A Tourist With No Camera
Written by Layla Merritt
I’m on holiday with my grandmother and her sister Beverly. They want to see Europe; London, France, Germany. Today we’re in Italy. We just flew into Naples, or as the Neapolitans say, Napoli. The taxi driver takes us away from the quiet inertia of town life and into the city. My grandmother and aunt don’t like the neighborhood, but they are very nice to the hotel concierge.
“Oooh, la, la,” says my grandmother, even though we’re in Italy not France. I hate the hotel. I think it must look like the set of Donatella Versace’s home porno; a giant chandelier in every room, massive, gold post-bed, vanity with mirrors, and a big marble bathroom complete with Jacuzzi. Besides that, the concierge is too friendly and his wife follows you with her eyes everywhere.
Napoli is fast and dirty, it’s filled with hot-shots and hustlers, beggars and thieves. Men saunter errantly through the in the street as if expecting a car to pull over and hand out money. Motor scooters beat cement, cutting off anything that moves on roads and sidewalks. Neapolitans don’t wear helmets and they ride two, three to a scooter, the girls all in their chrome healed stilettos and denim. Men shout to me from the streets, “Brazilliana,” and stare beside tables with goods for sale. They sell everything from watches to electronics. One old man has a small table with a nice digital camera for sale.
“Oooh! A camera!” I say, lingering near the table.
“You have a camera,” says my grandmother.
“Yeah, but you don’t.”
“Sure I do. I got it at Wal-Mart.”
“It’s not a real a camera. It’s not a digital camera. What do you call a tourist with no camera?”
“Bear, we don’t have time for this crap. Come on.” She keeps walking. I turn to the man behind the makeshift table.
“How much?” I ask and smack my gum.
“Come on Bear!” I can hear my grandmother hiss from up ahead.
He looks me up and down suspiciously, holding dearly to his cane although he is seated on a chair large enough to hold him.
“Seventy Euro,” he snarls and I can see the opaque yellow of his teeth and the moisture in the corners of his mouth. His face, fleshy and red, is stubbed with spiky grey hair. I hate looking at his face, and my lip curls away from him instinctually.
“Let’s go!” shouts
Beverly. I run off from the man and the camera thinking that still, seventy Euros is a good deal for that camera.
At dinner, my aunt complains about the service and infantilizes the waiter, who smiles three times at me.
In the morning, we get up early and walk through the markets to the coast. Every fruit, fish, and shellfish is for sale. I smell watermelons and oysters and they have star fruit and starfish, and seahorses that are alive in shallow buckets like little bath toys.
“Come on! We don’t have all day!” my grandmother shouts from the front of the caravan and Beverly looks at me like I wet my pants.
“But they have seahorses!”
“Come now!” shouts Beverly.
Sullenly, I rise and run up ahead. At the coast, I see the real treasure of Napoli, the cerulean blues waves, the medieval fortress of brick with one tiny window facing out to sea. We stand in its morning shadow and wait.
“Who are we waiting for?” I ask and smack my gum. A dark blue motorbike pulls up in front of us. A short, fit, man with thick black hair and bronze skin steps off and smiles.
“Caio, I am Antonio, your tour guide.” I think he looks more Portuguese than Italian.
“Oh, that Antonio, he really is a cute little tour guide, isn’t he?” my grandmother coos as we speed across the Mediterranean.
“Oooh, it’s the famous Isle of Capri,” she gushes when we step off the ferry.
I look up the tiered mountain of thick, green foliage and feel the cool sea breeze lift my hair of my shoulders. Antonio calls everyone on the tour to follow him and we hop into a bus and are couriered to the top of the island. Sub-tropical, lush, candy flowers with petals of every color line the road. Antonio explains that down below in the sea, there are secret caves you can enter on glass bottom boats, but that’s another tour.
The bus lets us out at a flower canopy pavilion with restaurants and meticulously manicured paths lined with flowering shrubs. I close my eyes and take at deep breath of sweet air. We eat lunch under the shade of the fruit trees. In the souvenir shop, my grandmother buys postcards for everyone she works with at the post office in Michigan and Beverly tells her not to waste money on postcards in Capri when they are cheaper in town. I’m tired of their bickering so I wander off to stare at the sea.
“Your mother is a very kind woman. I can see that about her.” Antonio is standing beside me, smiling.
“She’s my grandmother,” I say and face him. “She never lets me have any fun,” I add, smacking my gum faster. His smile remains, soft and subtle as if his thoughts are outpacing the reactions of his face.
“Come.” He extends the crook of his elbow. “Let’s take a walk.”
We stroll the trails along the edge of the cliffs. Down at the bottom, there is large pile of jutted rocks that catch the spray from the sea crashing violently against the barrier.
“Let’s climb down there!” I duck under the slender, wood fence.
Antonio’s eyebrows fold into each other. “Are you sure? It can be dangerous. I don’t want your grandmother to be angry.”
“Aw, come on! Don’t be chicken!”
I laugh and skip down the path. The rocks are black and wet the closer I get to the water. I stretch limb by limb across the sharp corners until I reach the flat, welcoming surfaces. It’s scarier than I thought, but I don’t let Antonio know.
“Come on!” I call and scuttle to the bottom. I look out into the sea of aqua blue and imagine myself jumping into the water, swimming to the secret caves where people float on glass bottom boats.
“Take my picture please!” I say when he reaches me. I pass him the camera and teeter on the rock, posing with my hand on my hip and smiling like I own the island.
Click. Click. Click.
“Take another one!” I shout above the crash of the waves. I drape myself over the rock. “I’m a mermaid!” I flip my feet forward with my legs pressed tightly together like a fin. Antonio snaps the shutter.
Click. Click. Click. I roll my hips back and pose with my head propped in my palm.
“Beautiful,” he tells me. “Ok ready now?”
“Just a few more,” I say and jump to my feet. “Come here, I want to get a picture of us both with the sea in the background.”
I reach my arm out and pull him to me with an imaginary rope. He looks back over his shoulder at the road as if my grandmother were standing there.
“Ok,” he relents and shakes the ocean spray from his hair. My grandmother is right, I think, he is cute. He joins me on the rock and we press our bodies together like we’ve known each other for years.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
I’m snapping away like a fool, thinking about the story I will tell my friends back home, when a wide, white wave breaks against the rocks and over our heads. Suddenly, my feet are swimming and chaos of the sea is swirling around me. It’s a warm day, but the water is freezing. I kick frantically, blinded in all directions by seawater. My arm and shoulder scrape roughly against a rock, but when I reach for it, the water pulls me back from shore. My head is jammed down again by a second wave. There is water in my mouth, nose, ears, eyes, lungs. It’s probably in my brain, which is why I can’t think of what to do. I just feel terror exploding in my chest. The wave recedes and I’m pulled away from the rocks again. I try to take advantage of the decompression and swim for the surface, but something is tugging my collar in the other direction. My heart drops in panic, then my head is thrust above the water. Antonio is there with his fist gripping my shirt.
“Are you ok?” he shouts. I spit up water and salt and a few seahorses. “I told you it was dangerous! Hold my belt.” He puts my hand on his waist. “Don’t let go!” he orders and swims toward the rocks.
When we’re back on land, Antonio hugs me for a long time. “Oh we’re soaked! What am I gonna tell my grandmother?” I moan.
Antonio’s soft smile is inches from mine. “Tell her the truth.”
Now I push my eyebrows together. “The truth?”
“That you are crazy.”
“Too late. She knows.” Antonio smoothes the hair off my face and presses his lips to mine. My heart dips faster than when the wave had me.
“Come on, let’s go crazy girl,” he says and leads me to the road.
When we get back the pavilion my grandmother and Beverly are seated in the shade.
“There you both are! Antonio, I was beginning to think you ran off with my teenager!” my grandmother says and stirs the ice in her coke with a pink straw. “Where were you? Why are you both wet?”
I try not to mumble, “Well, it’s the funniest thing… I dropped my camera and it slid down the rock, so we went to fetch it.
“Oh my God!” cries my grandmother.
“But then, a giant wave came and pummeled us.”
“Oh my God!” she cries again. “It’s a wonder you didn’t get swept out to sea!”
“I almost did, but Antonio saved me.” I smile at Antonio. He smiles back and I remember our kiss.
“Uh huh,” says Beverly. “Where’s your camera?”
“Oh no! My camera!” I cry, suddenly realizing I’d lost it to the waves of the Mediterranean. My grandmother and aunt shake their heads.
“Really stupid, Bear,” my grandmother says.
Antonio gives me his email and tells me maybe someday he’ll visit me in America. The next day, we pack our things and head to the train station. I tug my bag along sullenly wishing I had the pictures of Antonio.
“Digital camera. Digital camera. Brand new digital camera,” says the dirty old man with the yellow teeth.
“Grandma! Let’s buy this camera! It’s even better than my old one and it’s only seventy Euros!”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough trouble with cameras for one week?”
“No! That has nothing to do with it! I need a camera! And it’s a good deal!”
“I don’t have seventy Euros,” she answers curtly.
My eyes shift to Beverly.
“I wouldn’t give it to you if I did have it,” she says before I speak. I sigh and pout as we pass the camera and while we are waiting in the station.
“You know what? I’m going to go buy that camera,” I announce.
“Bear no!” cries my grandmother.
“You haven’t got the money,” says Beverly.
“I have eighty-three Euros!”
Beverly rolls her eyes. “We don’t have time!” snaps my grandmother.
“Sure we do! I’ll be right back.”
I run out of the station before she can protest. When I reach the old man, I am happy no one has purchased the camera. It really is a good deal.
“Oh, you’re back,” he says.
“Let me see it.”
He looks me over distastefully and passes me the camera. I push all the buttons. I snap pictures of myself, and inspect the lens. “How much?”
“I tell you already.”
“Eighty,” he says without looking up from his sandwich.
“No! You said seventy!”
He throws his sandwich on the table and peers at me. “Cash only! You have cash?”
“Yes!” I flash a stack of paper money. His lips curl in reluctance as he closes the camera in the box. “Hurry up!” I tell him, worried that my train will leave without me. He shoos my concerns with his hands and reaches under the table for a plastic bag.
“Come on!” I urge again and glance back at the train station.
He gives me another hateful look and thrusts the bag at me. I take the bag and run fast; my American high school, track-star legs scissoring open and closed for the rugged streets of Napoli. I can feel the weight of my new camera beating the inside of the box as I run. Breathless, I throw myself into the seat beside Beverly grinning.
“Got it!” I sing. I greedily untie the bag and open the box to a clean, clear bottle of water. My mouth gapes and I stare at the water bottle in disbelief.
“You know what they call a tourist with no camera don’t cha?” Beverly says.
“Seventy Euros poorer?” answers my grandmother and they laugh halfway to Rome.
Copyright 2012 by Layla Merritt