ROME — The 70-something barista who served me an iced tea last July was proud of his historic cafe next to one of the city's best-known theaters. It was soon after the end of Italy's first lockdown, and the theater was still closed due to the pandemic. At the end of our short conversation, the aging barman bid me farewell with a shout of: "Long live freedom."

It's almost exactly a year later, as I return, and the weather is hot again. I order an iced tea, and take off my mask to drink it. The lady at the counter asks me if I'm vaccinated, if I'm going to the theater; she says that unfortunately, she's been too busy to see the show. She got the first dose of the vaccine and is looking forward to the second, and also to the third and fourth and fifth if they are needed. My guess, from her manner and appearance, is that she's the barista's wife.

That was when my grandson was born.

Something keeps me from asking about her husband. She talks and says she had an "irrelevant" bout of COVID, half a day of fever and after ten days she tested negative. It was last November, she adds. That was when my grandson was born, she adds. She also recalls that they closed the cafe down so fast they accidentally left the coffee machine on.

Last November, she adds one last time, was when my husband died — in the span of two weeks: he was hospitalized even as he was overjoyed with the news that he'd become a grandfather; he was sure he could make it. Then after they put a CPAP helmet on him, I didn't talk to him again, that was the last time I ever saw him. I don't even know if he got to see our grandson's picture on a phone.

I tell her that the last time I was there, he had told me: long live freedom. She cries, I say I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. She wipes her eyes, picks up my empty glass and says: but like him, how many like him? The nightly news give us the numbers. All of them like him.


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