Image Credit: Ruslan Bardash

Gelato

My mum waves goodbye at me. The Juicy sign printed on the bottom of my trousers surely did me a favour when I turned around and walked through those security gates. It gave my mum the impression that I was happy to leave, but I guess that’s what glitter does. 

I stop at one of the slim mirrors by the Ray-Ban till in the duty-free zone. I reach for my Barry M XXXL Plumping Lip Gloss which is almost the only thing in my tiny Jacquemus bag and apply it with precision. I could begin to think about not living with my mum anymore to feel the extra sadness. I hear the faint machinery voice speak “Please do not leave any bags unattended,” and then for some reason, I’m back to a better reality. I walk towards Gate 4B so I can sit down. I chose a seat facing the big windows where I can see the planes coming and going. The sun, which romantically stares right at me, reads aloud a letter of true love. I can feel a toasty voice, speaking only of affectionate words of sunbeams all over my hot black skin. There is a white lady opposite me, her cheeks rosy and her hair ash blonde. She looks like a movie star in her tank top which reads ‘Why Do Men Love Bitches?’. I wonder if she is starting a new life or just going for a vacation. Nah, I think she is just going on vacation. I put my Airpods in and play ‘Reckless’ by Wizkid, resisting the urge to move my waist.

After I pass London’s airport boarding checks, the gushing wind coming from the plane overtakes me, but the sun is still my friend who stops me from falling over. The line to get into the plane is not like the usual wait. Two older women in front of me, both wearing pearl necklaces, are conversing together about something clearly interesting, causing them to stroll instead of speed walk. I just don’t understand what about though, they are speaking Italian. 

“Ticket please,” says the flight attendant. She looks almost identical to the girl that was sitting opposite me at the gates earlier.

“Here,” I reply nervously as if I hadn’t already passed security. She scans the ticket with her eyes and points to the seats.

“E41. Straight down on the left. Benvenuto on board to Venice, Italia.” She smiles and hands me back my ticket.

As I walk down this aisle, all I see is old, middle-aged, young white people. I struggle to walk down the runway. It is super tight making me more anxious to just be seated already. A girl and her boyfriend are sitting next to me. They both have a strong Italian accent. He stands up to assist me with my bags and place them into the bag compartment above our heads. 

“Here, I’ll take this for you,” he says.

“Thank you, I’m by the window,” I reply, still standing beside him struggling. 

“Go, you can sit, I got this. You from Italy?” he asks.

“I will be from there now. I’m moving.” Before returning the question, I catch the girl beside him cutting her eyes at me. So, I squeeze past her and I sit in my seat. I’m comfortable.

“You alright there?” the boy says once he has sat down. 

“Yeah, thanks for that,” I say quickly to avoid any more conversation or possible drama on the plane ride. 

The plane ride went as I expected. I watched the Titanic on the mini-TV in front of me. I cried and cried as if it was the first time I watched it. It was the sixth. The sun was much harsher here, devouring my every piece of hair the second I came off the plane as bees would to honey. Even security here was different. Literally. I hold my matching juicy couture hoodie in my arms, along with my luggage and wait for my taxi man to load my belongings in the car. He looks very young; his scrawny arms tell me this. He is smoking a cigarette, puffing it impatiently. I pull out my phone to send my mum the mandatory flight text ‘Landed safe and sound. I’ll call you when I can. Love you ma xx’. He throws his cigarette and doesn’t stand on it to put it out. He takes my bags and puts in the boot and opens the passenger door as if I should sit there and then goes around to sit in the driver’s seat. I chuckle because I know from this point, London isn’t my home anymore. I close the passenger door and open the back door and sit inside. He turns around to look at me whilst starting the car and laughs. 

“Ha-ha chocolate girl, I just to make you comfort.” He smirks. The engine revs. I think he meant comfortable.

I didn’t know what to say so I say, “Do you have an aux cord?” with one of the many dirty looks I can give. He looks confused. So, I point to my music app and then the radio on the car. 

“Ahhhh ok scusa. Si, Si. Here. Bluetooth,” he says. As soon as I connect to the Bluetooth, he drives off to my destination. 

I sit in the car listening to Chris Brown’s Indigo album. The windows are all down and I’ve never felt a summer like this before. As we drive, I see kids on their bikes and people of all ages with ice cream in their hands. My eyes gaze at vivid flower fields that I’ve never seen a single day in my life in London.  I see couples who were actually speaking to each other and not taking pictures or texting. I see an elderly man, poorly attempt to hide a bouquet of white tulips from his lady and surprise her. For the first time in a very long time, I take a deep breath and inhale rhythmically. I don’t think about who I didn’t text back or the poor decisions I’ve made with the friends I no longer have or the boy who never cared for me. I don’t sit and stay on my phone. Or even have the urge to. This was a change I needed. 

Madonna dell ‘Orto, Venice. This where I’m staying. It looks pretty busy. I wasn’t aware of this but I’m happy. My apartment is in a tall light pink and light blue dusted building, with French balconies. This is what I have always pictured. Not exactly, but almost. My door number is 42. I’m high up. I have a view where I can see the sun come up and go down. I can see all the water Venice is consumed by. The inside of this apartment smells like sandalwood. I find myself connecting to the Wi-Fi, blasting another album on the speakers and run into the shower. 

“Oooo it’s cold!” I scream. The water is so cold it hurts, but I leave it on. I run out of the shower after 15 minutes. Do you know how good it feels walking around in this apartment with no clothes on and water dripping from the tips of my hair?  I felt like a bad bitch. Anyway, I open my suitcase and pick my clothes out on the floor. I have no urgency to put all my things away and be organised. Cocoa butter, satin scrunchie, flip flops, a mini dress. I’m good to go. I take in the hot air and strut my way around the area. I finally find a corner shop, alongside pizzerias and masquerade shops. There are two young men. One dark-skinned, the other one of a much lighter complexion. I make eye contact with the darker man and he shyly looks away. I pull my skirt down a little as I walk by, to avoid any unnecessary comments. I don’t receive any. Nor did any of them come and speak to me. As I walk into the corner shop, I whimsically thought to myself wow, are the men here different too? No catcalling, no harassment, nothing? But my thoughts are destroyed by the bald fat man who is sitting in the corner smoking a cigar, with his phone camera pointing directly at me. 

“Are you filming me?” I shout, hot and bothered. He quickly put his phone down and continues to sit there staring right at my boobs. “Ergh! so fucking disgusting!” 

The man behind the till says, “Anglais?” 

I look at him annoyed and respond with, “What?”

“Anglais?” he repeats. 

An older woman just stands there staring at me in disgust. I can’t tell if she didn’t like the way I spoke so loudly, or if she just didn’t like me. I figured that he was asking if I spoke English. I ignore him out of frustration and go to pick up a bottle of water and go back to the till. 

“This and a sim card, please”. He scans my bottle of water and doesn’t say another word to me. “Hello? Do you sell sim cards here?” I ask.

“No Anglais, Scusa,” he says as the two boys outside walk in and hear him. I stand there before paying for the water and use my earring to spring out my sim card port and show him, “This? Do you have this?” I say as if I was speaking to child.

“Ah no, no, no,” he says with a forced smile on his face.

I leave the shop very bothered. As sweat particles form on my head, I aggressively open the water bottle when the tall young man follows me outside of the shop. His skin is the richest of black I’ve seen. His teeth so bright I began to feel insecure about mine. 

“Everything okay?” he says, his accent charming.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I reply, defending myself. 

“Do you need help with anything?” he asks kindly.

“No. I’m good… are you okay?” I ask. His beauty is deserving of a kind response, but I can’t give him the satisfaction.

He lets out a cheeky smile, whilst squinting holding his hands over his eyes, he breathes out, “I heard you ask for a sim card. You can buy it from there. The blue one. 2 Euros. Enjoy the rest of your day.” He walks away without looking back and there I am standing. This was enough to bring my thought of men being different here, back.

My body aches from all the walking but it feels nice. Nothing beats this feeling of my bare feet on the floor of my room. I throw myself into my bed. This feeling of being in a place so familiar but unfamiliar makes me feel whole here.

I was sweating in my sleep, so I drench myself with cold water in the shower and then make my way to the centre. The city looked much calmer today, I guess everyone’s busy. I’m sitting at the bus stop, listening to the ‘Hot girl Summer’ playlist and for one moment, I realised that I am alone, but I am happier. The soft pink balsam plants growing beside me are radiating peace. I forgot to oil between my thighs because now they’re rubbing together as I walk. 

Google maps has never confused me more than today. In London, I hated using Google maps. I always used Waze which got me to my destination faster but today I’m not in a rush and to be honest, I don’t have anywhere to be, so why stress? All the women I see are wearing short skirts with tops revealing a lot of cleavages. I dressed appropriately, though it seems as if I haven’t from the gaze. As I walk through what seems to be the city of lovers, I find myself attempting on multiple occasions to block the sun from my screen. While trying to find some shade, I see him. Or I find him, I must say. He, who holds summer romance in his face. He, who I saw in the corner shop yesterday, is wearing a fresh pair of white air-forces, distracted on his phone as he walks towards the ice-cream parlour. I speed walk, so now I’m standing in front of him in this queue. From the reflection of the glass, I can see him still on his phone walking and then he finally stops right behind me in the line and looks up, away from his phone. These massive Dior glasses are doing me justice right now because he looks right at me into the reflection of the glass smirking. In perfect timing, I take them off and look straight at the menu. I can feel his eyes fondling the bare skin on my back exposed through the backless satin halter-neck dress I’m wearing.

“Hi,” I say to the waiter, twirling my fingers in the curls of my hair. “Can I please have a cone, with erm pistachio and vanilla please?”

“Medio o grande?” she asks, pointing at the size chart.

“Erm medium, please,” I reply.

“Farlo due volte per favoure.” I hear lover boy’s voice speak from beside me. He brings out his cardholder to pay for both mine and his ice cream. He looks at me and smiles. 

“What? I just want the same gelato as you.”

I felt a flutter of butterflies mingle in my stomach and suddenly forgot how to speak.

“Malik,” he says.

“Destiny.” I blush, without making eye contact. 

As we walk out of the shop, he opens the tiny box he had in his other hand. A cake but I couldn’t tell which flavour it was. “In a better mood today, I see?” he asks.

“Thank you for the ice cream but don’t you have somewhere to be?” I ask, in a nice tone. 

“Well, if I don’t, will you let me walk with you?” The piece of cake getting all of his attention.

“I’m going into the art gallery. So, I don’t have much walking to do anymore,” I say whilst licking my ice cream.

“Well, they won’t let you in with the ice-cream now so you gotta finish it before you go in, but you knew that,” he says cheekily, pointing towards the outdoor seating area. 

“You’re eating a cake with your ice cream?” I ask. “Couldn’t you pick one dessert?”

“You could focus on your own or you could take a bite,” he says, holding the cake to my mouth, so close to me I forgot we stood blocking the pavement, I bit where he bit, and it was the tastiest thing.

We put our belongings in the same tray at the security check-in before we enter the art gallery. He insisted on coming inside with me and I didn’t want him to leave me alone even though I asked him to multiple times. He stays silent as we saunter to and from the different exhibitions. It is this silence and minimal talking that fuels my admiration for him more.  This particular section of the gallery looks like an aquarium. It is empty and one projector displays luminous dark and light blue pictures of fishes and sharks underwater. I stand there watching the images change. He stands behind me, watching me. His slow breaths hovering around my neck and shoulders, I begin to breathe slower, but I move out of this tantalizing position and stand upright beside him. And it was when I look up at him from this side angle, that I see the Leo star sign tattooed and buried behind his left ear. 

I forgot how hot it was outside because, inside the art gallery, the air conditioning was on, so when I step outside, the heatwave comes over me.

“How can we get on the little canoes?” I ask Malik, ticking the museum off my itinerary list.

“We?” He mimics and then giggles. “Let’s go, they’re gondoliers.” 

“Gondoliers,” I repeat. “So, what are you doing here in Italy?” 

We walk down the little steps towards the canals. He pinches a sunflower at its stem.

“Just business,” he says, confirming my knowledge of Leo men as mysteries.

Whilst Malik concentrates on balancing the flower in my hair, he demands, “Come with me, to this party tonight.” He looks down at my itinerary list. “Unless you have plans?”

I can’t tell where the excitement was coming from, but it was enough for me to agree to go with him.