So as you guys know, I’ve made friends with an elderly Italian man in my street. When I heard he loved to cook, especially spaghetti, but was super-lonely, I told him I’d love to come and have spaghetti with him one day.
We actually tried to figure out what day worked best on that first visit, but our gigantic gulf of a language barrier made it hard. I asked him when I should come, and he asked me when I wanted to come. We ruled out Sunday, because that was the day his family came. We ruled out nights. We wondered maybe Monday? Perhaps Wednesday? What about Thursday, when I came past after dropping Smalls to kinder? The conversation moved onto other topics, our future date undecided.
The next day my famiglia were walking past and Carlo was at his gate again. He invited us in for coffee, fed us the bloody cake again, and tried to get my husband drunk, among other things. We found out he was 93 years old and allergic to coffee. We heard about his wife, who he dearly misses, and where he was from.
The following Monday rolled around and I was anxious – I had a bunch to do, but I also knew that Carlo and I had discussed the possibility of Monday being spaghetti day. We hadn’t confirmed but I couldn’t bear the idea of him thinking it was that day and getting lunch organised only for me to not show up. Can you imagine? A lonely old man with spaghetti for two being stood up, I would die.
I had a hundred things on the go – Smalls had to be somewhere in the morning, I had bread rising during the day and it was a shitfight trying to co-ordinate a time to check in on him in case Monday really was the day. Early afternoon I chopped off a giant piece of the Italian loaf I’d just made, wrapped it up and trotted over to Carlo’s to chat.
As we neared his fence, I could see he was having a snooze in the lounge chair on his verandah, and I didn’t want to wake him. Smalls and I turned back and I carried on with chores for the next little while. We were getting hungry by this point so we had something to eat and then went back to Carlo’s on our way to collect Biggie from school.
He was standing at his gate, as per usual and I say hello and told him we’d brought him some bread we’d been baking. He looks confused and asks “why?”. I literally have no idea how to answer that – I thought he might like it? I made a gigantic loaf and we couldn’t eat it all? Who knows! I stumble over a reply and he smiles and opens his gate. We walk on through but just before we get to his front door, he grabs my arm.
“I had lunch for you,” he says and I freeze. My gut hits the floor. “You did?” I ask, feeling my face burn and my temperature go up about eight million degrees.
“You know what time I eat lunch?” he asks. “Twelve o’clock. You know what time I eat today? Huppas one”.
I want to cry. I look at his 93-year-old face and imagine him sitting at his table alone, excited to be making his spaghetti specialty because he’s got a lunch date and his lunch date doesn’t show up. “I’m so sorry,” I say, a hundred thoughts running through my head. “That’s terrible – I feel awful, I really am so sorry,” I say and he keeps going. “Twelve o’clock – no Maria. I wait. I walk outside, see if she coming. No Maria. I wait a little more. I check, I go to gate – no Maria. I wait til huppas one and den I eat,” he says and there are no words to describe how wretched I feel at that moment.
I think he takes pity on me because he waves me inside and rubs my back soothingly. It doesn’t help, nothing helps. I can barely speak and just feel so sick with guilt. He tells me “I like the spaghett, not so much the bread,” and I feel like a shell of a person.
“Look,” he says when we go inside. He walks over to the stove and lifts up the lid on an amazing pot of rich tomato sauce, a clean ladle resting neatly on the handle. “It looks amazing,” I say feeling dead inside. He ushers me into another room off the kitchen where he has a gigantic bowl of cooked spaghetti in a bowl with a plastic bag over it. He opens the bag and grabs my hand. “Feel,” he says and puts my hand on the side of the bowl. It’s still warm. I am legit dying at this point and I tell him how sorry I am and that it makes me so sad that I did not show up for lunch.
“You eat now?” he asks and I tell him of course I’ll eat now. I literally just ate and I’ve got less than half an hour before I need to be at the school to pick up Biggie but AS IF I’M NOT GOING TO EAT THE SPAGHETTI. Ugh, I feel like crying as I write this! Worst human ever.
He shuffles about getting a pan on to heat and I look at Smalls sitting next to me at the table, drawing pictures, oblivious to her distraught mother. I alternate between silence and talking to Smalls about irrelevant things. I take a napkin and a pen and write “MARIA” and my phone number on it and leave it where he’ll see it later. I never want to be late for lunch again. He’s mumbling “I go out, no Maria. I think ‘I wait just little bit more’, but no Maria. I check, I check, but nothing”. I continue dying over and over again nodding and looking miserable. The fact it’s been raining most of the day adds a special layer of guilt as I imagine him getting drenched every time he goes out to check for his Maria, then coming back in all cold and wet.
I can see he’s got the world’s biggest serve of spaghetti reheating and I know I can’t eat any of it. My own lunch and a universe of guilt has taken up residence in my stomach and there’s no room for Carlo’s spaghett. He brings me a gigantic plate, a fork, and some cheese in a plastic container. I offer Smalls some, but he gives her a tiny plate of her own and I now have to contend with Fussy Eater Smalls cracking the shits over unfamiliar pasta. I’m in a glass case of emotion at this point, and just start shovelling the spaghetti in as much as I can. Imagine if we were not only late for the spaghett, but also didn’t like the spaghett? To my relief, Smalls starts eating without any ado and Carlo smiles and tells her she’s a good girl. “Brava, brava!” he says.
He gets up and pours me a GIGANTIC wine. I mean, huge. “Dis vurry special wine,” he says to me. “vurry special, dis one” and I’m thinking ‘WHERE AM I GOING TO PUT THAT IN EIGHT MINUTES ALONGSIDE THIS BUCKET OF SPAGHETTI?”. I start slamming down the wine becuase it’s “vurry special” and I don’t want to waste it and I figure I can take the spaghetti home.
He tells me again that he waited for me for lunch, and I tell him that I’d come earlier but he was asleep. He looks confused and I wonder if he even remembers having a snooze. He has no idea what I’ve just said and tells me firmly “you come anytime. Anytime you like”. I give up and just nod.
I’m chewing as fast as I can, ignoring my stomach’s protests, when Carlo sits next to me and starts up again. “Huppas one,” he says shaking his head. “I have lunch twelve o’clock. I think I wait just little bit. But no-one come. Again and again I walk out to the gate, I look up the street. Maybe Maria not want to come. Maybe she no like spaghett,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “Of course I want to come!” I say and I wonder if this massive guilt trip is maybe an Italian thing or even a Catholic thing – I know they’re basically travel agents for guilt trips so I figure it’s a cultural thing to keep carrying on so people feel bad about stuff even though I’m dead, buried and cremated a hundred times with guilt over my spaghetti sins. I get the feeling he’s just playing with me now.
He carries on: “I go outside to check, no Maria,” and smugly I say “well at least it gave you something to do! You’re always complaining that you’re bored. All those nice walks would be lovely – It’s good for you to get outside, all that fresh air and stuff,” and he smiles at me and goes to give me a light backhand. We’re good now.
I tell him we’ll have to take the rest home for dinner as I’ve got about four minutes to get to the school. He packages it up, and feels as though it’s not enough. He tries to give me more but I won’t hear of it. “Honestly, it’s heaps,” I say, waving him off. “We’ll be fine, it was delicious and I can’t wait to have it for dinner,” but he looks like he’s failed at life if he hasn’t packed me off with eight kilos of spaghetti to take home.
I give him a hug and tell him how amazing it is. I ask him how he gets the spaghetti sauce so smooth and he tells me WHEN I’VE GOT TIME I need to come and he will show me. None of this “half an hour for a catchup” business. I make a mental note to ENSURE I have a day and time locked in for next time. There’s no way I’m going through this emotional rollercoaster ever again. I briefly wonder if I’ll ever be free of the guilt that I let an old man get excited over lunch and then be utterly crushed when NOBODY SHOWS UP. I’m pretty sure I never will.
He points to the bread and says “You take. I like the spaghett, not so much the bread.”
We walk out the door and I tell him again how sorry I am, and if I’m ever late again I’ve left him my phone number so he can call me. “Your phone number?” he asks, confused. “Yes my number,” I say. “I left it on the table.” “Your number?” he asks again and I nod. “And I can call it anytime?” he asks? I say “of course!” and he gives me the biggest grin and an enthusiastic wave. I am forgiven.