“Hey Bella,” he shouted from down the hallway. “Bella, let me make a pizza for you.”
While grabbing my textbook from my locker, I turned, trying to make meaning of this odd voice, to see a disheveled, dark-haired, dark-eyed man dash towards me. Who is Bella, I thought?
“Bella, let me make a pizza for you.”
The four girls from British Columbia were also at their lockers, and they laughed at this strange pick up line directed at me. Who was this guy?
In a warm Italian accent, he said, “My name is Gigi, you beautiful, you Bella! I want to make a pizza for you.”
“Gianluigi, you call me Gigi.” Pointing to the B.C. girls, he asked, “They are your friends? I will make a pizza for them too.”
“Pizza sounds delicious. I love pizza,” said the freckled B.C. girl. She added with a mocking emphasis, “Yes, Gigi, make us all pizza, I am sure Bella would love it.” The other three just laughed. “We have an apartment nearby,” the freckled one continued, “you can use our oven, come tonight at six.”
Why were the B.C. girls so intimidating? They were all close friends from Vancouver, new to this small agricultural campus, a part of McGill University on the west island of Montreal. In the eighties, most students were Quebecers, many of them francophone, so being from British Colombia brought them special out- of- province status. These girls had west coast convictions. They were vegetarians, eco-friendly and wanted to end famine in Africa, at least that’s what you read on their bumper sticker. Separately, they were all tolerable, but together it was high school all over again. They were the cool kids with an impenetrable barrier and when I tried to talk to them, I would be bounced along the surface of their conversation, never even making a dent. I clearly was marked for their amusement.
It was year two for me, studying human nutrition. I had come back to school at the age of 23 to start another degree. My peers were all 19, and seemed to meet and mingle easily. We were a small group of women who would stay together in our faculty until graduation, so bonding friendships were necessary. I had always coasted along the periphery, attracting those misplaced like me, those seeking and searching, like the mother back at school after raising her children, or the one selling chewy, over mixed muffins to support the fight against Apartheid.
I had made one good friend in my first year and we quickly became roommates. Like me, Benita had Eastern European parents, and boyfriend issues, and always appeared lost.
Be was trying to become a whole-earth type and although she bought groats, bulgur and millet, they would sit in jars above our cupboards. She would wake at 5:00 a.m. to study, and when I finally got up I’d find her sucking on an Oh Henry bar, drinking coffee, bottle-thick glasses slipping down her nose. Benita had a copy of the original Moosewood Cookbook, and I took it upon myself to read it and learn about the strange grains she had, and make her meals. Be was grateful, and I felt loved and needed, something I hadn’t felt in a while.
The B.C. girls lived next door to me and Be. One time I invited them over to visit our apartment, so impressed was I with our scrounged furnishings and decorations. When I knocked on their door to invite them over, they seemed hesitant, but agreed to stop in for five minutes. After polite chit chat they left. As they closed the door of their neighbouring apartment, I heard a burst of laughter. They were laughing at me again and I was not quite sure why. Benita seemed to be oblivious to their behaviour and why it affected me so much. “They’re bitches,” she said, stuffing a chocolate rum ball in her mouth and opening a textbook to study. They were bitches, so why did I care so much?
When he arrived at the B.C. girls’ apartment at six, Gigi appeared quite excited at the proposition of making pizza for us. He was certainly odd, talking feverishly with his hands about the intricacies of pizza making. Always use lots of olive oil and never combine garlic and onion into one sauce. The B.C. girls mocked him for his pizza-making rules and he got angry at them, interpreting their sarcastic undertone despite his sometimes limited understanding of the English language. Me, I just ate the pizza, not saying a word, but liking him more and more. Gigi was an excitable Italian, but not a stupid one. He was here from Bologna for the fall term to continue work on his Master’s in sustainable agriculture. His thesis was on developing affordable, low-tech approaches to keep farming alive and well in desperate, dry, African conditions. The hope was to make families self-sufficient to minimize the need for outside aid and interference. In the New Year, he would be returning to Africa to implement his theories. He was living the B.C. girls’ bumper sticker.
“Bella,” he said to me, “next time, I will make pizza only for you.”
And the following Friday he did, coming to my place, ingredients in hand. I supplied the wine. We ate and drank, talked and laughed. He was crazy but adorable. I hadn’t had a man take interest in me since the summer and I pondered how sex with Gigi would be. Surely it would have to be better than the last time.
A few months earlier, stinging from a long-term relationship that left me vulnerable and filled with self-doubt, I had run away from Montreal to stay with a girlfriend in Edmonton to see the Rocky Mountains and the west coast. My friend couldn’t get away from work, so I took off alone to Banff, where I stayed at an old, primitive youth hostel up a dirt road from the town site. I quickly met men, one a short man from Malta who took me out for dinner and wanted to go hiking with me the next day. I had no interest in this too talkative little man, especially when the next day a cute red-headed Australian was also eyeing me up and down, saying he was going to hike up Sulfur Mountain and would I join him.
He turned out to be a practising Christian from Melbourne, doing his yearlong walkabout, which I found totally fascinating. We took the gondola up the mountain but hiked down, getting a little lost en route. We ended up in a beautiful green meadow.
It had been six months since I had last had sex, and with the summer sun beating down on both of us, it was quite easy to turn to each other and lie upon this lovely, soft grass. I was shocked when he confessed to being a virgin at twenty eight but he said Canada was about new experiences and I was ready to give him one. The act turned into a non-climactic sexual experience for me, but seeing the big grin on the red head’s face made me happy and grateful that it finally happened again.
A distant shout got our attention. “What was that?” I said, grabbing at my clothes. We both heard it again: “Fore!” When we saw the men with clubs, we realized that we just had sex on the Banff Springs golf course.
Gigi’s sweet kisses brought me back to the present. I was surprised to hear the front door open and as I looked up I saw Be with her boyfriend Freddy. On weekends, she mostly stayed at Freddy’s place, but for some reason she was here tonight. I was still a little embarrassed about my developing relationship with this odd man – did the B.C. girls affect me that much? – so I suggested to Gigi we move the wine drinking into my bedroom. Gigi and I sat on my futon, wine spilling on the sheets as he started kissing me again. Soon we were both naked, caressing each other’s bodies. I could kiss him forever, but he was quick and wiry and he moved his kisses on to my body, seeking my eyes for permission to go further. As my thighs spread open and he entered me, the only word he spoke was “Bellissima”.
New sensations surprised me. Did Gigi have a magical penis? He must have been hitting my so called G spot, something I’d never experienced with so few lovers. With the continued thrusting, I knew I would come soon and would have to supress my screams, as Benita and Freddy were within earshot. Their proximity did not stop Gigi and as we came together he sang out his pleasure in a series of continuous rising notes, so loud that I’m sure they permeated the walls, the hallways and the B.C. girls’ apartment. My eyes widened, I had never had a man louder than me in bed.
“You have to be quiet next time.”
He only asked, “Why?”
Be and I had a little talk the next day. “He’s a screamer,” I said, not knowing what else to say. Though Benita was clearly happy that I was having sex again, we developed a no-boyfriend rule in the apartment if the other was home. It seemed fair. I told Gianluigi that afternoon as we met up in the library to study.
He just shrugged, “Bella, you can sleep at my place for now.”
“Where is your place?”
“I show you tonight.”
He picked me up later that night and we walked back to the university. He had no money for an apartment and he told me he lived in one of the faculty houses were professors had their daytime offices. Wow, I thought, some prof must really like him to allow a student to stay in one of these beautifully maintained older homes. When we arrived, we didn’t enter by the front door, but took a partially barred side door that led down the stairs.
“You live in the basement?” I said. A basement with cement flooring, broken furniture and hardly any access to light. It was the storage basement.
“It’s free,” he said, and as we walked further I discovered his makeshift apartment. A mattress and sleeping bag were thrown on the floor, a desk and chair covered in books stood beside the bed, and a small bar fridge and hot plate were set up beside a kitchenette table and chairs. My new boyfriend was a squatter.
“Where is the bathroom?” I asked. A small toilet and sink were hidden down the hall among banged-up desks and broken chairs. “Where do you shower?”
He muttered something about bourgeois needs. Gianluigi had experienced third world housing conditions. To him this was paradise. “I shower in the residence across the campus. I am here for four months, I am happy.”
Gigi’s leftist sensibilities surfaced more and more. “Why do North Americans need so much?”
I never had any answers. I was the type of women who didn’t have many material needs; I went to school in sweats, wore no makeup, and ate strange grains.
For the next few months, I found myself stumbling through darkness every night to be with him. Whether it was early evening or after midnight, his arms were always open and waiting for me. And every night as I crawled into his sleeping bag, an Italian opera would bellow out from the basement. He never judged me, never criticized me, he only gave me the nourishment my body craved. This was my catch-up time and as he was leaving soon, I had to stockpile for my next sexual famine.
Weird as it may seem, regular sex made me more confident, and the B.C. girls stopped mattering. They actually took an interest in the things I said in class, and would ask my opinion. Perhaps, in their eyes, sleeping with an Italian made me more worldly and sophisticated.
The fall term ended sooner than expected and with exams over, Gianluigi was packing to go home to Bologna to see his family for Christmas before leaving for Africa. Yes, we would miss each other and yes, a few tears were shed, but we never fell in love with each other. We both knew this day would come. We made no false promises to each other, and I never saw him again.
We did write to one another off and on for the next twelve years, our correspondence ending with the birth of my son. His letters were always short and supportive filled with just the basics of his life, the people he was helping, like he helped me. He never needed any more.
And they always ended with Kisses, Gigi.
Rosemary Szabadka is an emerging writer and public health dietitian in Winnipeg. Rosemary’s love of storytelling, and desire to make people laugh, has led her to begin writing about her spirited sexual adventures, and mishaps, during her time as a student.
She is older and wiser, and still has much to tell her growing audience.