"The choke," yelled a voice over her shoulder. "Pull the choke."
Victoria turned around and saw a man looking over at her, gesturing some sort of technical procedure with one hand. She tossed her hands out in confusion and sighed at him.
A moment later, he got up from the cement bench and slowly walked over.
Who was this man? Victoria noticed his stride. It was slow and carefree. Confidence exuded from his sculpted chin and shoulders. He was dark in complexion, perhaps from many a day under some Spanish sun. His ivory colored shirt hung loose, held together by only a few buttons. His sleeves were rolled up, indicative of a man not afraid to work with his hands. His sandals appeared worn, perhaps from many walks to this very place, she thought. She suddenly remembered that he was the kindred spirit she saw sitting on the bench outside the restaurant.
He pulled off his sunglasses and crouched down to examine the little scooter as if it were an ill patient.
"When an engine cools down and the air becomes colder, you need to close the choke flap. It makes the engine easier to start... Excuse me."
He proceeded to nudge Victoria aside and set the choke lever on, while kicking the starter. The little bike would not spring to life.
"It's flooded. You have to let it sit for a while. Come and have a seat with me and we can try again later."
Victoria was not the type to let anyone do anything for her. She possessed a strong work ethic and at times her fiercest critic was herself. But seeing as how she was half way across the world and knew nothing about scooter engines, she decided to make his acquaintance.
"My name is Mateo. Have a seat." He smiled as he slowly sat down on the bench.
Seated side by side they both had a perfect view of the ocean, the sun sinking deeper into the horizon.
"And what is your name?" he asked.
"Victoria. Thanks for your help, by the way," she replied with a shy smile.
"Don’t thank me until I have done something for you." He smiled and held something out. "Would you like a cannoli? I just made them this afternoon." Victoria loved cannolis.
"I just ate. Thank you."
"Go on. I don't want the last one. You have it."
"Well, ok. Thanks. You're very kind."
"You're welcome." he replied, and cracked a warm quarter smile in the dusky sunlight.
"Isn't it beautiful?" asked Mateo as he nodded towards the distance.
"What?" replied Victoria. This man thoroughly distracted her.
"The sunset,” he whispered as his eyes gazed at the scene before him. “It looks so warm tonight and the water is so calm. It’s like a torch over a sheet of glass. Just beautiful."
Victoria noticed that Mateo had a way with words. She loved to analyze everything. She noticed how when this man spoke, he did not cast a shallow coating over his words. He did not muster an elusive charm when talking to a stranger. He was straightforward and honest. He called things as he saw them, and did so in a smooth and relaxed manner.
Although she noticed these things, Victoria was taken in most by his eyes. They were a deep brown color, and edged by the most charming temple creases when he smiled at her. His eyes bore a window to his soul. A soul that appeared passionate yet peaceful. She noticed his hands. They were large and firm, yet had a rugged texture to them as if possessed by that of a hard working craftsman. A craftsman with hands skilled enough to work on machines.
Yet ginger enough to bake cannolis? she thought skeptically. Victoria chuckled at the thought for a moment and hid it immediately, as it would be difficult to explain herself if questioned.
"Are you far from home?" asked Mateo.
"Yes and no," she responded. "I am about fifteen minutes up the river."
Mateo looked a bit puzzled at first, then laughed and responded. "Ok then…let's see if we can get that little machine going."
They walked over to the Vespa and tried to start the engine. It puffed and snorted but refused to run.
"The plug must be wet. I can fix it for you if you like."
“How much will that cost?” Victoria inquired.
"Nothing. This is easy to do. I don't mind. I just need to get a wrench from my workshop. I’m a few minutes away. Would you like to come for a ride?"
Victoria was bewildered. Who was this mystery man she met not an hour ago and why was he being so nice to her? Could he be that man all women dreamed of? Calm, caring, selfless… and good looking?
Stop it, she thought to herself, with a slight chuckle. This guy is obviously just being helpful. After all, he didn’t look busy, sitting on the bench earlier. Victoria remained cautious of the supportive stranger though. But for some reason she wanted to do something illogical for the first time in her life. She wanted adventure! That’s why she was in Italy, right? Her internal conflict ended as quickly as it began.
Victoria decided right then and there that if she wanted change, she was going to have to embrace it when it came her way. Yet none the less, she was still a little surprised by the words that came out of her mouth.
"Ok, sure. Which way are we walking?" The words awkwardly stumbled out of her mouth and a slight blush covered her cheeks.
"No no,” chuckled Mateo. "If we walk, we'll get back after nightfall. Come this way. We'll use my bike."
He led her back across the street and carefully helped her onto his machine.
"Wow. What is this?" Victoria asked curiously.
"It’s a Ducati. One of my favorites," returned Mateo.
“One of?" she uttered curiously. This time, the stranger outright laughed.
Mateo helped Victoria with her helmet strap and then put on his own gear. He righted his bike and kick started it to life. With the engine warming up, Victoria admired the machine. She was never a fan of bikes but noticed, as with many classical structures in Italy, this machine was not of modern times.
Mateo noticed her staring.
"It’s a sixty seven. A Mach One. It’s a classic. I like classic things. They are timeless and beautiful, not like those plastic things that come and go nowadays."
He returned the choke lever, revved up the now warm engine, and whisked them both down the road to his workshop.
Victoria rode nervously at first, then more comfortably as she got used to the position behind her driver on the little Ducati. They travelled the ocean side road before entering the town of Tirrenia.
Soon the ocean disappeared and was replaced with lush trees and a quaint community of small homes and apartments nestled together on the Via dei Castagni. He turned into his driveway and pulled up to the door of a small shed beside a group of three old stone houses joined together.
"I'll be back in a moment. Do you want anything to drink?" asked Mateo.
"No thank you. I’m fine."
She watched as he walked into the shed, and emerged with a lighter and a couple of wrenches.
"Ok, let's head back," he said.
Within minutes, they returned to the dead Vespa. Victoria watched curiously as Mateo removed the engine's spark plug. He was as delicate as a surgeon attending an ailing patient. He sniffed the spark plug and nodded, confirming his diagnosis. He then carefully held it by one end as he set the flame of his lighter on the electrode for several seconds.
Watching this, Victoria was intrigued. Here was someone who did not need analysis charts and probability theories to diagnose a problem. Perhaps he employed a measure of years of mechanical experience. Perhaps it was just dumb luck. The confidence in his face assured her of the prior.
Mateo then pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the hot electrode, then wound it back in with the old wrench. He placed the plug wire back onto the plug and turned on the ignition. He stepped on the kick starter, however, not without first looking at Victoria and cracking a sweet, assertive smile.
Like a human brought back from the dead, the little Vespa crackled to life, its engine purring smoothly as it warmed up in the evening air.
Victoria started to smile.
"I guess now that you've done something for me, I can thank you," she kidded.
"You are most welcome," laughed Mateo.
After putting on her helmet, Victoria noticed Mateo gazing out at the sunset. The sun was now past the horizon and painted a warm red canvas across the sky.
"I love sunsets too," she said hopping on the little bike. She took a quick breath then flipped the kickstand, ready to pull away.
"Do you need me to follow you back just in case?" asked Mateo.
"Not necessary. I'll be fine. Thank you for helping me today. I appreciate it. Nice meeting you, Mateo," she said in an uncertain voice she rarely used.
"Nice to meet you too," he replied. He shook her hand, that unique smile playing on his face.
Victoria responded with a tight grin. With a nod of her head, she swallowed hard and sped away. She was very uncomfortable with the feelings of doubt sitting in the pit of her stomach. Although she felt proud of herself for taking the plunge, she didn’t expect the other strange emotions also churning inside. What feelings? She demanded. Victoria, you’re just not used to being rescued by anyone. Stop being stupid, you just met the guy! she reprimanded herself.
Victoria didn't like to depend on other people. She was strong. She was professional. She was adaptable. Today she had no choice but to let one of her walls down, but once up and running, it was back to her usual self. With the engine running again, she rode the Vespa along the river road back to her hotel. She turned in the keys, headed up to her suite and had room service bring her up a tea. She decided to sip it out on the balcony.
It was her second night in Italy. It was unusually quiet. The stars soon acquired their places in the sky. As she took another sip of tea, she gazed out far over the horizon to where her journey had become interesting. She replayed her conversations with the mysterious man on the bench. He was sweet, confident and intriguing. She wanted adventure, but she wasn’t sure if that included Mateo.
Victoria slipped into bed and stared up at the ceiling. Her mouth tensed and she pursed her lips together. She took a deep breath, convinced that she was making the right decision. The fear residing in her stomach was gone and she felt like herself again. This was the Victoria that everyone knew. The Victoria who ruled the boardroom. The Victoria she knew.
Victoria closed her eyes confident in the power of her resolve and strength of willpower.
He was just a memory.