The tour guide's voice woke Lindy up with a start. She had been sitting on the sunny side of the coach and felt the sweat trickling down her neck. She looked across at Ben who had gone to sit on the shady side when they'd stopped for lunch.
The tour guide, Giulio, was a handsome young man with short dark curly hair and a golden tan. His eyes were a surprisingly bright shade of blue. A glamorous older lady, an American with close-cropped red hair and bright turquoise dangly earrings had remarked on them earlier. Giulio had beamed at her, his teeth white and dazzling in his suntanned face, his accent when he spoke English was what her mum would have described as 'charming.'
'Many Sicilians have blue eyes, it is because of the Norman invasion, you will find many with red hair too. We have been invaded by so many different people that you will find characteristics from many races here, in our looks and in our cooking.'
Ben was standing up and leaning up to get his bag from the overhead locker. His forearms were bright red and when he stretched up his upper arms gleamed bright white. Lindy sighed, she'd given up trying to make him put on suntan lotion
Everyone was herding to the front of the coach in a rush to get off. Giulio held up his hand,
'You have two hours free now to visit this town and I will be in this square for anyone who needs assistance. I have already pointed out the main attractions, for those interested in history there is plenty here. For others that just want to browse the shops or sit in a café and people watch, you are spoiled for choice. It's what Italians do best. Don't forget to try the granita, it will cool you down and is delicious.'
Lindy blinked as she alighted from the coach. The light was dazzling. She reached in her bag for her sunglasses and plonked her sunhat on her head. Ben appeared beside her, puffing and squinting, his face screwed up. He wiped away the sweat from his face with a much used tissue,
'I had no idea it was going to be this hot. I feel like I'm getting out of a fridge and in to an oven all the time.'
He scratched his arm vigorously, red angry spots appeared,
'and all these mosquitoes, it's unbearable. Let's look for somewhere to sit until it's time to get back on the coach.'
'Good idea,' Lindy shrugged, 'Maybe we can try the granita Giulio mentioned. In my guide book it says the almond flavour is best.'
Ben groaned and tried to scratch his back , wincing at the pain,
'It sounds horrible, I'd do anything for a nice cool beer, I'm fed up with all this wine and the coffee is so strong it's really upset my insides.'
Lindy rolled her eyes, Ben did nothing but moan. It had been her idea to go on a tour of Sicily. Ben had always loved archeology and Roman history and she'd imagined long discussions about how digging the earth could unlock secrets from the past and Greek and Roman history.
They both looked round the square, the coach had gone and so had all the other tourists. The light was really blinding. The buildings were all painted brilliant white and the sky was a deep cobalt blue, not a cloud in sight.
Over in the corner of the square were some tables and chairs and behind them the dark entrance to a cafè. Giulio was standing outside and as Ben and Lindy watched a girl came up to him and
kissed him on both cheeks. The girl had long glossy chestnut hair which flowed in curls down her back. She was wearing a white linen dress and silver sandals which glittered in the sunlight. Giulio said something to her and she threw her head back and laughed then they both disappeared into the darkness of the cafè.
Ben turned abruptly away from Lindy,
'I'm going in there. You do what you want.'
As she watched him walk away Lindy thought that maybe he needed a bit of space, she had been fussing over him so much lately. She was so worried about him but maybe a bit of time apart would be good for him.
Giulio had told them about the church in the square and she walked up the steps to the entrance.
For a while she couldn't make out anything inside the church after the blinding light of the square but then she saw a figure coming towards her, a man, about seventy ish at a guess, with a mop of curly hair tinged with grey, and a very kind smile.
'Are you English? Are you from Giulio's tour group?' He held out his hand. 'My name is Ezio. I am the guide of this beautiful church.' There was pride and love in his voice.
Lindy gaped at him, 'Your English is perfect, I feel so ashamed that I know no Italian, only a few basic words, grazie, ciao, per favore.'
Ezio winked at her, 'That is a good start, they are very important words. Please, thank you, hello, and of course don't forget the most beautiful ones of all, Ti voglio bene, I care for you,Ti amo, I love you.'
Lindy felt herself blush and was thankful for the darkness of the church.
'Come, ' he beckoned.
' I will tell you the history of this church. By the way my English is good because my wife is from Finland, we met a long time ago, it's a long story, but I can tell you it was much easier for us to speak to each other in English. Finnish is.. let's say very difficult.'
They walked round the church and Lindy listened spellbound as Ezio recounted story after story of the history of the town, the people and the church. with passion and enthusiasm in every word. As they returned to the entrance he stopped in front of a large glass case and put in a coin. The case was lit up to show a huge statue of a lady on a horse, brandishing a sword.
Ezio waved his hand with a flourish as though about to bow.
'This is our pride and joy. She is our protector.'
He paused and turned to Lindy, his eyes golden brown in the light from the glass case.
'What do you notice about her.?'
Lindy stepped forward and peered at the statue. It reminded her of someone, it was the hair, the long glossy curls. She bit her lip concentrating. It was the girl outside the cafè. The one who she had seen kissing Giulio.
She turned to Ezio, smiling,
'She has real hair.'
Ezio beamed back,
' Exactly. She is the only one in the whole world. The local girls donated their hair to the statue. Let me tell you now about our annual celebration when we take out the statue and parade around the streets. First of all a hairdresser comes to prepare the hair , putting in curlers to enhance the beautiful flowing locks.'
When Ezio had finished telling her about the parade he gave her a card and a picture of the statue. She tucked it in her purse and discretely made a donation. She looked back at the statue. She felt lighter somehow, she wanted to laugh. She practically danced outside and down the church steps.
The square was transformed, the sun had gone behind the buildings and it was in shadow. Children were running around and playing, Groups of young people were standing together chatting and eating ice cream, a band of musicians was playing in the corner and all the tables and chairs of the cafè were occupied. She looked across to see if Ben was there . He was sitting at one of the tables with the girl who had kissed Giulio. She watched in amazement as the girl tossed back her hair and slowly rubbed some ointment on Ben's sunburnt arms, gazing into his eyes in what could only be described as tenderly. Ben was gazing back, spellbound. Even from a distance she could tell he was more relaxed, his face was radiant. His hand was on the girl's arm. Lindy stepped towards them and when Ben saw her he leaped up,
'Oh there you are Lindy, you'll never guess, there was a football match on a big screen inside the bar and I've had a great time and the lads here are so warm and friendly and they even have craft beer, and I.. '. he looked down at the girl, 'I met Serena here and she's Giulio's sister and she's going to do a PHD in Archeology in Oxford and I'm going to take her round and show her my college.' he laughed at himself then, 'I don't know what's got into me, sorry.'
A great feeling of relief swept over Lindy. She had been so afraid for her brother, she sometimes had thought she'd never hear him laugh again. Since his wife had left him things had been really bad and the doctor was talking about severe depression and making sure he wasn't left alone. She 'd been pinning so much hope on this holiday and now here in this town full of contrasts, of bright blinding light and dark interiors and shadows something good had happened, something that was centuries old had shifted the darkness from their lives.
She looked back up to the church, Ezio was standing at the top of the steps . He waved and she waved back.