He’s staring at me then looks away. He saw me walking to the café and watched me walk in . I made my order, ” Un cappuccino senza schiuma, cornetto semplice e un succo di frutta( albioccia ) – a tavolo, grazie”. I paid and left to choose a seat. He was watching me again. Why do I feel awkward? I mentally wanted distance between me and him despite him being 10 feet away.
I sat and began to open my book. I was re-reading the same paragraph and feeling his gaze every now and then. Does he want to speak to me? I realized his gaze shifted a bit to the left of me . She was also avoiding his connection . He looks left and right , only at us and us at him and quickly at each other . We are doing this exchange with no malicious intent just indifference; we’re at an impasse.
The three of us are acculturating the breakfast culture knowingly. It is not the breakfast we would be having in our home countries. In fact, our meals would have been similar yet different and overall comforting to us all. Are they thinking like me or is it just the body language we share? The woman and I possible consciously or unconsciously are trying not to see him. He makes us know that he sees us. The guy who is watching is African. He’s dressed in a beige light jacket, polo and jeans . He placed his backpack along a tree as he leaned on a car in front of the entrance way of the bar , speaking softly into his earphones; waiting for change from passerby and people leaving the bar. He’s chill and his presence somehow changes things.
I begin to think about my privilege, I’m struggling inside. Why do I feel an unrest of his presence? It’s stupid. The waiter arrives with my sweet simple breakfast and I take a sip of water. I look at it. I say to myself -this is not a breakfast. A real breakfast would be ackee and saltfish with a side of fried dumplings ,freshly kneaded, with boiled banana. I like my idea of breakfast however I live here.
I wonder about his origins. What would his breakfast be if he was home? Does he ever make or have that breakfast here? I know he had an Italian breakfast before waiting for change. He also does as the Romans do. I began to wonder if he got bamboozled into believing he would be better in Europe or came on a dream. Since the gate keeper is Italy he probably got stuck here. Most , if not all are trying to go north to other countries. There are fewer migrants now in Italy -barely in fact. The possibility of a balanced life here as a migrate requires pure blessings and beauty.
She was maneuvering her phone, not for a selfie, but for a way to block her connection with him. I wondered about her breakfast too. Would it have more substance and heartiness? Does he make her think about home? It’s like he reminds her that she is a foreigner too. She’s North African. She is dressed conservatively modern with a cream blush hijab. She’s lighter than the guy and I. He just glances at us from time to time and talks nonchalantly on his phone and it’s powerful. Is he unbothered or is this happening? At one point she held her phone closer to her face and then decided to lay it down bending her neck with all her might . I think she feels as I do, her body language screams it . We see each other and avoid each other at the same time. Why are we dissociating ?
This is not the only time I have seen a person of ethnicity and looked away or stared at them with great anticipation here. The disassociation I learned from growing up Caribbean and living in the States has molded this doctrine into my upbringing. Many Jamaicans disassociate from Africans and African Americans and vice versa. In the last few years the division has started to lose some of its foundation. It is so engrained in us , mainly from colonization, to stay disconnected from each other . The disconnection reduces our abilities to create healthy economical, sociological and community bonds with the African diaspora . We are the latents in Octavia Butler novel Mind of Mind. The book is about telepathic people that were repulsed and magnetically attracted to each other. The father of them all had never tried to improve their relations thus they had to find a way to unite and be at peace with each other. I had to unlearn much prejudices taught to me and had adopted a way similar to Mind of Mind. I was free.
I remember my first year in Rome, when all thing were’ Bella Vita”. An Italian colleague at the time and I were chatting at a bar, similar to this one. A charismatic African guy was waiting for change. I asked him his name and what brought him to Italy. I wanted to know his story. My Italian was basic so I was relieved that he knew English. My colleague scolded me for speaking to him, ” Don’t do that , it will encourage them to interact more” and in a second breathe expressed that he was a volunteer for Red Cross for over 4 years and he felt so fulfilled with his work.
The experience was discomforting . I saw it over and over again and eventually I disassociated again. I had believed I was immune to such behaviour. I felt discomfort every time I did it. I wanted them to have what I had or more yet I mentally pushed them away. The inner fights of disowning their blackness from mine plagued me for the latter years here. I had an Italian partner, was adopting Italian ways with my Westernized friends and Italian family. I didn’t take the time to understand the impairment I had built separating me from my openness. I had lost some of me.
The Italian breakfast is a fleeting experience and so I was left with my thoughts , at this table , with this man and woman in a telepathic gaze standoff. I collected my things and gave him a couple euros. He smiled , ”Have a nice day, miss”. I smiled back. I turned to our other counterpart at the table and smiled , she smiled back. We had a chance and didn’t take it. If the circumstances were different we could have chatted together….possible , maybe.