I still have the guide book I took with me in 1980. “Umbria the green heart of Italy – The City of Perugia – In the evening young people, many of them foreign language students from the famous Italian language school for foreigners, sprawl on the cathedral steps, still warm from the sun, chatting together, eating ice cream or watching the nightly “passeggiata” of fashionable Perugini.” The stone steps outside the cathedral are still warm but I don’t chat or sprawl or eat ice cream nor am I young, I just sit with my ant.
Like me, my ant enjoys the warmth of the steps. I believe It helps her charge her battery for the important tasks she does during the day. We all have important tasks don’t we. I have to learn Italian, my ant has to do whatever ants do, like get food, build a nest or have baby ants. – Lay eggs I should say.- Ants lay eggs don’t they? – I think she builds her nest underground, and lays eggs, maybe under the actual stones I am sitting on. That would explain why I don’t need to look for her or call her. She’s been waiting all day, waiting for the feel of my body on top of her. Or that’s what I like to think. I just place my hand flat on the stone and in a minute or so she appears and climbs on. It’s like we are holding hands.
I have never studied ants – not in the way you study Italian. I just feel things about her without having to read books. It’s the same with people. You know when somebody likes you without studying them. It’s an instinct. Sometimes I look at her though my reading glasses while she fusses about on my hand. She’s small and dark and very beautiful with an amazing body. It seems to shine even in the late evening. We don’t stay holding hands for long in case I squash her, instead I gently guide her off onto the steps and draw a circle around her with a black marker and she stays in it. She must think it’s a wall.
Perugia has the highest, oldest walls of any Italian city and the steepest hills. That’s what I think anyway. The sun has trouble getting in so it always dark even in the day. Dark enough that when I walk back down the hill after lunch for my nap through the cramped streets it’s like I am tunnelling. It makes me think of my ant. I imagine her laying her eggs in the cosy corners of her stone step or in my bed, tunnelling under the duvet or in the pillow-case to the safe places, so nobody can find them but us.
Of course, I miss my Maria. I want to be sprawling on these same warm steps, eating ice cream watching the nightly “passeggiata” of fashionable Perugini” with my Maria.
She’s long gone of course – I’m not stupid – I’m just saying in those days she was my best friend. Nothing improper mind you. She just sat next to me every evening. She was young and dark, and beautiful, very Italian. She listened to me attentively. “Mi chiami Christopher. Io abito in Inghilterra. Io ho vent anni.” She was gregarious with lots of friends. They all listened to me. They loved my accent. I think they found me very charming as they were always there waiting, loads of them! Sometimes Maria was very cheeky and lay against my arm licking the sticky ice cream stream that trickled down my wrists, her head thrown back soaking up the sugary liquids flavoured with peach or melon or hazelnut. She was brazenly unconcerned about flavours or hygiene.
She was my first love.
My first and most precious ant.