Oh god, its good to meet you!” Be confident. Distract him from your shaky limbs. He wont notice if you keep talking.
“Oh, hey. Its okay. Oh, this is so cool. Wow I really love your accent, it’s like Netflix in real life.” His voice was higher in English. Like a choir child. “I was thinking, I’m pretty tired. Should we get some coca cola?”
He felt familiar. His tight blue eyes shrunk when he talked, extending his Roman nose farther off his cheeks. His eyebrows almost met in the middle, but it suited him. His mouth hung well low, and I preferred when his face rested.
As we walked for our cokes, I noticed his posture. He often kept one hand, if not both, gripped on his hips. He had a sort of extravagant presence about him. He wasn’t that handsome, but he was composed. He knew where he was in his body and kept his stance wide.
We paid for our own cokes and rolled cigarettes. He took me to more parks. We sat, talked about our families, ambient music, and our biggest mistakes.
This is good. We click. I’m safe.
At some point one of us suggested drinks. We went to a bar that wasn’t too far from where he hangs out. On that street most of the buildings had signs in Ethiopian. There were shops for falafel. Graffiti in Italian. Young people with big, chunky trainers.
He knew the people who worked there. He was polite, gentle with them. He was sweet when speaking Italian, always using the formal option, always ending the sentence with a high rise, like everything was a curious, curious wonder. We paid for our own drinks.
I looked down into my glass. Translucent orange, bubbles, smell of herby vanilla. Two olives stabbed.
“You know, I was thinking. What are your plans for going back?” he said.
“I don’t have any. I didn’t book my return train yet.” I sipped the last of my Aperol in between ice cubes until the plastic of my straw whistled against the glass.
“We could get a hotel.”
I had wondered why he didn’t want to take me to his. “Okay, let’s do it. A cheap one.”
We searched on my phone in front of the bar. Within another round of drinks at the table beside us, we made a reservation. I don’t remember the name of the place or how many stars it was rated, only Marco’s fingers hastily jabbing my screen.
We walked towards the hotel, I walked slightly behind him. I watched the wind in the horse chestnut trees, little grey birds bouncing between boulevards.
Marco spoke to the bald man at the desk. I handed him my passport and turned the corner to look at my reflection in the floor length mirror near the stairs. I didn’t feel ugly, but I didn’t feel much like myself. My hair was darker and longer than it usually was, a sort of dull pecan. I wore old white Ked’s and blue socks with pink pigs on them. Baggy, loose jeans and a light jade long-sleeved blouse.
Marco motioned me to him and showed me our keys. He gave me my passport and we walked to our room. It smelled stale. The sheets tightly bound the bed. I took off my socks and shoes, and the floor was cold. Marco was taking things out of his pockets, and then kissed me.
I liked the way his mouth held mine. I could taste bitter Campari and sucked his lip like an olive off a pick.
The rest of the night, cool even with the windows closed, we spent in bed. He held my body like he would a bass. Finger licking the almost perfect notes. When he came, his face became stone still and eyes wide like a cartoon character. We didn’t talk much after that and ordered kebab from our room.
In the morning after we left the hotel and I saw the bald man for a second time, we stopped for breakfast. We shared a small croissant and each our own macchiatos. We took a walk along the Naviglio and I watched his shoes against the odd cobblestone. I was cold and the haze was heavy, and I asked him to sit down on a bench beside a bridge with many people.
“So, there’s something I wanted to talk about.” I was fidgeting with my body. My knees to my chest, arms wrapped around calves, rocking left to right. I would look down at the water, and back to Marco. I would try to find the curiosity in his eyes and thought if I was speaking in Italian then it would be there. But I wasn’t.
“Sure, go ahead. What’s up?”
“You know I care more about things than just sex, right? I know it might seem like I just want to have fun and, I do, but I also like you as a person.” As a person, good, tell him that. Don’t scare him too much.
“Aw, I like you as a person too.” He was nice, light, kind. His chin stretched towards me, like a dog appeasing its owner.
“Yeah, like, I think you’re really funny, and I don’t know a lot of Italian guys like you. I feel like we get along.” We get along.
“Okay. Thank you. You’re funny too, and you’re a cool girl. But you know I don’t want anything. I don’t want anything consistent.” He said cool slow, with too many O’s.
I became hot and rocked more. Don’t be obvious. I stretched my legs out, faced him, and nestled my left foot into my crotch. “Of course! Trust me, I don’t expect anything from you. I mean, I’ll go home in a few months. We live three hours apart here anyway. I just wanted you to know I do like you as a person. I thought it would be cool to meet up again but yeah, it can be hard.”
“I can’t give you anything. I can’t give you devotion, or time, or any idea when I will be free again. I would rather not text if you expect something.” Devozione. They must use this word often. Its too heavy in English.
“Yeah of course. Okay, I should really check the train schedule.”
“Hey, I don’t want you to feel bad. I’m just honest. He pronounced the H too much.
“Marco, its fine. I’m not mad. I just like to be honest too. That’s why I told you I like you as a person.” As a person. As a person. As a person.
I pulled my phone from my jean pocket and started scrolling through train ticket options. I could spend more for a shorter ride back. There would be less transfers. I wouldn’t have to stop in Verona. Marco tugged at my sleeve.
“Listen, I’m really sorry that you’re feeling this way. I don’t want you to feel this way.” His fingernails were dirty now.
“I’m bene bene bene! Don’t worry. I’ll take this one.” I showed him the two o’clock direct train. The fast one.
“Ah, Frecciarossa, you’re so cool.” He said jokingly. Too many O’s. “Well, I have to walk this way back. So, I’ll see you later.”
We hugged and I smelled tobacco and my sweat on his same black and white striped shirt. I tried to make myself feel what it would be like to be inside of him. As I held his chest, I imagined myself right there, in the center, warm.
As I started to walk north, I turned once more to see Marco. He headed left for a few steps and stopped. I watched him put his hand on his hip and pop his leg out. He held his phone in the other, probably looking for directions.