Fiction: Lunch at Cafe Gianni

Today, I want to share a fictional story I wrote a while back. As a singer, it’s so easy for me to look at those who have come further than me in the industry and think “Their lives must be so amazing”. But the truth is, I know nothing of their lives. Also, I know of People envying me and where I have come in the industry. And I know for a fact my life isn’t Perfect. Though it’s nowhere near as complicated as Savannah Green in this story. Thankfully. I hope you’ll like it.

Lunch at Café Gianni

She put on her oversized dark sunglasses and glanced in the mirror. Perfect. The glasses both half concealed her face, making her unrecognizable and mercifully hid the bruises given to her by her no longer so loving husband TJ. She sighed, picked up her purse and opened the front door.
Downstairs in the lobby she barely nodded at Ricky, the friendly concierge she usually didn’t mind exchanging a few phrases with. He was Cuban. She was learning Spanish. So she’d practice her new phrases with him. It was as if Ricky understood that today wasn’t a day for pleasantries, so he just opened the door like the gentleman he was and gave her a courteous nod.

Café Gianni was situated in a quiet back street and was not at all trendy. But she loved it all the same. The place was old and could do with some refurbishment, but there was something charming about the chairs and sofas where the stuffing had begun to fall out and the worn ow tables, where, no matter how well you cleaned them, had old marks from cups and cigarettes, from before the smoking ban. She had been going there since she was a music student. And nothing had ever changed about the place. Except that Gianni Sr, who had been the owner, had retired and his son Gianni Jr and his wife had taken over. But even father and son were so alike that nobody could tell unless they knew.

It was quite a walk away from where she lived. The sensible thing would have been to take a cab, but she needed to feel her body move and the brisk autumn air in her face. She didn’t do this often anymore. Saved it for special occasions. More and more often sad occasions. She sighed and felt a slight pain in her ribcage. Also curtsy of TJ. It had only been an argument about his latest mistress Monica who incidentally was one of her backup singers. He’d had mistresses before and so far it had only be kept in the family, but Monica liked to talk and was jealous of her, both professionally and for being TJ’s wife.. So it was a question of time before she would leak the story to the press. She had stupidly asked TJ why he couldn’t have chosen a mistress that wasn’t working with her. That had set him off and he’d slapped her in the face and kicked her in the ribs. He was clever like that. Knew exactly how to inflict painful, yet invisible injuries to her body. Years of practice had seen him get it down to a fine art. She had gotten living with them down to a fine art as well. She had gotten so good at it, that she almost didn’t feel the pain when she was performing on stage, or recording in the studio.
It hadn’t always been like that between her and TJ. Things had been fine until she won her first Grammy and lost their first child. A miscarraiage, although he had accused her of having a secret abortion.Before that. He had been loving, caring and considerate. But looking back, she guessed he’d always had the evil in him. Just that he waited for the right moment to show it.

Neapolitan music greeted her as soon as she entered Café Gianni. Her nose was a little runny and her ears prickled from the cold. The heat mixed with the music and smell of spices had a calming effect on her and she felt a smile developing on her face as she walked up to the counter. Gianni was flirting with some female customers as he always did while they placed their order and paid.
“Bella!” he exclaimed when it was her turn. He knew better than to shout her name, though she wasn’t the only girl in the city called savannah.
“Have you thought anymore about my proposal?” Gianni asked and wiped his huge hands sprinkled with black hair on his apron.
“I just need to get the divorce papers ready,” she replied lightly. This was a long running joke between them. And not for the first time did it occur to her that if Gianni Jr had been more attractive, 20 years younger and not so clearly smitten with his own wife, she might have taken him up on the offer. Working in your own café had a satisfying ring to it that she liked. The money would be regular and she would meet lots of new interesting people. She was also wondering for the umpteenth time why she hadn’t filed for divorce with TJ. She’d made excuses to herself. That Victoria deserved to grow up with two parents as role models and that both their incomes combined, gave their daughter the best of everything. But who was she kidding. Victoria hardly saw her dad and she earned enough on her iTunes sales alone to put her daughter through the private school she already went to. As for her real reason, she was scared. She was hoping he would bring up divorce. But for some reason she couldn’t comprehend, he hadn’t.
“What can I get you bellissima?” Gianni asked. “I hope you are good and that your husband is nice to you.” She startled. He usually said that too. And she always laughed and assured him he was a gentleman.But today, with such fresh bruises, she thought for a moment that he had perhaps seen something she hadn’t managed to cover up. Gianni’s smile disappeared and his intense grey eyes studied her face…
“You know Savannah; I will always be here if anything happens.”
She felt her eyes well up and looked away.
“The usual please,” she said.

Of course the only free table in the whole café had been taken while she had placed her order. Typical. Though the place wasn’t trendy, it was still popular with the people who knew about it. A woman round about her own age sat at that table. She was eating a huge plate of spaghetti and meat boles while she was listening to something on an iPod or iPhone. She carried her tray which contained a mozzarella and pesto sandwich and an Americano over and hovered for a few seconds till the woman looked up from her plate. She had a plump face with dimples and a small gap between her front teeth.
“Excuse me, may I sit here?” she asked and the woman nodded.
“Be my guest. She moved her bottle of Fanta closer to her plate so that Savannah’s tray would fit comfortably on the small table.

They ate in silence. She was looking around, listening to the passionate guitar and voices of the Neapolitan singers. The woman seemed to enjoy whatever she was listening too.
“What are you listening too?” she asked without having planned to. But this woman with the dimpled face, bitten down nails and hands that looked red from cleaning seemed so happy and she wanted to share in her happiness.
“Savannah Green,” the woman said and picked her earphones out of her ears.
She startled a little at the sound of her own name and lifted her coffee to take a sip.
“She is a real genious.” The woman continued. “Do you know her?”
She nodded. “I do.”
“Isn’t she fantastic?” I managed to find a live album with her best performances and, Oh my. Her version of At Last.”
She held out her earphones, which were completely clean and gestured for Savannah to insert them. Knowing full well what she’d hear, but not wanting this woman to possibly reveal her identity by refusing,she did as she was told.
“My dear husband TJ. I love you. And I’m going to sing a song for you. Only you. But I guess everyone else is listening in.”
She remembered saying those words. It was her first show after they’d got married. Shee’d been dizzy with love and happiness. She’d not known what his boots in her ribs felt like back then and she’d not known the feeling of never being enough to somebody.
“At last”
She played with the first two words of the song. Let her voice go up and down. Giving the words the emotion she’d thought they deserved. The sound of the audience applauding. They loved it. She knew they’d loved it. She knew she nailed that song because though she never did covers, this had been an exception and she’d practiced and practiced till she had made the song entirely hers.
“At last,” She began again. This time accompanied by the first soft accords of James, the guy who had played piano for her back then.
She carefully picked out the earplugs and gave them back to the woman.
“It’s a very emotional performance,” she said. At least that wasn’t a lie. She’d been crying while singing the song. Crying because she was loved, because she was happy.
“I know,” the woman sighed.
“I wish I could be her just for one day.”
“Who? Savannah Green?”
The woman nodded.
But alas. I’m just plain Jane. I work as a cleaner. I clean offices when nobody works in them. And when the offices are busy, I clean toilets. I am a single mum with six kids. The eldest is going to college next. year. That is, if I managed to make enough money to get him there. You see, he’s so bright. He’s trying for one of them scholarships. But he ain’t good at nothing apart from the academic stuff, so he ain’t gonna get a basketball, lacrosse or other type of scholarship.”
The cleaner Jane had finished her food and picked at a stubborn piece of onion that had decided to stay put between her teeth.
“Now if I was Savannah Green.”
Savannah tried to keep her face still.
“Savannah is rich and doesn’t know a thing about working hard wondering if there will be food on the table the next day, or if her teenage daughter will get raped on the way home from school. And she’s got that fantastic ex soccar player for a husband. They look so perfect together. If only I too could find my prince. Besides, Savannah is pretty and just look at me.”
“How do you know her life is like that? Worry free and filled with love I mean?” Savannah asked in an even tone.
“Nobody just gets to where Savannah is at over night. Maybe Savannah has a past as a chicken shop worker.” She thought of the long afternoons during her last two years at high school selling fried chicken to make enough money to get into music school.
“Or maybe she herself grew up with only one parent.”
Her mind was cast back to a mother who always had a new boyfriend, one of whom had fancied Savannah more and raped her repeatedly for a while before she dared go to her form teacher to report it. Her mother, more interested in getting high on Chrystal meth than raising Savannah, her little accident of a baby, hadn’t believed her. So she’d moved to stay with her uncle and aunt who had been poor, but decent people who had welcomed her.
“Or maybe, just maybe TJ is no prince.”
“You talk like you know her,” Jane said. “Why are you so defensive?”
She didn’t answer at first. She’d probably taken it too far. Jane was challenging her with her eyes.
Savannah drained the last of her coffee and stood up.
“I just happen to know that all which glitters is not gold. And that there is so much to somebody elses life that outsiders will never know.”
She turned slowly on her heel and walked out into the autumn day.There was no point in explaning anymore.

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