Selina grated a cinnamon stick into a bowl overflowing with bread dough. The
aroma of ginger, nutmeg, and other spices floated out the kitchen window. On
my way to the local market, I had no choice but to stop when the smell reached
my nostrils. “Is that cinnamon?” My nose twitched and wrinkled
as I sniffed the air. “Selina must be baking bread today.” Tantalizing
and pulling me towards the house, long, magical fingers of steam lured me with
their spicy scent. It was too much to resist. The window was wide open. I stood
on my tiptoes and peeked inside. Selina stood with her back to me. The plump
figure, dressed in black cotton cloth that hung to her ankles, hummed an old
Italian love song. Her head, covered in a black scarf and tied with a knot
under her graying hair, bobbed up and down with the rhythm of the tune.
I nearly knocked over two flowerpots as I gaped at the rising bread. They
clanked together, but didn’t seem to distract Selina. I noticed a crack
in the pots that burst with blooms. Bright red geraniums grew from thick green
branches and the fuzzy leaves tickled my legs. In the other pot were orange
nasturtiums with yellow centers. I looked down just as a fat, lime green caterpillar
crawled across one of the flowers. I was tempted to pick it up, but was anxious
to get back to watching Selina working in the kitchen.
Trying to be more careful, I pulled myself up, balancing on the sides of the
large flowerpots. I noticed that branches of rosemary and thyme, and other
fresh herbs, had been tied with string. Someone had hammered a nail in the
wall and hung them to dry. Red peppers, shriveled and wrinkled, lay in a wire
Selina turned and caught me in the act. “Ramon, what are you doing out
there? Come inside and keep me company!” She winked and gave me a wicked
smile. I felt my face turning red with embarrassment. Selina rubbed her dough-covered
hands on the apron that was tied at the side of her waist. “Come inside,” she
I pulled myself up onto the ledge and slid down onto the black and white tile
floor. Flour stuck to the bottom of my feet as I walked towards Selina. “There
you are. I’ve got some sardines for you. Papa brought them home this
morning from the market, just for you.” Ever since I’d come to
Selina’s bed and breakfast in Naples, or Napoli, as the natives call
it, I’d had a fondness for the tiny fish. Selina made sure I had some
brought in fresh daily.
I stood beside her, watching as she mixed the bread. She pounded it with her
round fists and kneaded it firmly. “Papa brought me some grapes. They’re
plump, deep purple, and have few seeds; just the way I like them.” I
turned my head and looked at the grapes. “Eat your sardines, Ramon,” Selina
She set the bowl with the rising dough on the window ledge and covered it
with a damp cloth. Satisfied, she picked up a block of cheese and began to
grate it. “Parmesan,” she smiled. “For supper tonight. I’m
fixing Papa and I spaghetti with tomato sauce. I have some fresh honey for
I gobbled the sardines and licked my lips. I could hear the seagulls squawking
outside. The fishing boats must have just arrived with their daily catch. I
moved to the window and gazed between the whitewashed houses down to the seashore,
spotting Papa’s boat. “He’s here,” Selina called. “Ramon,
go and welcome him home. The Mediterranean was rough for the fishermen this
I made my way down the cobblestone street to greet Papa. He was busy hauling
the fish off the boat. “Ah, Ramon, you’ve come to see me. Did Mama
send you here?” he laughed, picking up a crate of fresh orange roughy.
Silvery scales covered with slime slipped out of the crate and dripped near
my feet. “Stand back. I’ve got fish, oysters, mussels, and a special
surprise for Mama.” I licked my lips. It smelled so fresh. “I didn’t
forget you. Did you enjoy your sardines from this morning? I’ve got some
octopus for your supper tonight,” Papa said.
I walked next to him as we made our way uphill towards home. “Mama!
Come and see,” Papa called. I followed him into the house and the door
slammed behind me.
“What did you bring?” Mama asked, her eyes filled with anticipation.
The old man shuffled through the door and put a brown paper bag down on the
counter. “I caught it myself. When I saw it, I thought, Mama will enjoy
Selina pulled the tuna out of the bag. “Papa, my favorite!” She
reached over and kissed his leathery brown cheek. “Oh, and you brought
octopus too. You’ll like that, won’t you, Ramon?”
I sat on a stool in the corner of the kitchen watching them at work. Selina
put the bread in the oven. She chopped the octopus into bite-sized bits and
tossed them into a heavy black skillet. They sizzled in olive oil as she filleted
the tuna. Papa washed up and chopped a sweet onion, a red pepper bigger that
was bigger than his fist, and three cloves of garlic. The smell in the kitchen
was overpowering. My stomach growled, waiting with anticipation for my evening
meal. Selina filled a bowl with green olives. Everything looked delicious.
I could hardly wait.
Plates of steaming food were piled high and placed in an orderly fashion on
the table. Papa spread creamy butter onto the hot slices of bread. I watched
as it melted into yellow liquid. The green-colored pasta was drained and tossed
into a large bowl. Selina’s favorite was spinach pasta. Tomato sauce,
thick with fresh and fragrant herbs, was ladled onto the pasta. Selina doused
the grilled tuna with more olive oil and put it on the plates. I drooled as
the octopus slid out of the skillet into a bowl. I sat in a chair next to the
table, waiting for the feast to begin. “Ramon, you know you can’t
sit at the table with the rest of us. Here’s your bowl. Come! Enjoy,” Selina
said. “Papa, I wonder when Ramon is going to remember he’s a cat,
not a person,” she laughed.
I gobbled down the octopus until my belly was full and then found my old and
worn, yet comfortable blanket in the corner of the kitchen and fell asleep. “Ah,
Napoli! A cat could ask for nothing more.”