Autocamp Stoja, Pula, Croatia
August 1999

We lounged in the dwindling twilight, fingers greasy and bellies full of cheesy pizza. Stars were appearing, strung between trees like fairy-lights. It was still summer in northern Croatia, but the crisp evening gave away the approach of autumn, and I shivered in my thin summer dress. Eventually, one of the Spaniards lit a fire, and I sighed in relief as its crackling warmth wrapped itself around me.

Conversations swirled around me, in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese. I listened with care, stopping every now and again to painstakingly pick through the jumble of languages in my brain for the words to join in. But by the time I was ready, the conversations had moved on. And so, I kept listening, the rhythms of the three languages melding into a lovely, lilting lullaby.

“Musica!” the Italian exclaimed after some time, and everyone agreed with the kind of enthusiastic handwaving that only southern Europeans can pull off. Lying there with the night stretching and settling over me, I agreed too – though I kept my hands to myself.

There were other Italians there, and other men. But where the rest were nameless and faceless to me, he was the Italian. Demi, they called him; part of his surname, but I added a silent “god” every time I heard it. He was every Fellini cliché I knew –  handsome and charming, dark and mysterious, and very, very well-dressed. He was a guitarist, he’d told me, and I’d grabbed his hand to feel for the callouses that would tell me the truth, keeping my smile tucked away when my fingers found them.

I watched him stroll – with just a lick of swagger – over to his car and slip a CD into the stereo. As the first few familiar guitar notes of Santana’s Black Magic Woman floated across the fire, I concentrated mostly on pretending I wasn’t watching, my fingers absent-mindedly pulling out the pine needles sticking through my dress as my eyes followed him from beneath my lashes.

He was dancing his way back from the car, hips swaying and hands twirling, lips parted in an easy smile. I looked around waiting for his mates to laugh or poke fun. Where I went to school, boys – men – didn’t dance. Not unless they were full of whisky bluster or beer bravado, anyway, and certainly not the way he was, his lithe body a study in confident, soft, expressive masculinity. But nobody said anything; nobody even noticed, really.