Giancarlo lazed on his favorite perch eyeing passersby with casual disdain. The old man stood behind him at the second-floor window, breathing in the cool evening that followed the sticky Rome days. The old man’s eyes were sharp and bright. They darted to Giancarlo.
“You will attract all those girls down there, a pretty boy like you.”
Giancarlo did not condescend to reply to such a comment. His leg twitched.
The old man grunted. “You’re right. Most of them are too busy looking at their pretty boyfriends. No time for you.” Giancarlo’s gaze shifted slightly toward the corner of his eye.
“Ha! That’s pricked your vanity, you jealous thing. Never content, not you, signor.”
Giancarlo turned his head away and focused on the street below.
“One would think you were a prince the way you look down that nose of yours.”
Across the road a young woman looked up from her phone long enough to spot the pair of them in the window. She blinked and flicked a small smile at Giancarlo and kept walking.
“There, you’ve caught her eye. Are you satisfied? Basta?”
Giancarlo closed his eyes. He opened them. A blink.
“Of course not. Nothing is ever basta for you. You do not fool me. I know for whom you are watching. She brings you love and good things always and always you are smirking and grudging. Do not lie, I know you. Always you are not forgiving her for the leaving, and then when she is gone again and you are wishing for the coming back. I know you.”
The street began to light up in neon and the clinking of glasses and silverware drifted up from below.
“All the days you are sitting here watching, and I tell you the same thing every time. I tell you what I am again telling you now: always I am telling you, she is not coming tonight. You cannot always be expecting that which does not come.”
Giancarlo stood, stretched, and switched sides of the window. The old man leaned out of the casing. He was silent a while.
“Look there,” the old man said, “Here come those giovani again. Every Sunday, like clockwork. Look, there is the short one you like, with the crooked nose. What was it last week you told me? That’s right, he broke it playing football. The week before it was a fall down the stairs. Now you will tell me it was a fistfight over a girl. You tell such stories. I do not know where you get them. I cannot believe a word you say. No? No.”
Giancarlo readjusted his elbows.
“Do not play innocent with me.” With a poke, the old man elicited a jolt from Giancarlo, who batted his hand away. The old man laughed and Giancarlo’s face returned itself to a scowl. He folded himself back into his seat.
“Don’t be cross.” The cars weaved around each other like salmon. “I will tell you a secret. You think I come here to pester you, do you? Yes. But that is not all: I am watching, too. No, no, it is true. Do not look so shocked.” Giancarlo yawned.
“Look, there is the vendor selling the umbrellas again. Do you think it will rain? No, you will not allow it; you would have to leave your post. Why it is he is always wearing the blue jacket and the gold necklace? He must know we are looking. He is making it easier for us to spot him, no?”
The menus along the street started to draw in larger crowds of dinner patrons. A family trudged up the sidewalk dragging suitcases behind them. A young woman talking on the phone used the free hand to wrestle with her scarf which refused to wrap itself properly. Her heels clacked on the pavement.
“And who does this woman remind you of? Yes, me also. You would not believe me if I told you what she is doing. She is very busy. She has written about how busy she is. You would not believe me. She is very busy.
“And you? You are very lazy. Sitting here, watching always, doing nothing always. She is the one who wanted to take you in, you know. I said to her, ‘What? You will leave him here while you chase your adventures?’ She said to me, ‘I will write.’ I said, ‘Why? Giancarlo does not read.’ Now I wish I had not said that. Now she has seen my point and now she does not write. Yes, I know. Do not look at me like that.”
The old man pulled at his bushy white eyebrow. A little girl trotted behind her father on the sidewalk. An uneven stone caught her foot and she tripped. Before her knees hit the ground she stopped, her hand securely enveloped in her father’s safety-net fingers, which hoisted her to her feet. Her papa dusted her shoulder and buttoned her cardigan. He slung her onto his shoulders, her chubby legs wrapped around his neck like a scarf.
“I could tell you something, Giancarlo. You would not believe me. I could tell you that I knew a little girl like that once. She had those very knees. But her hair was curly, you see. Perfect curls, all around her head.” The old man plucked at Giancarlo’s head, fluffing imaginary curls. Giancarlo appeared not to notice. “You see, I knew her once, but you did not know her then. She is grown now. She writes letters you cannot read. You would not believe me.”
The old man looked away. When he looked again the girl and her father were gone.
“There is the butcher, walking home late. He has closed up after hours again, I see. This is good. He has had a busy day. He will look up and smile in a moment. There it is. We must wave at him. He expects it.”
The old man’s wife yelled from the kitchen. “Leaving food again! Come finish your dinner.”
“I am finished.”
“Like hell you are. You run away in such a hurry, but you sit at the window with the cat. Come eat.”
The old man turned to Giancarlo. “First it was that she would tell me to lose this belly. ‘No more birre with dinner. Even your nose, it swells.’ Now she tells me, ‘Finish your food!’ What can I do to please this woman?”
“Come away from the window.”
“You have heard her, Giancarlo. Come away.”
Giancarlo stretched, flicking his tail and eyeing the old man as he did.
“There, old fellow. Come away. We will open the shutters again tomorrow.”