Rome, a city I had read so much about but never set foot in. I realize now this was how it was for many people living outside the country. The taxi zipped through the cobble stone streets, passing a long stretch of parked motor scooters, passing classical buildings, and architecture I had never seen before that seemed to border on the divine. At the stops, I watched the colorful people mingle at shops, cafés, and even on the pavement, the old and the young walking the streets and moving along with their daily lives. I smiled thinking of how much I wanted to do these things, to leave this car and join them on the streets, wishing that I were an everyday resident.
The taxi dropped us off in front of a building not far from Piazza Navona and we walked through the stone streets passing several quaint little outdoor cafés. He led me down the narrow cobble street way and I was already falling in love with the sights of the busy residents, the scent of the food cooking and served to the outdoor patrons seated against the beige brick walls of the restaurant, which was adjacent to the long row of parked scooters and small European cars. I even fell in love with the feel of the stone pavement beneath my feet as I took each step toward my new life. We reached a large dark green double door to a medium sized rust colored and beautifully worn building. Frederic opened the door and led the way inside.
Without saying a word, he led me through the large foyer that housed multiple doors to different apartments to the thick brown wooden door unlocking it and stepping aside allowing me to enter first. Once inside he sat my case at the door and proceeded to give me a tour. This place was certainly smaller than the enormous home I was used to living in, I looked around and was immediately crestfallen.
‘Will I ever get used to this?’
“They call this place a two sleeper.” Frederic explained as he took me from the tiny light yellow painted kitchen that housed a small white refrigerator that was no taller than to his chest. A small cabinet sink with only enough room for a dish rack, a stove, and a wall mounted cabinet stocked with dishes on one side and dry foods on the other. He then led me across the light brown tiled floor to the small living room area. “But that’s only because of the sofa bed in the living room here.” He finished pointing to the small white couch facing a small table and two chairs. “That’s the dining room.” He then pointed toward the small black table and chair set adjacent to the couch.
There was nothing here but the mentioned sofa bed and table set, an old wooden lamp that sat on top of a brown end table next to the perfect square window in the room, the walls were a plain but neat cream color and the ceiling was beige and monotone, yet very warm. The only item in there that stood out the most was the large covered painting.
“There’s only one furnace in this place so expect to share when it gets cold.” He informed me and my eyes followed his to the large metal furnace connected to the wall.
He soon led me up the stairs that connected directly to his messy bedroom. “Of course this is my room, and this is the toilet area.” He walked along the beige wall which led to a room with no door and inside was a blue and white spotted tile design that literary took over the entire room, over powering the simple white European toilet and sink. The pattern was so extreme I had to look hard through the eye-assaulting motif to find the tub that held the same pattern and connected to the wall at the very back.
I didn’t think I was able to hide the displeasure of staying in such a small house, with such a small tub, off the wall color scheme, and bare minimum furniture because soon Frederic was looking at me with his thick brow furrowed in anger. “Something wrong?” He asked in a voice slightly touched with heat.
“Uh, nothing!” I quickly piped up.
“It isn’t the greatest accommodations.” He crossed his arms defiantly, walked toward his unmade bed, and plopped on top of it sending the papers piled on top of it flying to the floor. “But I like it here.”
“I know it doesn’t leave much room for privacy, but we’re both guys right? I don’t care if I see you coming in and out of the bathroom naked.” He shrugged.
“And it doesn’t bother me if I can come right downstairs and see you snoozing on the couch with drool and snot pouring out of your body.” He crossed his arms again and smirked.
“Nope, that doesn’t bother me at all…so it shouldn’t bother you.” He then looked hard at me.
“It doesn’t! Everything is fine! I love it!” For some reason I felt eager to prove to him I could handle it.
He laughed. “Well then consider this your home for as long as you like.” He sat up and patted a spot on the blue flower designed comforter for me to sit. I walked across the dark wood floor and took a seat on the soft plush fabric. I noticed that the ceiling and a part of the wall was the same dark wood paneling as the floor, I also noticed that the papers that fell onto the floor were actually photographs. I picked up one and saw that it was of a falling star captured perfectly as it streaked the nighttime sky.
“Do you like it?” Frederic asked as he saw me smile.
“It’s beautiful.” I replied feeling the swell in my heart.
“I went to my spot and sat on top of the roof for hours in the freezing cold just to get it.”
“It must have been worth it. This picture certainly proves it.”
“It’s garbage.” He said coldly as he took the picture from me and tore it in half. Before I could protest, he was at the stairs walking down. I quickly followed him down the stairs, stopped at the doorway of the kitchen watching him as he opened the small refrigerator and pulled out two beers, and handed me one.
“Why would you say that, it was beautiful and you obviously worked very hard to take it, it must have been important to you.” I finally managed to get out.
“Yeah well tell that to my…relatives. They think it’s a waste of time. I’m starting to believe them.” He took a drink walking pass me and sat at the small dining table in the narrow space of the living room. I looked across the room and once again, my eyes travel to the easel with a covered painting attached, it seemed so out of place in the small room.
The only exposure to art I had ever had besides the paintings Henri acquired over the years and the paintings of my ancestors was the ones in my art history books. I was excited to compare his work so I walked over to inspect it.
“Don’t touch it!” Frederic suddenly yelled.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I’m not done and I don’t like a person looking at something that’s unfinished.” He explained calming down.
He stood up and passed me as he walked toward the painting grabbing it and the easel. “I guess this area is no longer completely mine, I’ll move it upstairs.” He mumbled as he soon disappeared upstairs. I began to feel as if I was invading on his personal space. ‘Maybe he just felt bad for me.’ I thought. I figured that I should try to leave gracefully; the last thing I wanted was to impose.
“Sorry about that.” He came down the stairs and walked over to the table to take another drink of his beer. “I can get moody, but ignore it.” He smiled. His smile was so infectious I could not help but smile with him.
“Frederic can I ask you a question?”
“Go ahead.” He took a swig of his drink and sat the bottle down.
“Will you promise not to give up on your dreams?”
He tilted his head in that same curious fashion as before.
I continued. “You see if you’re working hard for your dreams it would inspire me to work hard on mine.”
He laughed and took another drink from his bottle and stared at green colored glass for a long moment. “Fine, I think I might like you Luc, and that’s saying a lot because I don’t really like anyone.”
Later that evening Frederic handed me several sheets and two soft pillows and my mind travelled back to what he told me on the train ride here, about him wanting to know the person he was staying with and I was suddenly struck with a deep sense of guilt over lying to him before. I wanted to be as honest with him as I could.
Before he headed upstairs, I stopped him. “Um, Frederic…” I fidgeted. “The truth is that I’ve never left home.
Everything that is happening to me is new. I just didn’t want you to know. I do have quite of bit of money on me. I’ll gladly pay you for housing me tonight and first thing tomorrow I will leave to find my own accommodations.” I explained taking in a deep breath feeling relieved at getting it all off my chest.
“Wow. I guess that is a bit of a problem.” He said rubbing his chin. “I guess that means you have to stay here for good, or at least until you get used to being around here.”
“But what about…having to know everything? I don’t think I can tell you the entire circumstances surrounding that.” I explained near pleading with him to understand.
“Hey, I never wanted to hear your entire autobiography. I just wanted to gauge whether or not you’ll strangle me in my sleep.” He smiled folding his arms across his chest. “Listen, have you ever heard the expression, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?”
“Uh, no.” I shook my head for emphasis.
“Well it means that when something good is happening to you it’s better to not question it or some shit like that.” He scratched his chest and sighed. “You’re lucky to have met me. I’m a premiere guide to surviving on my own, and I know my way around Rome well enough. So hang with me.”
“You really mean it?!” I knew my eyes lit up with joy. I was scared that he would agree to my request and turn me away. The last thing I ever wanted was to be a burden on him but I did not want to be alone. Not after finding someone to talk to, and the fact that he was willing to help me, and did not pass judgment on me for the small piece of information I shared with him relieved my heavy heart.
“No problem.” He answered heading upstairs.