N'tombi liked having a conversation with the woman. She was very levelheaded and seemed genuine, which she always appreciated in people. More times rather than not, she would get drunk men trying to hit on her and that was their idea of a "conversation." It was nice to have a real discussion with someone, even if it was just small talk. The girl's story seemed interesting and she enjoyed hearing about it so far.
When Aia talked about getting a job teaching languages, N'tombi's eyes lit up. That seemed like such an amazing job, and the woman must have known several languages. N'tombi was never one for school, as she never went to it when she was a child, but it was still facinating to hear other people be taught important things. "Congratulations on the job," N'tombi said, nodding towards her. "It's amazing that you teach languages. It's a very valuable job. Not many people can do that." She was genuine with her answer. She also hoped she was fortunate enough to get paid well.
"Do you enjoy your job? Or Rome, perhaps?"
N'tombi sometimes forgot that there were some people who traveled so much that they didn't have a home. The woman had an itch to travel and sometimes forgot how grateful she was to have a warm home with a bed. It was strange because Rome was the only home she'd ever known. She wanted to travel, and yet, she had no idea what it was like outside of Rome except for her Aunt's farm in the countryside. She figured, if she ever lost the bar and was sent out of Rome for any reason, home would always be where her siblings were.
Hearing that Aia was trying to make a home provided a warm smile from N'tombi. There were people who haven't found a home yet and needed to figure it out, which she admired. With Aia, she wanted to make sure she was safe, even if that meant going out and leaving a sibling in charge. She knew eventually Bosede would take over the bar when she was older or when she traveled, so she made sure he was prepared.
"Yeah, I own this place. Been in my family for generations," she said, smiling. "It's my pride and joy and the only thing I've ever known." She wanted to be proud of her tavern more than anything, and she was glad to say that she was. "What brings you to Rome? I know my wine is good, but it's not so good as to visit all the way from Britannia," she teased.
N’tombi was always so fascinated with people from different areas other than Rome. She was jealous that people could go other places and travel the Empire but she had to stay here. She was alright with that. She lived vicariously through other people’s stories and that was something, but it wasn’t always enough for the curious bar owner. Still, even travelers always somehow came back to Rome.
“Well you’re a far way from home, aren’t you?” N’tombi said, getting a rag and still cleaning the bar. She was all ears despite doing something else. She heard that she wandered from the Palatine and her eyebrow raised. That was a pretty important place, so it was unusual for someone to come from there to her tavern. N’tombi didn’t go out very often, but the Palatine was a sight she always loved to see.
“Nice to meet you Aia, glad you could make it safely to Rome. My name is N’tombi Arria, owner of this establishment. I know we’ve just met each other, but it’s dark and rainy and if you need someone to get you back to Palatine, I’d be more than happy to help. I can have Bosede look after the bar.” She always offered to help when people needed it. Her brother would just have to wake up and suck it up, though that wasn’t a big deal.
N'tombi was used to strangers coming into her tavern, but her taverns were usually most, if not all, men. When a woman came in, it was surprising to her. But because N'tombi knew what it was like as a woman living and working in a man's world, she never made a big fuss about it. She always tried to make her customers feel welcome no matter who they were or where they came from. And that was exactly what she would do with the woman that just entered her tavern.
"Well if you need directions or anything, I know the streets of Rome like the back of my palm. Born and raised here in this very tavern," she said, taking an earthen cup from under the bar and putting it on the granite counter top. She turned around and grabbed a bottle of wine, pouring it in front of the woman and returning it to its place.
"Since you seem lost, I take it you're not from Rome. Where are you from, if you don't mind me asking?" She said with an eyebrow raised, though it might have seem a little intrusive. There was still a warm smile on her face. The woman never had any ill intentions towards anyone. She'd honestly rather just get to know someone and see what she could do to help them. Her mother always told her that N'tombi would be a good doctor, but their family wasn't rich so it wasn't on the plate.
N'tombi was someone that was always ready to serve her customers. She was praised for her customer service, always seemingly working her ass off behind the bar and in the tavern. Whether she was cleaning, serving drinks, or making her customers feel welcome, she always seemed to be working. She was a hard worker and if anyone said otherwise, she'd laugh in their face. Maybe she was cocky about how hard she worked, but most of her day was overseeing the bar except for early morning hours, when she slept. Her siblings looked after the bar before it opened, though they usually went to bed relatively early because they had to get up early. Even though her siblings were teenagers, she still sometimes treated them like her own children if she ever had any. She had been responsible for them for ten years now, she may as well be their makeshift mother.
One night had been particularly quiet. It was raining outside and only the most regular customers had come in to drink on the dreary and cold night. She wondered if a new face would stumble in eventually, though she wasn't sure with how unfortunate the weather was. Still, the weather didn't normally stop alcoholics from drinking. Though N'tombi enabled it because they were her patrons, she was always quick to cut off someone if they had too much to drink.
Standing behind the bar and cleaning the granite top, she looked up to see a new face appear in her bar. The woman smiled. She was always keen on new guests coming in and drinking. N'tombi was always quick to welcome anyone new that might come in. "Good evening. Glad you stopped in on this lackluster night." she said with a smile on her face. "Welcome to Bibens Avem Popina. What can I get you?" She was warm with her words and always meant it when she said she was glad to have a customer come in. She loved getting to know the people in her bar because regulars were always her favorite.
N'tombi smiled when the man complimented the cider. It always felt like a personal attack when someone voiced a bad opinion about the alcohol, usually to her resorting to some cursing towards the patron, especially when they were rude about it. But when people complimented it, it felt like a personal compliment. N'tombi was defined by how good her bar was. It was what defined herself, her past generations, and her siblings. And in the future, it would be what defined her children. To her, keeping a respected establishment not only reflected on the owner, but reflected on the whole family. If there was a tavern that was gross and greedy, N'tombi assumed that that was exactly how the family lived.
The man was very kind, something that was pretty hard to come by in Rome. It might have sounded sexist, but she always found women to be nicer and friendlier rather than the men that walked into her bar. But it was a nice change when a kind man came in and had a conversation with her. When he asked what she did when she wasn't working, she laughed. "I'm always working, whether I'm taking care of my bar or my family," she said, nodding over towards the three teenagers helping out. Bosede was behind the bar, Dayo was helping other customers, and Jabari was sweeping. "And you? You seem important with your fancy clothes. What do you do?" She said casually.
N'tombi wanted her patrons to feel safe in her bar, whether they were there for one or ten drinks. She never hesitated to cut someone off when they needed to stop nor did she ever regret throwing people out who needed to leave, but she wanted an area where people could feel safe drinking, especially those deemed as social outcasts. More often than not, she had freedmen and foreigners in her tavern, which she welcomed with open arms and treated them no differently than she would Caesar himself. She bragged about the fact that she had the best customers to anyone who asked. N'tombi considered her tavern the best, after all.
When he asked for another drink, she smiled and nodded. "Alright, will do," she said, knowing what she had in mind. She had a cider in the house which was quite strong, though it was among the favorites of a lot of her guests. She grabbed a different cup for the man and grabbed the cider under the shelf. It was the second most requested drink after mulsum, and her personal favorite. She knew it was quite strong too, so she figured he might appreciate it.
She delivered the drink to the man. The bar was slow, and her siblings were helping out with the other customers in the bar. "Here you go, cider by way of the countryside. Tasty, though quite strong." She put the cup down in front of him. "It's the most requested drink here. I get it special-delivered from a farm that my family has worked with for generations."
The woman took the man's empty glass, impressed on how quickly he finished the drink. She loved having new people come into her tavern, and she respected people who finished their drink so quickly. To her, it was a sign of happiness in the bar, both for liking the taste of alcohol and enjoying the company of others. As long as people kept paying, she'd keep providing the drink.
When he said that exploring was thirsty work, she laughed. "Yeah, I could see that," she commented back, knowing that running around the world might put one in the mood to drink. She knew that she would always keep a bottle of booze handy when she was traveling the world. Sometimes amazing memories were better when having a couple shots or a nice glass of wine.
She always wanted to keep her customers happy and entertained with good alcohol, and she did her best to provide the best customer service around. She'd never admit it, but she would easily die for her customers. That was where her loyalties were, and there was no doubting it. When the man said that he was followed by the sounds of happiness, it put a bright smile on her face. She loved hearing that, knowing that she worked hard to have happy and returning customers. "That's what I try to accomplish. I want people to come in here and experience positivity. Whether it's through drinking or having a good conversation, I try my best to entertain my customers and keep them happy. I care about quality, and don't let anybody tell you anything different." N'tombi knew there were a lot of taverns that only cared about money, but with hers, it couldn't be more wrong.
"Want me to fill your glass up?" She said, raising an eyebrow and holding onto the empty glass.
N’tombi was interested in traveling to the land of her mother’s home, but it was rare she heard anything about Africa. It was often that people from Spain, Briticannia, and Germania came to Rome, whether by force or not, but it was rare to see many Africans. Most of them weren’t free, or were under rule in now Roman-occupied Africa. That’s what she heard anyways, and when she was a child, it was sparse to see a person that was her color. Still, when she travelled, Africa was on her list.
When he said that he heard it was hot, she laughed. That was really all she heard too. She wasn’t a fan of hot weather. The weather in Rome always seemed to be perfect, though it could get hot at times. Those days she tried not to treat any differently than usual, though she did work up more of a sweat.
He then said he was a praetorian, which she was impressed. There weren’t many of those around Rome that could say that. ”Wow, congratulations. That’s a very proud job to have. I’m honored to have you at my family’s tavern.” She was being completely honest and thankful. She was lucky to have someone here that was of high ranking.
”But the real question is, why pick my tavern? There are hundreds of them in and around Rome. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the business, but is there a reason a praetorian came to my particular bar?” She hoped he wasn’t here to stir up trouble. There were good people who came in here that sometimes were avoiding law enforcement for a reason, and she wanted to keep their identities safe. She didn’t get the vibe that this man was inspecting her place, and he probably wouldn’t tell her even if he was, but she was innocent. Still, it made her a little uncomfortable.
N’tombi didn’t know much about the world around her, which was why she always seemed so curious. She wanted to travel so badly, and getting out of the city was a dream of hers. It would always be her home, but people described places in the Empire that sounded absolutely beautiful, almost like a paradise. She didn’t know if they were just exaggerated stories, but N’tombi wanted to find out one day. The Empire was a big place, though all she had known was Rome.
When the man said he was from Spain, her eyebrow arched. Spain was quite far, but she heard amazing things about it. The climate, the beaches, the people—it sounded so great and different. When it came to foreigners, it seemed like N’tombi retreated to her child-like awe. She always wanted to know more, but she knew where to draw the line. Still, even knowing that people visited or were from far off places fascinated her.
”Spain, huh? I’ve heard it’s beautiful there,” she said, reciting what she’s heard from other foreigners that came from Spain. She heard mostly good things about that particular country.
When end he asked where she was from and said she didn’t look Italian, she laughed. ”Believe it or not, I was born and raised in Rome. If you’re talking about the color of my skin, my mother was a slave turned freedman from Africa. But I’ve never known anything but the city.” Rome was great to newcomers, but it felt like the same streets to her after all thirty years in the city. Still, she was too busy taking care of the bar to even want to leave.
”And what brings you to the great city of Rome, Sir Spaniard?”