The Art of Lecce
“The buildings act like a sundials, casting elongated shadows over the balconies, doors and tourists. See the street artist on his phone, how indicative of the age!”
Madrid, the assassin, ignored Naomi, the 20 year old blonde socialite he had been tasked to “take care of” for the weekend whilst her father was away. “I was educated at the Alma Master Studiorum, Bologna” she said, “the Sorbonne Paris and Jesus College Cambridge. A €200,000 education, and I can’t find a job I want to do.”
A large man suddenly ran out of an alley. Madrid instinctively stuck his leg out, tripped the man, drew a knife and held it to the mans throat. It happened so quick Naomi hadn’t time to scream. She hadn’t even notice how Madrid had pushed her back into a doorway, all she could hear was the mans terror. Immediately aware the man was harmless, Madrid appeared to flick the man back to his feet, smile and send him on his way. “Oh my God. You almost killed that man!”
“Him? No, he’s fine. I was caught up in your Romany education story and acted on instinct. Please continue.”
“What? Look, I’ve heard about you. You’re the one that was out in Afghanistan and Syria aren’t you? Well you’re in Italy now. You’re not in a friggin war zone!”
Madrid turned sharply to Naomi. He was 30 something; hard and bitterly handsome. He showed little emotion but the lines on his face indicated too long a time spent under an unforgiving sun. He stepped towards her and she unwittingly let out a kitten like yelp of fear. She was still in the jaws of the doorway and felt strangely exhilarated by her situation. “I have seen men torn to shreds by wild dogs whilst other men laughed from the top of tanks and women sang to God,” said Madrid, his eyes betraying a soul as deep as the suns heat. For a moment, Naomi felt like a Roman child kneeling before one of that cities greatest gladiators. “I will protect you.” He said, followed by: “Would you like your portrait painted?”
Naomi’s mouth gaped open. “What?”
“The street artist back there. I know him. He asked to paint me once and I agreed. He didn’t see me as we passed, too busy with his phone, but, if we return, he will paint you for me, he’s very good. “Madrid was still physically close to the Naomi. She felt his cold breath on her cheeks. It felt refreshing. The mood had changed so dramatically, she was, for the first time in her life, speechless. She nodded in accession.
As the painter laughed and hugged Madrid, bowing to Naomi and preparing his canvass, the young woman suddenly became acutely aware of herself. Her fragility. Her insecurity. Her vulnerability.
She remained silent through the sitting and on the way back to the car. Madrid placed the rolled canvass in the boot of the car and held the rear door open for Naomi. However, Naomi opened he front door herself and sat in the passengers seat. It was another first. Madrid looked at her, as if to check that she was aware of where she had sat. Naomi said nothing but simply stared through the windscreen.
On the drive home, they passed through a valley of flowering artichokes, as purple as blooming lavender. Naomi reached out and held the top of Madrid’s hand. She looked at him as he stared at the road ahead, a slight smile appeared on his face like a curved crack in the sand. He turned his hand and took hold of hers. They drove in overwhelming silence.
Photo by: dchrysa