Lying in the dim corner of all nights, a tempt and tangle. The little shop stands on the way home, where you drive past the double parked cars along the pavement. It is so easy to stop, the little pasticceria that works through the night and opens for the young people going home.
It really is quite a special time, young people making a final stop before bed, and buying little bits of pastry across the sharp light. The old man there works all night with his big ovens, I wonder if he enjoys serving us kids, if it breaks loneliness. Us on our way down, and tired and not very polite but really doing our best. It is a special place, its secrecy and fun, it just tips the evening over its dark edge and whips a little cream on disappointment. I am wary of over-analysis, it is really just the seedy feeding ground for silly youngsters. It works well, because then we don’t have to litter our mothers’ kitchens.
It is always a kick to drive by the shop with friends visiting from outside of town. It isn’t something people are used to, a little hole opening up in the middle of nowhere in the early hours, and giving you something to eat. People love it. I have firm memories from the summer, when I had three dear friends visiting for a few days, and we drove by every night. We would stop and I would get out with Bruno and Sylvia, and Hanna would always stay in the car. She slept like a baby as soon as the back of her head slid into the car’s cushion, and she would dose against the window. The first time we insisted she come out with us, but she kept her eyes closed and shook her head. So we jumped out and jumped in line and we were a little drunk and smiling a great deal. It was a very deep part of the summer, when you had gotten used to the heat and had forgotten about any brush of wind or fear or anything like that. It was great, bending down over the little counter for an iced tea and a pizza, paying next to nothing. Everyone there was tired and like a child, not thinking of the adult things of early evening but only looking to quench themselves with sugar. While Hanna snoozed we sat quietly on the hood of the black car, and laughed quietly in between bites. “That place was pop,” Bruno would say later, and he was right in a way. But unfortunately not in the exciting sense, the sense of something happening, a little fuse disintegrating under the weight of a fast flame, the foam dripping over the pot’s edge. No, it was quiet, a dying time, you knew you were going home and you were looking forward to it.
The problem was that you would expect a solidarity in times like those, a unifying purpose. We all shared the same simple motive. Everyone was there for a little hit, and just like you might smile at a neighbour in the bar, you might have given the person in line behind you waiting for his cornetto a little wink, maybe a pat on the shoulder. But actually, the place was wonderful for what you could buy there, and not really for the quality of its conversation.
That brings me to the last time I visited that little window, and lined up behind some other boys and girls and waited for my turn. I was making the trip home, without company. I was tired, and not lonely but alone. It had been one of those evenings of unmemorable ease, rolling into plastic cups, laughing a bit here and there. It was the kind of unremarkable fun that blurs together in a life’s line. It hadn’t been a bad evening, not at all. But I thought it could be improved with a little bite on the way home.
It was almost my turn when I stared at the young guys in front me. They must have been a little younger than me, but I heard them talking about work and I presumed they must have just got off, they looked tired and weren’t talking much and at low volume. But what I remember especially clearly was the face of one of those boys.
Actually, it wasn’t so much his face as it was the air radiating off of him, like a damp, luke-warm towel. He was leaning against the wall, not really part of the queue. His friend was taking care of that. But he looked at this friend in a way that I remember very clearly, his face betrayed not a bit of engagement or warmth. His chin was slightly cocked up, his eyes partly closed and squinting, and his nostrils were sort of flared in the way that he looked like a sedated bull. It might have been that his face was unfortunately contorted into a resting-bitch-face of sorts, an unintended glare that befalls some people unknowingly. But it was clear that this wasn’t the case. He supported his hunched figure against the yellowed wall, and from where I stood his eyes seemed to pierce through his friend, who was looking from his mate to the queue and back, always fidgeting. The boy I was looking at seemed semi-aggressive, but in a horrifyingly passive way. It disturbed me because he did not seem to mind. He seemed to have no interest in appearing approachable, in breaking his stare, he had no fear or regret. In public, there is always a sign of nerve on one’s face, because people are always unsure about something, they are always flirting with uncertainty in their heads, even when they see everything in front of them. Maybe this boy was too tired, and maybe it was because I was alone, but his body language really troubled me, even though he was completely innocuous.
How could he appear so anti-social? I think it was my fault: that space is not really a part of society, it was one of those hors-lieux or non-lieux, or maybe one of Foucault’s ‘heterotopias’ or something (I always confuse them). A purely functional space, one where no interaction is necessary or even allowed. You stand on the conveyor belt and ask the poor old man – past retiring age ? – for some bread and butter. I still have an image of that boy in my mind, and I think I would like to see him again, if he ever smiles or laughs, or ever sees his face staring back at him in the mirror of a public bathroom. He might have been a nice boy, who knows.
It was very close to being my turn, but before I ordered I asked the final boy in front of me what he had ordered, because I had heard “maialino” and had no idea what it was. He wore glasses and had thin, curled hair. Without hesitation he looked back, but not making eye contact. He described it to me, a little bomb with white chocolate and nutella, with sugar and more chocolate on top. Jesus, I thought, and decided I would try one. It sounded extreme. The guy with glasses hadn’t smiled, he just walked away. I was a little annoyed about that too, but maybe it was because I was feeling lonely after all. Then the old man passed me the goods, I paid him and left. I didn’t sit on my hood but jumped straight into the seat, and ate my little piglet with one hand as I turned on the engine.
Was I breaking bread with my curly comrade, sharing a table with the bullish boy leaning against the wall? No, it was our secret, in the dim light of the earlier hours, we were in it together. We couldn’t be friends because we were on the way down, under our sheets and into our final night. A shame, but sometimes you’ve expired your smiles. It wasn’t the deeper state of summer anymore after all.