Ah, Venice - one of my favorite places in the world. During a recent trip to the romantic city, something happened that changed me forever. After a sudden divorce, I found myself feeling confused about life, not sure of the direction I wanted to take it, and worse than that, I didn't even know who I was any more. When a friend suggested that I go on
a vacation somewhere, I thought about it for a few days and decided that she was right! I needed to get away. "Go somewhere you've always wanted to go!" I'd always wanted to go to Venice, Italy. My children were all grown and living on their own, so why not. Sadly I realized that nobody needed me anymore and that nobody would even miss me. I withdrew my savings from the bank, ordered a new passport (with my maiden name on it), bought an airline ticket and soon found myself flying across the Atlantic Ocean. I was a little frightened because it was the first time I'd traveled alone. I looked at it as a new adventure for the new me.
Before I'd left the States, I'd booked a Bed & Breakfast close to St. Mark's Square. Here I was now, in Venice! As I unpacked my suitcase, I giggled with excitement. "I'm actually here in Venice, Italy!" I pulled the lace curtains back and looked out the window. When a gondola filled with people rowed past and I heard the gondolier singing, I knew
I'd done the right thing.
Feeling hungry, I grabbed my bag and headed outside. A wave of Venetian heat swirled around me as I ran down the steps. I embraced it and enjoyed the feeling of warmth on my skin. I headed into St. Mark's Square, along with several thousand other tourists. Pigeons fluttered about the pink, Venetian glass at the top of the painted green lampposts. Diving right into my tourist mode, I purchased a cup of birdseed from a vendor and scattered it around me feet. The pigeons surrounded me, pecking the seed with voracious appetites. Cameras snapped photos and video cameras captured the flock of hungry birds performing their feeding ritual. A small boy, about eight years old, stood watching me. While all the others laughed at the feeding frenzy, his sad eyes showed no joy. He had a mop of wavy, chocolate-brown hair, big brown eyes, and a look of innocence about him.
A rogue pigeon landed on top of my head. Its claws dug into me. "Shoo. Go away!" I brushed it off with my hand, watching it fly over to another group of people. When I looked back up, the boy had disappeared.
I took the cup back to the vendor, thanked him, and sauntered further into the square. I was thrilled to be surrounded by such wonders of history. I spent the rest of the day exploring St Mark's Cathedral, the Doge's Palace, and lazily wandering around the shops lining the square. The rumblings in my tummy reminded me I was hungry; I headed for a quiet restaurant someone had recommended to me, the Dei Dogi Veneziani, inside the San Marco Palace Hotel. That evening I feasted on Venetian antipasti, filled with succulent shrimp, bits of octopus and lobster, tender and flaky Murano crabs and risotto. I topped off my meal by indulging in a cinnamony desert, bussolai.
As I headed back to my B&B, I saw the young boy again. He was leaning against a gondola. It bobbed up and down on the choppy waves, lifting and dropping the boy's arm along with it. The sound of the waves splashed in rhythmic beats. I smiled at him and waved. Having no response, I ran up the steps of the B&B and shut the door behind me. I couldn't resist peeking out the window to see if he was still there. With head hanging low, he disappeared into the square.
Every morning I planned out my day, making sure I included as many sites as possible. I was enjoying myself and felt free and content. I'd gained a new confidence in myself and relished the fact that I had been given the privilege of seeing the world through different eyes. I was not the same person that I'd been when I left the States. Life couldn't be more perfect than it was now. The only thing that was bothering me was that no matter where I went, the young boy seemed to be there, staring at me. He'd never smile or wave back at me. All he did was stand there, staring through those cheerless eyes. He was beginning to make me uncomfortable. Silly ideas popped into my head. What if the boy was planning to steal my purse and was following me around, waiting for the right moment?
After spending a day in the Rialto Bridge area, I headed back to the B&B. Instead of catching a gondola, I chose to walk the narrow streets, hoping to find a small shop that sold reasonably priced Venetian glass. I passed by a man selling vegetables and fruits out of boxes. I stopped for a look. Never had I seen peppers as red as the ones he sold, or corn as golden. I bought a kiwi and an apple and continued my walk.
Finally I came to a shop that sold glass. It was called 'Vincenzo's'. A bell rang as I opened the door and it didn't take long for the proprietor, who I presumed was Vincenzo, to greet me and ask if I needed help. He showed me several pieces. I wanted them all. One was a fish swimming in a bowl. It was made entirely of Venetian glass. That was my favorite piece, so I purchased it, along with a few other trinkets for my children and grandchildren. As I waited for them to be wrapped, I saw the boy walk past the shop window.
With packages held tightly in my hand, I headed towards St. Mark's Square. Within a few minutes the boy was walking along behind me again. I'd been in Venice for ten days and every day had been the same thing. He'd never spoken to me or bothered me in any way. He seemed harmless. I was due to leave the next day and curiosity finally drove me to
turn around and confront him. When I stopped, the boy stopped. I strolled cautiously back to where he stood. "Excuse me, but do you speak English?" He nodded yes. "Why have you been following me?"
His eyes pooled with tears. I felt horrible. My heart ached for the boy. I must have hurt his feelings, though I couldn't figure out how. "My mama." he mumbled.
"Your mama? Where's your mama?" I asked.
"My mama and papa died. You look like my mama," he said, bravely fighting back tears.
Suddenly it all made sense. This little boy had lost his parents recently and missed his mama. He was following me around because I reminded him of her. I knelt down so that my eyes were at the same level as his. "I look like your mama?" He nodded again. "I'm sure you miss her very much."
He blurted out the story of how his parents were killed in an airplane crash near Rome. The boy now lived with his grandmother, not far from St. Mark's Square. "When I saw you feeding the pigeons, I thought you were my mama." Several tears dripped from his eyes. I wrapped my arms around him and held him as he sobbed. "I miss my mama and papa."
The shop owner opened the door. "Is this boy bothering you?" Vincenzo asked.
"Not at all," I answered. I took the boy's hand and the shop owner went back inside. "What is your name?" I asked the lad.
We strolled down the streets together. I bought Nicolo and myself a pastry filled with apricot jam and fresh whipped cream. "I hope your grandmamma doesn't mind you having this," I chuckled, licking the sticky icing off my fingers. Nicolo, with a mouth full of pastry, assured me she wouldn't. When we reached St. Mark's Square, I stopped a tourist
and asked them to take a photo of Nicolo and I. "This is where I first saw you. I want to remember you," I said, squeezing his hand.
When we reached his grandmother's house, I rapped on the door. "Nicolo?" She looked concerned.
She didn't speak English well. Showing Venetian hospitality, she invited me in for tea. I told her the whole story of our meeting, with Nicolo translating to Italian for his grandmother. We talked for hours. As I was preparing to leave, Nicolo disappeared. When he returned he was holding a photograph of his mama and papa. His grandmother smiled and pointed at the picture of her daughter, nodding. "You look same," she sighed. "Same eyes. Same hair." I could see the sadness in her eyes too. This was her daughter and son-in-law who had died. Nicolo handed me a paper bag of Italian cookies that his grandmother had told him to
give me. "You take," his grandmother said.
Making sure I had their address, I promised to send Nicolo a copy of the photograph I'd taken of us together. I thanked them both and opened the door to leave. Nicolo rushed over to me and wrapped his arms around my waist. He didn't want me to go. I started to cry along with him. "I'll write you letters, Nicolo and we'll keep in touch. I won't forget
you," I said, prying his arms away. I knew I had to leave quickly or I'd never want to go.
I flew home the next day, Italian cookies in my flight bag and a warm smile on my face. I had a new attitude about life and who I was inside. I was ready to face the world and all its challenges. No longer did I feel like I wasn't needed.
I sent Nicolo a copy of the photograph and wrote him and his grandmother a letter every week. He wrote back as many. This continued for several years.
Last week, as I was preparing to go to bed, my doorbell rang. I wondered who could possibly be ringing it at this time of night. I wrapped a robe around me and opened the door. There stood Nicolo. In his hand was the photo of the two of us together. It had been seven years since I'd last seen him but I would have recognized him even without it. "Mama," he smiled and fell into my open arms. We shared a glorious week together before he went on to finish his holiday.
Sometimes unexpected joys come to us in mysterious ways. If I hadn't listened to my friend's advice, or hadn't had the courage to venture to Venice on my own, I'd have never met Nicolo and his grandmother. I thank the Lord each night for bringing this young man into my life and for helping me to find a new outlook on life. Nicolo was a gift from God, brought into my life, and me into his. We needed each other. For the first time in years, I felt important to someone - that has been the greatest blessing of all.
© 2003 by Margo Fallis