(OK, so this isn't new but it has not been posted to a prompt before so I thought it needed another airing for newer readers.)
I looked down at the plate. What had they given us this time? It was 9.30pm Maureen and I were in a ristorante in Rome with the rest of the coach party. It was our last night in the city and and we were enjoying our farewell dinner. The place was crowded, and this was no understatement. It was packed to the rafters! When we had arrived our hearts sank as we could see the place was full. Surely the arrangements had gone seriously wrong. But no, we were ushered in, through the ground floor dining rooms, down a passage, past the kitchens when ten or more chefs and kitchen hands worked in a typical latin frenzy.
At the end of the passage we turned left and squeezed past waiters moving back and forth from service areas to eating areas. Then we went down some steep stairs to the lowest rooms of the building, we had arrived in a series of subterranean vaults that had been converted to dining rooms. We made our way through the mass of diners already eating and eventually found ourselves in a corner with just enough tables and chairs to seat our party.
I automatically looked for the fire exit; there was none! In my mind I read the page three European news in my local Australian newspaper. "Hundreds die in restaurant fire in Rome. Australian tourists believed to be victims. Difficulty in identifying charred bodies. Police have issued an arrest warrant for missing restaurant owner."
We all sat down. Then with typical Italian flourish we were welcomed by the waiter who fussed around the women with smooth courtesy. Wine and water were placed on the table and we were encouraged to ask for more when that ran out. It was included in the meal. So things were not so bad after all! The bottled water might help to put out any fire that started!
The gourmet food and wine were consumed, course by course. Laughter erupted out of the conversation like a natural by-product at such a gathering. New friendships forged in recent days spoke of enduring relationships and the wine flowed. The waiters teased, picked their favorites and customers allowed them liberties that they would laugh about or perhaps choose not to remember in the morning.
My eyes strayed from the group. Through an archway in the wall another party were similarly disposed. A family group of Italian grandparents, parents and children joined in the repartee with the waiters and shouted encouragement at their antics. The eldest granddaughter was a Gina Lollabrigida type; dark eyes, flowing black hair and a sensuality that reflected in every movement.
The main course was served and with a clatter of plates, the most handsome waiter chose his favorite at each table to present their meal on a silver platter. He insisted on a reward of course. He drew his napkin from his arm and with no lack of Latin charm shielded his chosen lady while he stole a kiss. If she resisted he persevered. If she encouraged he took his time. There was no escape and the crowded room erupted with laughter. The wine bottles were exchanged.
I glanced back to family through the arch. A three piece group of musicians were serenading each table and had arrived at Gina Lollabrigida's. She was entranced. She wriggled with desire and rose willingly when the singer invited her to dance. She swayed voluptuously in his arms, her eyes shining and her body reflecting the rhythm of the music. The singer was called away by the leader of the group and she stood in hurt solitude, her supple young body not yet ready to give up. A passing waiter found himself dancing with her, but he was too keen and held her close to feel that young body against him. She frowned, shook her head and released him from her grasp. Yet another waiter was chosen, this one was a fine dancer too. He held her lightly, and led her around the tiny space available, their bodies moving in perfect timing with the music. She closed her eyes in ectasy with a seductive smile on her face.
I was captivated.
The band of minstrels moved away from their area and she reluctantly returned to the family's table and sat down.
I returned to my Gnocchi.
A little while later the musicians approached our table. What fun it was. The ladies were serenaded in turn and the men were encouraged to place a note on the guitar if they approved of the music. There was certainly no room to dance where we were but the thrill of the seductive music, the charm of the Romeo musicians and the effect of the wine showed in the eyes of our partners.
I do not know what made me glance back to the dark eyed nymph through the archway, but I did. She was pouting with exasperation that the music was so close again but unavailable to her. She remonstrated with the singer to come back to her, but he merely smiled and turned back to our group. I kept my eyes on her. For the first time now facing in our direction she saw me too. There was the merest hint of understanding. We searched each others faces and for just one second she was mine. But the moment was brief. In that time I too held her in my arms and danced with her. I could feel that sensuous body against mine and I kissed those red lips.
We both turned away at the same time, then she was lost to me forever.
I returned to my glass of wine and smiled brightly at Maureen and the others on my table hoping my eyes would not reveal my passionate affair.
(Danse a la ville, painting by Renoir c 1883)