The time came closer for Nick, Bimbo and Roger to depart. Roger had a nice little job lined up teaching geography in a Welsh grammar school. I wondered, gleefully, how the parents would react if they realized that their offsprings’ education were in the hands of a crazed wankaholic. Bimbo hadn’t managed to learn more than two words of Italian and was feeling homesick for fish and chips. And Nick, although he had caught the Italian bug and would have loved to stay another year, could not justify doing so on his CV. His Italian was already good enough for him to progress in his chosen career and so, reluctantly, he informed our employers that he would not be returning the following September. I tried not to think about their departure. The year had been such fun. I doubted that I would ever be so lucky in the flatmate lottery again.
We decided to make one, last, valedictory trip to Ischia. We clowned around in the water; we hired a pedalo and used Roger’s binoculars to eye up the topless talent on the private beaches – “hornythology” was Roger’s word for it. We ate pizza and drank beer with the Germans in atmospheric bars. But it was a melancholy affair. The next day, Roger left, suitcase in one hand, porn-filled sportsbag in the other. Bimbo followed one week later with a falsely cheery, “See you then, lads”. And then came Nick’s turn. I helped him with his bags to the bus stop. I knew that I would never see the others again. Roger and Bimbo had been great fun. It was nice, but now it was gone. Nick was different. I had become very fond of him and I knew that our paths would cross again. The bus arrived and Nick got on. I passed him his luggage. He smiled the same toothy grin he had given me on his arrival one year previously. He was wearing the same linen suit.
“It’s been great fun. Take care, mate,” he said. The doors closed, Nick waved and he was gone. And I hurriedly made my way home, a lump in my throat and ludicrously close to tears for a man of my age.
“A man of my age”. That was partly the problem. In my mid-20s now, I felt that I was getting just a little too old to be living like a student. I could scarcely summon any enthusiasm for the arrival of the latest bunch of teachers; only apprehension that they and I might not get along and that the contrast with the ribaldry and the jollity of the previous year might prove to be unbearable. The first two to arrive seemed likeable enough chaps. They were Steve, who had spent his entire life at public school and had a language and outlook on life all his own, and Samuel, a distant relative of actress Prunella Scales. He looked and sounded as if he had spent his entire life at public school but hadn’t. Yes, very nice indeed, both of them, but not fit to hold a candle to Nick, Bimbo and Roger in the fun stakes.
Then came Kevin. We went through the motions of preparing the Caprician salad, now traditional fare for new arrivals, and stocking the fridge with beer. Kevin was something of an intellectual. Not the pretentious, affected type of prick who sets out to impress, but the quiet, deeply pensive type, who holds an agonizing inner debate with himself for a good ten minutes before performing the simplest of tasks, such as switching on a light. He smoked continuously and refused a seat, preferring to lean against the edge of the working top. Even there, he couldn’t find peace, and paced nervously around the kitchen. “Grab yourself a beer from the fridge,” I told him. “Um. You know, I don’t think I will,” he replied. “But I’d love a glass of water if you have any.” Steve, Samuel and I exchanged glances. I filled a glass with water and handed it to Kevin who promptly changed his mind. “Um, actually, I think I might have a beer after all, if it isn’t too much trouble.” I sighed, tipped the water away and gave him a beer. No sooner had I sat down than he had drained it. It had gone so fast that I suspected he was playing a joke on me. “Do you think I might have another?” “That’s what they’re there for.”
That beer, too, disappeared ludicrously fast, as did the third. Kevin picked at his salad, not so much eating, as moving the mozzarella and tomatoes around his plate, pushing everything over to one side as anorexics do, to make it appear that he had eaten half. “Not hungry?” Steve asked him. “No, not really. Bit of an upset stomach. Think I could manage another beer, though.”
Manage it he did. Admirably. We had planned to spend the afternoon knocking a cricket ball around in the park of Capodimonte, actually a huge network of parks in the gardens of the Capodimonte museum. Kevin was delighted to hear it, and proved to be immensely knowledgeable about cricket. He was, in fact, immensely knowledgeable about many things, not least of all the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language. Within a short space of time, he had delivered monologues on the various pedagogical theories: Audio-Lingual, Direct Method, Suggestopaedia, Total Physical Response …. You name it, he had a view on it. And he was a delight to listen to, never boring his listener. But he drained one bottle of beer after another and finished his cigarettes in little more than a couple of drags. I found it unnerving, sinister, even. I loved to see a man enjoy life’s pleasures, but this was compulsive, and I began to suspect that all was not right with our new flatmate. As we made our way from the bus to the park of Capodimonte, Kevin made a suggestion. “I was thinking,” he said, swinging the bat idly. “Why don’t we buy a crate of beer to take in with us?” “A crate?” The three of us looked at him in amazement. “Well, it seems we’re all pretty much into beer, and I’m afraid I seem to have made quite an impression on your supplies already.” I shrugged. “If you really want to.” “I’ll pay, of course,” he insisted.
Kevin was so good at cricket that it was just no fun playing with him. He knocked us all over the park as a batsman and his bowling was even more authoritative. I couldn’t work out how he did it, after taking so much beer on board. And he was continuing to drink now. Already he was making light work of the crate. Yet it didn’t seem to affect him in any way whatsoever. He remained lucid, coherent and cohesive and seemed to suffer no deterioration in co-ordination at all. Back at the flat, Kevin bade us all a good night, saying that he was off to bed early. He’d had a long journey and wanted to sleep it off. We all retired shortly afterwards, having, under Kevin’s influence, drunk a little more than we were used to. I was asleep before I hit the pillow, but was woken up some time later by loud noises coming from the next room. It was a television with the volume turned up high. “Gorillas in the Mist”. I recognised the dialogue. I fumbled for the button on my bedside lamp and winced at the sudden brightness. My alarm said that it was 3.30 a.m. What on earth was Kevin doing watching “Gorillas in the Mist” at that volume at half past three in the fucking morning? Angrily, I got out of bed and went to knock on his door.
“Kevin! Kevin! Can you turn that down a bit? It’s keeping me awake.” There was no reply. I knocked again. “Kevin!” Nothing. I went back to bed and pulled the pillow over my head.
“Did you tell Kevin how to get here?” Karen asked me accusingly at work the next day. “Yeah, why?” “He didn’t show up this morning.” “Mmmm. Odd. Maybe he got lost.” “Maybe. But he hasn’t phoned or anything.” By five o’clock, there was still no sign of Kevin. When I arrived home, I went to knock on his door. “Kevin?” No answer. I tried the handle. The door was locked. Obviously there had been a misunderstanding. Perhaps he thought he was due to start the next day and had gone out exploring. I thought no more about it until I was again woken in the middle of the night. I didn’t believe it! “Gorillas-in-the-bloody-Mist” again! “Kevin!” I banged on the wall with all my might. “TURN IT DOWN!” If he could hear me, he was ignoring me. I lay there exasperated. I would have to have serious words with him in the morning.
But it proved to be impossible, serious or otherwise, to have words with Kevin. It was the same story every day. Total silence during the day, “Gorillas in the Mist” at night. Short of banging the door down, for which none of us had the courage, there was nothing we could do. We realized, by now, that Kevin had a serious problem, but none of us was quite prepared for the extent of it, and we naively assumed that, sooner or later, he would run out of money or get bored, pack up and go home. I was due at work on Saturday morning, and so I went out bright and early to purchase some supplies from the Miserable Bastard, knowing that all the shops would be closed when I got back. I stocked the fridge with food and hauled the crate of beer I had bought into the kitchen. I put a few bottles in the fridge for later, left the others in the corner and went off to work whistling. It was a lovely, sunny day. Four hours later, I was back and ready for a beer. Wait a moment; that was strange. My crate was gone. I opened the fridge. All my food was still there, but the beer had disappeared. This was going too far! I hammered on Kevin’s door with my fists. “Kevin! Come out! Come out this minute or I’ll break the bloody door down!” It was an idle threat. Both he and I knew that I would do no such thing. It got worse. When I went into my room, I found that a bottle of Barolo, recently given to me by a student, and which I had intended to use to celebrate Giovanna’s birthday, had also gone. Bloody hell! That bottle must have been worth 40 000 lire!
I heard the key in the door. It was Samuel. I told him what I had found. Samuel nodded. “I know. I bought a flagon of wine earlier this week and left it under my bed. When I got back from work, it had gone.” “We’ve got to do something,” I said. “He’ll kill himself if he goes on like this.” That night we were awoken, not by “Gorillas in the Mist”, but by the doorbell. Who the hell could that be at this time? It was Mrs. Napoletano in a nightdress and with no make-up on. She looked terrified, as if she had been expecting to come face to face with something quite horrific. I imagine that my expression was somewhat similar. “What’s all the noise?” she asked. “What noise?” “What do you mean, ‘what noise?’ The screaming!” “Screaming?” “Yes! Screaming!” She looked at me as if I were thick. “It was coming from down here.” I looked vacant. “It’s that Kevin, isn’t it? Karen told me there’s a problem with him. She said he hasn’t been into work once.” I promised Mrs. Napoletano that, first thing on Monday morning, I would get in touch with Kevin’s family in England and find out exactly what was going on. She didn’t look particularly pacified but turned and waddled back into the lift. “You make sure you do,” she said as she disappeared behind the door. Her attitude annoyed me. I wasn’t the man’s father for fuck’s sake. He was a good ten years older than me. Was I to be made responsible for every madman, smackhead or alcoholic in Italy, just because they were English? On Monday morning I phoned Karen, told her what was going on and volunteered to phone Kevin’s family in England. “Good idea,” she said. “Come in and use the school phone. Then you can fill me in on all the details.”