Jeff was my boyfriend for the last three years. Well, something more than my boyfriend really. I had never expected myself to fall in love with a bank clerk. Not that there is anything wrong with bank clerks. It was that I’d never imagined a bank clerk would be exciting enough for me.
Just two weeks ago he had asked me to marry him. He caught me by surprise. We were having coffee at Cafe Cordina in Republic Street one fine Sunday morning. “Why do you want to marry me?” I asked him, still shocked with surprise. “Because I want to share my life with you, that’s why”, he replied as if it was something to be expected.
That is not enough reason for marriage, I thought. It was a reply which did not excite me. Did Jeff want to get married because, after three years together, it was the next thing to do? Why did he not tell me, “Because I love you!” Where is the romance? Where is love? Maybe I was reading too many love stories lately.
“I have to think about it”, I said. “It’s a proposal of marriage” replied Jeff, looking flustered and upset. But I could not reply immediately. I knew that Jeff loved me very much, that he would do anything for me, that we would have a good stable life together. But ……………….. Even as I sipped my coffee, my mind went back to Riccardo whom I had met during my holiday in Rome a year ago. He was exciting, romantic and full of compliments. He was so different from Jeff. It could be, I thought, because he was Italian. He used to sing and play the guitar in a popular restaurant in Trastevere, where all the young people seemed to gather in the evenings.
“Give me time Jeff and I’ll give you an answer,” I said while he took hold of my hand caressing my fingers. “I’ll be on holiday next week, booked with my friend Beth. We had always wanted to return to Rome,” I continued. “But I thought that we would go for a holiday together, you and I”, he replied looking confused and hurt. “OK. I’ll wait for you to come back and then we’ll talk again,” he said as he planted a kiss on my lips.
Two days later Beth and I were in Rome. We took the airport bus to Stazione Termini and then walked the short distance to our hotel in Via Gioberti. The receptionist welcomed us with “Buongiorno signorine, welcome to Rome”. Beth nudged me with her elbow. “He is handsome, isn’t he?” she said in a low voice, so that the comment remained between us. For Beth every Italian is handsome and romantic, even if he is just ordinary.
After registration, we went to our room, settled our clothes and things in the wardrobe, rested a little bit, had a shower, dressed and then went out to see the city, which we had only last seen the previous year. As a multitude of church bells tolled, we said to each other –“Let’s see what has changed.”
Rome itself does not change. Each year trees blossom among the old palaces, the same clouds drift above the many church domes across the horizon, roses still grow in garden terraces below baroque palaces and the river ‘Tevere’ continues to flow slowly beneath the bridges as it did last year and hundreds of years ago.
Only the people change. Ten million people every year come from all over the world to see its archeological and art treasures as well as to savor its charm and unique traditions. But the various hotels where they stay, the monuments, fountains, churches, museums and the other places which attract them to this beautiful city, remain unchanged.
During the morning we visited Piazza di Spagna, Fontana di Trevi, St. Peter’s Church, the Colosseum, Bocca della Verita, Foro Romano, Via del Corso and the other well-known landmarks. It was hectic but satisfying. No, there were no changes to note. Life seems to have gone on uninterrupted since we were last here. But what about me? Have I changed?
In the evening we went to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere in search of Riccardo. “Would he still be there?” I said to Beth. She looked at me suspiciously “Of course he will be there; singing in restaurants is his career; I have no doubt that he will be there”. I had my doubts, of course, or maybe I was so eager to see him that I was afraid that he would not be there.
“You’re in love” Beth remarked seeing the far-away look in my eyes. “I don’t know”, I said, “I’m just wondering!” “It was only a holiday romance”. Beth replied, “Don’t count too much on Riccardo”.
I had my fingers crossed as we approached the restaurant – ‘Taverna da Mario’ – in the heart of the piazza. As the musical notes of ‘O sole Mio’ wafted in the evening air, I knew, I definitely knew that Riccardo was there singing and playing his old guitar.
Beth and I entered the restaurant and saw him. My heart jumped. His hair was a little longer, his skin a little browner, otherwise he was just as I remembered him. We sat at a table away from where he was entertaining. He had girls all around him, mostly young tourists, probably American and British. During the break from playing and singing to patrons, Riccardo chatted with the girls, put his sun-bronzed arms around their thin waists, kissed them jokingly and laughed.
It was then that he saw us. He left everybody and came hurriedly towards us exclaiming – “Ah, the lovely girl from Malta. Where have you been all this time?” He was, as all Italians do, smiling broadly and gesticulating with his hands. And then he took me in his arms and kissed me passionately.
“Come, come with me tonight” he said, “I’ll show you how beautiful Rome is at night!” When he finished singing, I left Beth chatting to some other Italian, jumped on Riccardo’s ‘motorino’ and we went away. He looked as if he wanted to break the speed record as he wove his way along the traffic on the roads. As we swooped down hills and around bends on the mountain side, I clung firmly on to his waist.
It was exciting and romantic at the same time. From the top of Monte Mario we could see Rome beneath us, its main sites all lit up like various Christmas trees. It was an enchanting sight indeed. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and wanted the night to stand still. Before we separated, I gave Riccardo my hotel’s address and telephone number and he promised to call and collect me from the hotel so that we would enjoy my last few days in Rome together. Life with Riccardo would always be so exciting, so full of surprises, constantly on the move, late nights out. All that would suit my out-going character.
Beth was fast asleep when I entered our hotel room early in the morning. She was up and about when I woke up, as the clock struck mid-day. I recounted my adventure with Riccardo to her the night before and told her that he makes my heart skip a beat; that he told me several times that he loves me; that he had promised to call for me at the hotel, to continue our romantic interlude. Life with Riccardo would not only be romantic, but also a non-stop adventure. Beth had to return to Malta that very evening. However I stayed a day longer, hoping that things would happen in the meantime.
But during the whole of the next day, he did not phone or call. Maybe Beth was right after all. She had told me that this was all a holiday romance which lasts only a few days. Despite his vows of love, could it be that for him, I was just another foreign girl he liked to flirt with?
I was having breakfast on my last day in Rome when the receptionist came hurriedly up to me and said. “Signorina! Signorina! There’s a man asking for you in the lobby.” “There”, I said to myself in an anxious mood, “Riccardo has finally come for me.”
Excited, I followed the receptionist to the lobby downstairs. Then I saw him. He was standing there holding a rose in his hands. I felt all my misgivings simply melting away. One romantic gesture could make all the difference in winning a girl. When he saw me, he grinned. “Hi sweetheart. I love you!” he said. “I hope you don’t mind me joining you”.
“Hello Jeff”, I replied, seeing him there with his luggage by his feet. “I don’t mind at all. As a matter of fact, I could do with some company!” Then he took me in his arms and kissed me with a passion I could not remember. Rome does not change, but I had changed, I thought, as I looked at the man I had spent three happy years with, the man who really loved me without uttering empty words, however romantic they may be.