Meet Martino, a strawberry blond beauty who's been roaming the borgo (neighborhood) for seven years. He's my neighbor, and he's inadvertently introducing me—I'm relatively new here—to a good percentage of my human neighbors. Let me explain.
Martino lives in the same church complex as I do, and his way of escaping his house is via a glass-less door behind a metal gate. This gives him (but not his owners) access to the church courtyard, and from there to the street. This has never been a problem, apparently, until one day it was. On Ferragosto, August 15, a beloved summer holiday, Martino went AWOL.
The next day, his distraught owners rang my doorbell. After explaining what had happened and expressing their worry because he (an intact male, btw) had never not come home at night and he has a kidney problem and needs special food, and and and—and did I think my dog might have killed him? Rather stunned, I stared at these two women, then explained that I never let Aria into the courtyard alone, so no, she had not killed their cat. I mean, there'd be evidence, right? (No way I was going to tell them that the reason Aria didn't have solo courtyard privileges was that she had chased Martino one night.) The women nodded, they smiled, they kept pressing the issue. Finally I put my hand over my heart and said, "I'm telling the truth," which seemed to reassure them. For the next few days, we compared notes when we saw each other in the street (alas, no sightings). They were convinced Martino was dead, but I said, "He probably found a girlfriend. Don't worry, he'll be back." But his kidneys! His special food! "Tranquilla," I said, hoping for my reputation's sake that the damn cat would come home.
After four days, the cat came home. And that, I assumed, was that. Until tonight, when my doorbell rang and I found, clustered in front of the church gate, five anxious people (none of whom I knew), asking if they could come into the courtyard because—actually, I don't know what the problem was because everyone was talking at once. But the gist of it was: Martino was out and his owners were freaked.
I brought my unexpected callers into the courtyard and they zoomed over to the door behind the gate. Inside, we could hear yelling and general hysteria, again mostly indecipherable but apparently about keeping Martino inside. I tried to explain to one little anziana peering through the gate that the cat can get out because there's no glass in the door, and she nodded and tilted her head toward the voices inside, swirling one finger around her ear. She didn't quite roll her eyes, but close. Everyone else offered opinions. After a few minutes the yelling stopped and we all disbursed. Was anything resolved? I have no idea.
A few minutes later, when I put the recycling out, I saw the younger of the Martino-owners in the street. She smiled at me, happy. Martino was home.
Not for long, if you ask me. Martino has been roaming this 'hood for seven years, and he's got game. And hormones. He'll be back on the streets and my doorbell will ring and I will defend my dog. It's a helluva way to meet the neighbors.