Anike jumped off the bed when she saw the knife. Her brain immediately went into overdrive. She couldn’t imagine that she escaped being raped only to be faced by death. She tried to grab the bottle from under the bed but her hand hit it and it rolled out of her reach. The sound of the fallen bottle made the man look up. He frowned as what she was thinking dawned on him.
‘What is this?’ he asked, ‘You think I want to kill you?’
Anike was absolutely terrified and had started to perspire profusely. ‘Please don’t kill me.’ She begged, dropping to her knees. She was too flustered to realize that kneeling down before this white man wouldn’t have the same impact it would on a traditional Nigerian man.
‘I said I don’t want to kill you. I only want to cut apple with knife.’ He explained.
Anike backed away, keeping a keen eye on the man as he proceeded towards the table. He brought out two red apples from the nylon bag he brought in earlier. He passed one to Anike and when she only moved further back, he dropped it on the table and started peeling his own. She kept her eyes on him and only relaxed when he finished his apple and dropped the knife beside her.
‘See?’ he asked, spreading his arms, ‘I no kill you.’
Anike nodded. Her heartbeat was now returning to its normal rate. She even felt a little amusement at the way she had panicked.
‘Who are you?’ she asked him.
‘My name is Stephan. I save you from that bastard Vieri.’ He told her as he got up from the chair and sat on the edge of the bed.
Anike slowly nodded. ‘But what were you doing there at the time?’
‘Vieri is my uncle, see?’ Stephan replied in his typical Italian accent and gesticulations, ‘but that house is for my late father. My uncle say he keeping the property for me till I’m 21 but he’s using my house for prostitution.’ His fists were clenched as he talked.
Anike looked at his face closely. True, she thought he was a young man but she had thought he was in his mid twenties. He was tall and lanky, with a head full of jet-black hair and a beard. His face was dark and handsome with dark, almost black eyes.
‘So what did you do to Vieri?’ she asked.
Stephan laughed, revealing the dimples on his cheeks. ‘He always think I’m mafia, which I’m not, so I threaten to kill him and he beg for his life. He promise to pack his casa prostitute off my property in two days.’
She couldn’t help smiling and admiring him. She wished she had that kind of strength. She would have stood up to Chioma instead of running away. Stephan picked up the apple again and passed it to her. This time she collected it but declined the knife. Why on earth would she need to peel an apple before eating it? She sank her teeth into one side of the apple.
‘Where are you from?’ Stephan asked her.
‘That’s in Africa, no?’
Anike nodded and told him her story, from the very beginning with the death of her parents to the time she arrived in Italy under false pretences. Stephan couldn’t believe that one so young could have experienced so much. When she was done, he returned the favour by telling her his own story.
Stephan’s late father was a prosperous photographer that lived in Milan in his hey days. He worked with all the famous designers and models of the time. The man was a notorious playboy and before long, one of the models got pregnant for him. He managed to persuade her to keep the baby and she moved in with him. She delivered safely but six months later, she dropped the baby with his nanny and left a note for her husband. She was never heard from again. Stephan’s father had to raise the boy alone so Stephan learnt to be independent early in life. When he was 16, his father died in a car crash leaving all his property to his only son. The estate included a villa on the outskirts of Milan, the building they were in which housed small condominiums and the property where his uncle was running the prostitute house. The condo building was mostly inhabited by students of the university which was just 10 minutes away. All rents were paid to him through a campus-based residential agent.
By the time he was through with his own story, Anike’s mouth was wide open. She wondered how someone so young could control such an estate. She looked at him with wonder and a deep respect. She knew such a thing could not happen back in Nigeria. There were always greedy uncles that would hijack the property from the rightful owner. He even ran his uncle off his property successfully. Wow!
‘So what do you do?’ she asked him.
‘I’m at the university studying Creative Arts.’ He replied. ‘What do you want to do?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You want to go to university, no?’
‘I don’t know,’ she repeated, ‘do they teach in English?’
‘Italian.’ He answered sadly.
‘Do you think I can get a job?’
‘Yes, at coffee shop at the university. I have friend that own coffee shop.’ He got up from the bed and looked out of the window. It was getting dark. ‘We go to him now.’
Anike got up and tried to straighten her clothes, which weren’t cooperating in the least. They went down the stairs of the two-storey building and strolled into campus. Stephan told her the street that connected his building to the campus was called Via Cavour. She looked up at the tall, shiny office buildings and lecture halls. As they passed each building, Stephan told her the name and tried his best to translate each name to English. Anike was fascinated. She would have loved to school here. Unfortunately, she didn’t know the first thing about speaking Italian, she thought with regret. Before long, they were at the coffee shop owned by Stephan’s friend; Freddo Café. It was a nice place, with tasteful décor and colourful chairs. Stephan explained that the students loved the place for two reasons.
‘The cupcakes and free wifi.’ He said with a wink.
Anike looked around and smiled. She could see several people with their laptops open in front of them. Apparently, one had to buy a cup of coffee and a cupcake to sit in as they all had a platter and a cup on their tables.
Stephan greeted a number of people as they went towards the counter. He was obviously popular here. He introduced her to the guy at the counter, his friend Davide. They spoke rapidly in Italian for a few minutes before Stephan turned to her again.
‘You’re hired.’ He told her.