I know it is here somewhere. Guido said to look just past Vittorio Emmanuele, the wedding cake monstrosity monument that will always be part of my unwished for first impression of Rome. Well, I passed it five minutes ago, but still no sign of the Esquiline Hill. I have passed many churches-most very Baroque, very Italian, but none living up to the grandiosity of Santa Maria Maggiore. I’ve never actually seen it, just studied its non-memorable mosaics in Art History 101. Alright, let’s get the map out again. What intersection am I at anyway? Come on, I am an American already, used to the simple grid system of streets. Roman streets are on a grid yet not a logical grid—as illogical as anyone could imagine. I start to notice the ground rising ahead of me—slightly. Could this be the Hill? I ascend gradually, flowing into the populace around me. People are more numerous, livelier, somehow different. Younger? Possibly.
I enter a group of young people, presumably college students, laughing and speaking the Italian language faster than ever before, hands moving in time with the torrent of words. We begin our ascent up a steep and rugged set of stairs, single file like a line of soldiers marching towards someone else’s battle. I drop backwards a pace as their younger thighs bring them closer to the top. As I conquer the final step, a vast garden greets me, the sun warming my chilled hands as I stand amazed at the sight of my destination. Santa Maria Maggiore is here, and so must Guido be. A massive structure has appeared before my eyes, like magic. The sun almost avoiding its mere presence as it is draped in shadows.
My anticipation blends with a sense of anxiety as I scan the crowd for his face. I do remember him. In fact, I’ve been thinking of him for days—his white T-shirt, most likely carefully ironed by his devoted mama, his black hair, carefully coiffed like a neat cloud within the atmospheric vapors of Acqua di Gio cologne. A slightly mysterious man, for an Italian, he roped me right in with his knowledge of America, his ease with the English language, and his empathy for my tourist identity within such a vast city. The gardens carry me to what appears to be the apse end of the church. People around me are taking in the warmth from sun, enjoying a Roman early spring. The cool air being infused with a burning heat, a premonition of what is to come as the weeks progress towards summer.
I reluctantly pass the sun-drenched spectators to become enveloped in shade and taken over by the underlying cold of the air coming out of the church doors. I see a man standing deep in the shadows of one of the archways. I do not recognize him. Since there is no one else around to identify as my beloved Guido, I take a seat on the stone bench next to the doors. The man slowly moves towards me, studying my features. He asks, “Scusi, are you named Sonya?” Why yes I am?”, I say hesitantly, wondering suddenly about Guido’s absence. “Hello, very nice to meet you, my name is Reno. I am a friend of Guido. He wanted me to apologize. His wife is home and so he could not come.” I freeze. “His wife?”, I reply, both shocked and befuddled. “Oh, you did not know? I am here to take you for some pasta. I promised Guido I would. Come. Let’s get out of this cold place and feel the sun.” He pauses. “By the way, I am not married.” He smiles, teeth as white as his t-shirt, and offers me his arm, as we descend the sunny side of Esquiline Hill. We take each step down, legs extending in unison, with a rhythm only a conductor could fully appreciate. We reach the base of the hill, meeting as two separate people with an as yet unknown bond uniting us.
It all began with a kiss. Seemingly out of nowhere, Guido descended into my life like a grenade, willfully deposited right next to me, to go off some time in the future. He must have been watching me for a while. Everyday, my route was the same: take my cappuccino from the neighborhood café into the park next door. I would bring my journal with me for the slim chance I may be inspired to write something. One random day without any significance, he sat down next to me and talked. I felt like I had met him before and had known him for many years. The things we spoke of on that bench could not have been spontaneous or unplanned. He had to have a motive somewhere in those words. How he knew me so well, I’m not sure. The fact that he knew so much never crossed my mind. When he kissed me, I felt myself coming undone, a part of me unzipping from myself to merge with a part of him. Seeing this as some kind of loss was not an option. It was only a gain in my mind, my very precious souvenir of my short sojourn in Italy.
When he brought me back to his apartment, caution was not on the agenda. My brain was shut off by passion, the only thought I had was feeling his skin against mine, those lips entering me to touch my innermost reaches. Like a modern day Goldilocks, I would not notice the two sets of shoes, the woman’s trench coat strewn over the back of the chair, the carefully tended house with a woman’s touch. The bed was much too comfortable, but all the more for my pleasure. My back touched those crisply ironed sheets, my hair touching the same blankets that she nestled within that very morning before leaving on business. The robe he gave me after my shower fit my own form just right, but never did I question this. I only thought how perfect this moment was and how perfect he was for me, with me.