Late in the afternoon, at a café facing the beach of Chiaia near the village of Forio, Martin sips strong coffee. Three tables down, Antonio, a muscular, bearded man in his early 30s shouts, “Peppe! Come here!”
Young Peppe gets off his motorscooter, approaches the table. With Antonio are another man and two deeply tanned young women in halter tops and sunglasses.
Antonio’s voice is loud, his gestures are exaggerated, jerky. He takes a swallow from his drink. Then he commands Peppe to come closer. The boy complies. Antonio suddenly grabs the boy by the neck, forces his head down toward the surface of the table. Antonio’s thick, muscular arms ripple with the effort. He’s smiling broadly. “Look how easily I can bend this young buck over,” he says to the women. “Can you imagine what I could do to you?”
The girls laugh.
Young Peppe struggles, but Antonio has him fully under control. He finally releases the boy, and takes another swallow of his drink.
The boy smiles self-consciously, and looks around to see who had witnessed the spectacle. Antonio keeps talking loudly, and quickly lunges, and whacks Peppe on the head. He swings again, but Peppe nimbly steps backward, still smiling.
Well, Martin has seen enough. He finishes what is left of his coffee and ambles over to Antonio’s table.
“Hey,” Martin says in English.
Antonio turns, looks up, blinks.
“You’re such a brave man,” Martin says, and then adds: “Parla inglese?”
“No,” Antonio says.
Martin seizes Antonio’s long curly black hair with his left hand, and then gives him a quick, snapping jab squarely on his nose.
“Aieeeee!” Antonio shouts. He tries to rise, but his knees hit the table, and his chair tumbles backward. Cups and glasses fall and shatter on the tiles.
Before Antonio can regain his balance, Martin pops him again on his jaw, a hard right cross. Antonio falls to the deck, both hands over his face, blood streaming through his fingers.
All that is what Martin imagined he would do were he stronger or more skilled at boxing. He walked slowly past Antonio’s table. The halter-topped girls were so slim, young, and pretty. Tanned so nicely. Their sunglasses glinted in the late afternoon sun.
Martin took another long look at Antonio, who was still talking loudly, and awkwardly gesticulating. Then he turned and headed for the road to his hotel.