Sabrina the secretary had some good news for us the next morning. She had made another appointment for us to go and view a flat. This one was not in Vomero, but in a zone called Socavo, further down towards the city centre. It even had a garden, she announced proudly. A garden sounded nice, and I was already picturing myself knocking back G&Ts and smoking cigars in a setting that resembled a little corner of Caserta’s Royal Palace grounds. Neither of us were working that afternoon, so we could go and see it.
We had mentally moved in by lunchtime but, alas, we were to be disappointed again. The flat, while well-equipped and spacious, as well as almost obscenely cheap, was in the middle of nowhere, was not connected with any other part of the city by public transport, and was dark and gloomy, due to the presence of a steep and dangerous-looking hill to the rear, and to the trees that formed the – admittedly delightful – garden at the front. It would have been impossible to get to work, and what was the point of Italy if you couldn’t enjoy the sun? Regretfully, we told the proprietor that it wasn’t quite what we were looking for, and went back to our flat, with its ever-more appropriate “Animal House” sign outside. It took all the willpower I had not to drink the entire contents of the fridge.
We were luckier on our third attempt, with a flat belonging to the manager of a local paper industry. He and his wife were going through a particularly acrimonious divorce and he had decided to rent the flat until proceedings came to a close and common possessions were duly attributed.
“You don’t pay the rent to me, though,” he told us. “You pay it to my colleague, Maurizio,” and he presented us to a bald man with a friendly but unintelligent face. “That way we save a lot of bother with … well, you know.”
I didn’t know, but neither did I much care. All I wanted, was to get the hell away from Daniel and from Mrs. Napoletano and from that bloody flat that had become a prison. Mauro’s flat was smashing. Running along the entire flank of an apartment block, it had three spacious rooms: one for me, one for Thomas and a sitting room, which was a real novelty. The kitchen and bathroom were practically brand new and a true luxury after what we had become used to chez Napoletano. Best of all was the view of a cherry orchard from the balcony. We accepted immediately and made an appointment to pick up the keys.
“We were going to rent the flat to a couple of American girls, isn’t that right, Maurizio?” said Mauro. “But you two are better.”
“Sure,” said Maurizio, winking. “These two are definitely better.”
I felt that he was poking fun at us, but I couldn’t tell why. Giovanna roared with laughter when I told her.
“They think you’re ricchioni!” she said.
“Ricchioni! Poofs! Do you have any idea how odd it is for two blokes to share an apartment in the south of Italy?”
I felt sick to the stomach, which made Giovanna laugh all the more. “Pretty boy!” she taunted me. “Pretty, pretty boy!”
We made an appointment to visit Mauro at his new home to pick up the keys. His new home was the most incredible penthouse apartment overlooking the Mediterranean. From here, you could see Egg Castle, Mergellina, and right out across the bay to the Sorrento Peninsula and Capri. There were magnificent archways and plush, white leather sofas, and yet Mauro’s taste startled me somewhat. The walls were all painted in pastel pinks and greens. It worked well together, but it seemed an odd choice for a bachelor pad. Mauro offered us a whisky and we sat and chatted for a while. Anxious to dispel any misunderstandings as to my sexual inclinations, I made sure that I made frequent references to my fiancée Giovanna. “Ricchioni indeed!” I thought to myself. “Whatever next!”
Mauro handed me the keys, wished us well for the future, and showed us out. As we headed towards the station, I realised that we had only one set of keys between us.
“We’d better go back and pick up the other set,” I said. Thomas nodded. Back up to Mauro’s apartment we went, and I knocked on the door. We gasped when a tanned and muscular young man answered, wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy briefs. Maybe we’d got the wrong place? No, this was definitely Mauro’s pad, and the man himself now appeared.
“It’s OK, Mario, I’ll take care of this,” he said.
“OK,” said Mario, effeminately, and minced off into the kitchen.
I explained the problem to Mauro.
“I don’t have another set,” he said. “You’ll have to get them copied.” He closed the door. Thomas and I looked at each other and grinned. We were beginning to understand what Mauro’s divorce was all about.
The time had come to tell Mrs. Napoletano that we were leaving. Part of me was dreading the moment, but another, much stronger part was very much looking forward to it. I had always paid my rent on the dot, never complained about anything, paid for a washing machine to be installed out of my own pocket, and always kept the place clean, unlike many others. And yet she had always treated me shabbily, holding me responsible for the behaviour of everybody else, leaving us without hot water for days at a time because she didn’t want to pay for a new boiler, and even trying to rip us off over electricity bills. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is something that Neapolitans are very good at, and I couldn’t wait to see Mrs. Napoletano’s face when she realized that this goose was well and truly dead.
Mrs. Napoletano burst into theatrical floods of tears, wringing her hands and pulling at her hair. “Oh! Oh! Oh!,” she sobbed. “How can you do this to me? I’ve been like a second mother to you! Why didn’t you tell me you were unhappy here? I’d have had the flat redecorated! I could have rented it just to you two for a special price! I’ve treated you like a son!”
I snorted, but Mrs. Napoletano was too wrapped up in her performance to notice.
“And now I’m going to have two rooms empty!” she wailed.
“You’ll find somebody else soon enough,” I assured her.
“But they won’t be like you!” she said, and dissolved into hysterics once more.
“Damn right, they won’t!” I thought to myself and grinned sadistically.