She was an older Italian woman madly in love with Tayo Akinde, a Nigerian university student who worked in her restaurant in Naples. Working there helped to pay the rent for the apartment which he was renting and sharing with two other students. It was in the historic center and close to his university, the Metro, her restaurant, the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and the Botanical Garden and other amenities.
The arrangement worked out nicely for both of them. He had a steady job which helped to pay for the rent and she got to see him everyday. After his shift was over she would let him go to her apartment to do his homework or study for his exams and join him after she closed the restaurant. She always made him a hot meal and they talked as they ate. She loved cooking for him and she could tell that he loved her cooking.
“You remind me a little of Sophia Loren,” he told her now and she laughed, flattered. “I’m surprised you aren’t married and have children.”
“I had several suitors but none of them was the right man for me,” she replied. “Besides, I’m happy I’m not married. You and I wouldn’t be siting here like this alone in my flat, having dinner together and talking.”
He smiled and nodded in agreement. “You’re right. If you were my wife, I wouldn’t want you spending any time alone with another man.”
“Why did you leave Nigeria to come here?”
“I also wanted to come to Europe to study. A friend suggested that I apply to the university here in Naples. Lots of Nigerians my age are leaving because they want to find decent jobs. Many are in search of greener pastures. The majority of them are unemployed.”
“I have read so many sad stories of undocumented Nigerians who have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. I can’t imagine how their families must have felt.”
“They were desperate.”
“I’m so thankful that you came here through the proper channels. I can’t bear to think of you ending up like one of those poor migrants whose only desire was to have a better future.”
“Yes. Some of them were people I knew.”
“I couldn’t bear it if anything were to happen to you, Tayo,” she told him brokenly.
He got up and went over to where she sat and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t worry, nothing will happen to me. I have God watching over me. He has been doing that since the day I was born.”
She patted his one of his hands, tears welling up in her eyes. “Good,” she whispered. “Because I would die if anything happened to you.”
“Don’t say that, Stephania.” He used to call her Signorina Morelli until she insisted that he called her by her first name. “You’re a beautiful woman. You have so much to live for. I wouldn’t want you to stop living because of me.”
She rose to her feet then and turned to face him. Her face was wet with tears. “Don’t you understand?” she cried. “You are my life. I didn’t start living until that day you walked into my restaurant and asked me for a job.”
He reached up and cupped her face, his thumbs brushing away the tears. “Stephania,” he muttered thickly before he lowered his head and kissed her tenderly on the lips.
She put her arms around his waist and moaning against his lips, she kissed him back eagerly.
For several minutes they stood there in the kitchen, kissing. Then, he picked her up and carried her to her bedroom. He set her down on her feet and undressed her. After he removed his own clothes, he took her by the hand and led her over to the bed. He lay down on top of the sheets and pulled her down on top of him. His hands held her face as he pulled it down to his so that he could kiss her. They exchanged kisses for a while before he rolled over so that she was lying on her back staring up at him. She gasped and closed her eyes when she felt his lips on her skin.
There in the glow of the street light just outside of her window, they made love for the first time. First she had given him her heart and now her virginity.
“I wish you didn’t have to leave,” she murmured some time after.
“I wish I didn’t have to as well,” he said, regretfully.”
“One of these days, you won’t have to leave.”
She got up and put on a robe. “I’ll pack you something you can have tomorrow for breakfast and lunch while you get dressed.”
He sat there for several minutes after she left then, he got up and put on his clothes. She was in the kitchen and she handed him the bag which he put inside his knapsack.
“Thank you, Stephania.”
“See you tomorrow, ” She followed him to the door where she helped him on with his jacket. “Buona notte.”
“Buona notte.” He kissed her softly on the lips before he opened the door and left. She locked it, drew the robe closer about her and went over to the window where she spent a while looking out before going to bed.
“Several weeks later, she asked him to move in with her.”
“No, Stephania. You’re the type of woman a man would marry not shack up with.”
“Then, marry me,” she urged.
He stared at her. “Are you serious?”
“Of course, I’m serious. I love you.”
“I love you too but what will your family say?”
“It doesn’t matter what they say. It’s my life and I want to spend the rest of it with you. Say you’ll marry me.”
“All right, I’ll marry you.”
Laughing, she covered his face with kisses. The following day, he went and bought an engagement ring for her. They got married the day after before a Justice of the peace. He moved in with her that afternoon.
They sat at the candlelit table, staring at each other. “Happy?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, beaming at him. “Do you know how I knew that you were the one for me?”
“Tell me, how did you know?”
“I remember my grandmother once said to me that it’s when love is more than love. She discovered that when she met my grandfather. She had another suitor whom she thought was the right man for her but when she met my grandfather, she realized that he was the one because the love she felt for him was more than love. I didn’t understand what she meant until the day you and I met. I wish if she could be here now to see that I’ve found the same happiness she had with my grandfather.”
“I understand what you mean and I feel the same way to. What I feel for you is beyond love. It’s like it transcends love. It’s bigger than love.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
He reached out and covered her hand with his, entwining his fingers with hers, his heart in his eyes as he returned her gaze. “I came here to study and ended up falling love with a beautiful woman named Stephania. I told you that God has been watching over me all of my life. And He has blessed me with you, la mia bellissima regina italiana.”
She smiled and raised her glass in a toast, not trusting herself to speak at the moment.