“Are we lost?” I ask, trying not to smile. “Because if we are, all we have to do is ask one of the local merchants for assistance.”
Whizzy shoots a shocked stare at me. “Have you learned nothing about these natives? First we request assistance from one of them and then the next we know that is that we will be robbed and assaulted.”
“That’s not going to happen, Whizzy,” I correct him, “You forget I’m an Auror.”
“An Auror who is five months pregnant, for Jove’s sake.”
“I can still kick your arse,” I snap out at him angrily before I realize what I’ve said. I can tell by his expression that he is taken aback by my sudden change of tone.
The more things change, the more they stay the same…yes, I am NOT supposed to say such words or act in such a bold and brazen way. But that’s me. That’s what I am about. It doesn’t bother me in the least to approach a complete stranger in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. It’s times like these when I see how different Whizzy and I truly are.
“I’m sorry, Whiz,” I catch myself, “I didn’t mean to sound so spiteful.” He studies me for a moment more, weighing his options, I’m sure.
“I understand,” he begins, “I should not have been so patronizing. I did not mean to belittle you.”
“I know, sweetie,” I smile and reach to take his hand, threading my fingers with his. “I think sometimes I just automatically feel the need to defend myself to you, considering the way things used to be between us. It’s just a knee-jerk response.” As I speak he gently leads me along the cobblestone walk.
“I would never dare to put you on a shelf again, Dorrie,” he says as he cuts his eyes over to me. “I made that mistake once.” Whizzy looks up to study the stone buildings along the alleyway and I notice his vision is drawn to the clothes hanging from lines strung along pulleys across the alley. “Sometimes,” he hesitates, “I forget how demanding I can be.” He pulls my hand to his mouth for a kiss as we continue along. “I was raised in a certain way, with certain requirements and expectations of discrimination.” He pauses. “Be patient with me?” he pouts playfully, “Or, what was it that you mentioned a moment ago about ‘kicking my arse’? Against my better judgment, that sounds like it might be pleasurable.” He grins and cocks an eyebrow.
“You’re terrible,” I laugh softly as we stop and face each other, his arms slipping around what’s left of my waist. His fingers can still touch at the small of my back in spite of my abdominal expansion and the feel of his soft embrace comforts me, cradles me. The warm air filters through his cotton polo and emphasizes the heat coming off his chest as I rest my hands over his heart. “It’s a hot, sunny day. Let’s find a little café where we can get a cool drink and discuss my appreciation for your bare bum.”
We continue along the avenue, hand-in-hand, and time ceases to exist in this little alley hidden somewhere deep in this ancient city once the center of the world. Each of the buildings snuggled together is painted a different color of the sun. Balconies speckle the profile of the lane and upper windows and doorways are flanked by shutters and window boxes full of bright flowers.
“A bit like Diagon Alley,” Whizzy leans to whisper in my ear, “Would you not agree?”
“Somewhat,” I begin as we pass by an antique shop with an enormous suit of armor in the large front window. “Only different too,” I add, “Not as rushed and stressed. The people here, they seem as if they aren’t worried with the bustle of coming and going like we are back home.”
“This place does have an atmosphere of mindfulness,” Whizzy observes, “In spite of its rustic feel.”
When we reach the corner of the avenue I find that we have come to a stop in front of a small café. Not a fancy, upscale establishment, like one that we would come across in a more affluent neighborhood, but a simple little restaurant with lots of floor-length windows and a patio flanking each of the street-side walls. The paint on the door is a dull and chipped red, now dusty with wear. This place makes me think of the Leaky Cauldron, except with much more sunshine and red and white checkered tablecloths. Whizzy tries to nudge me past the entrance.
“We should start heading back to the hotel, should we not?” he asks as he tugs gently at my hand. “There is quite an elegant bistro behind the lobby.” His voice is hopeful as he waits for my response.
But I hesitate, turning away from his imploring expression to catch sight of someone who must be the café owner calling up to his wife in their flat on the floor above the restaurant. I have no idea what this frugal middle-aged man is calling out to his spouse overhead as he wipes his hands on his faded apron…once dark but now a pale grey from years of use. The color of the tattered apron matches his hair and the whiskers of his moustache. The man’s attention drops from the window above until his vision sets upon me as I stand not more than a meter in front of him.
“Ciao singnorina,” he says before he glances at my belly, “Oh, scusa, scusa signora…mama piccolo!” He smiles wide before he pats his belly and calls up to his wife, “Hey il mama, scende e vede il mama inglese piccolo.”
I glance over to Whizzy and shrug my shoulders with a grin.
“He wants his wife to come downstairs to see the little English mama,” Whizzy says. A few moments later the proprietor’s plump wife appears inside.
“Entrato, entra, il mama inglese piccolo,” her solid comforting hands implore me with a surprising grace to come closer before she gently hugs me to her bosom.
When she releases me I look over at Whizzy once more and he nods his consent before I step into the café.