A monster beyond cool… I muttered the words into the sweet, black liquid which, four times a day, had become my substitute for life, and gazed out of Cafe Giacomo’s window and across one of the city’s busiest side streets.
The bike snaking in and out of Rome’s afternoon traffic was huge…so big that I had to look twice at the slight body of its rider. Despite the tight turns around the stationary, swearing queue of cars, the rider was guiding its mass with ease…
“Fantastically low centre of gravity,” I said, softly, recalling a word of wisdom from some lost source. I whispered it to no-one in particular, though I could feel the cafe-bar owner’s overbearing presence somewhere close.
I moved nearer to the window to get a better view of the intermittent fantasy.
She had left me at this very spot, staring out through the thick glass, post-argument. She had slung her backpack over a shoulder, the cardboard tubes containing the best of her designs… her ticket to fortune.
A poor but exciting English artist and an Italian lady engineer. An unlikely and unsuccessful partnership…though the first year had been one long party of cheesy pasta and Barolo.
Out on the street, she had turned. Gazed back at me before taking a lipstick out of her pocket and drawing a heart on the glass. Then she was gone.
But I knew where on the wall of glass to locate the faint outline of its existence… Proof I had once been alive.
“Coffee is only cheaper at the counter,” Giacomo said to my left ear, hoping to shock. I turned to look at his half snarling, half smiling, always unshaven face. He had a heart, but few had ever encountered it.
But, for the past few years his cafe-bar had been my home, when I wasn’t staring at the old fan set deep into the ceiling, or a dozen half-finished paintings, four rickety floors up in a tiny apartment that smelled of cheap brandy.
“Go froth yourself,” I managed, suppressing a smile.
Giacomo ignored it. He was good at that. “Was nice bike, yes?”
I nodded. “Was…”
Giacomo opened the heavy glass door and urged me outside. I gazed straight ahead at where I’d last seen the fantasy motorbike.
He chuckled and turned my head a long way to the right. The white and black leviathan was cruising slowly along the pavement towards the cafe. When it stopped, front wheel an inch from my feet, I heard the sound of the cafe bar’s door grinding closed on its old hinges.
The voice came from behind the helmet’s visor. It was like being interrogated by an alien, until the words untangled from my hammering heartbeat, and understanding returned.
“They liked my designs,” the lady engineer said. “They let me design a little bike, then a bigger one…and then this.”
I shook a shabby head. There were tears in my eyes. The implication was plain: they had believed in her; I hadn’t…or at least, not enough.
The gesture must have been the right one. The visor flipped up. The hazel eyes were calm and purposeful. She reached into a leather pocket and extracted a small red cylinder.
“Climb aboard! There’s only one seat but it will keep us close on the journey back to Bologna.” In the back of my mind something clicked: Ducati motorcycles were built in Bologna… She was taking me home…. new home.
“I haven’t got a helmet,” I said, weakly, throwing my leg over the bike and letting the saddle’s curvature press me into hers.
She laughed, throaty and sweet. “That’s the least of your problems – in a blazer, slacks and sneakers…. You didn’t think I was going to make it easy, did you?”
“And the lipstick?” I had to shout as the engine rumbled back into life.
Everything vibrated. My body smiled… She shouted: “ I want a bright red heart across the back of my helmet…”
I managed a fleeting glimpse back into the cafe. Giacomo was toasting us with a brandy.
(Photo: Ducati motorcycles)
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.