I woke up before the alarm by almost half an hour. Last night I was drained by all the work I had, I had to cover up Pietro’s shift that placed so much pressure on me. I came back home and slept on an empty stomach, and now I’m awake with enough hours of sleep but my stomach won’t stop growling. I brushed my teeth and prepared myself some breakfast, the usual scrabbled eggs and a cup of cold milk. Nothing too exotic, something affordable and won’t keep me famished until lunch. I showered, tied my hair up into a high ponytail, and then wore my ‘uniform’. I sound so sophisticated but I’m basically a bar tender, well a waitress but part time bar tender too. I loved work, it’s been three weeks and my serving pleases everyone. I’ve been getting tips but I keep splitting the earnings in half, the tips go to the restaurant and half of the earnings go to the Lombardi’s for being super extra sweet with me.
During the lunch break I went to sit outside, the same usual spot. I found the stranger dressed up in the same clothes. Its been three weeks and he’s dressed up in the same exact clothes. So I got him a bowl of lasagna and a bottle of water.
Hello, how are you?
I’m good, thank you. How have you been?
Coping is the right term to describe myself right now. Something squeezed my heart.
I got a little something for you. Buon appetito!
I handed him the lasagna and water. He turned his head to the side, but he made no eye contact. I couldn’t see his features.
You’re so down to earth, thank you so much. I’ll be forever in you debt.
Can I ask you something? It’s a bit personal…
Yeah sure. He said while gobbling down his lasagna. This tastes so good!
Do you have a place to stay? Suddenly he stopped eating. And I wasn’t sure of what he was about to say. Maybe I’m too fast, but I urgently wanted to help him.
I’m sorry… That’s none of my business, I honestly didn’t mean anything. I just want to help…
I know you do… And I highly appreciate it. I don’t mind you asking me questions but I don’t think I’m ready. When the time is right. Did I just crush his dignity by asking him this question, most probably? But his response was so calm and reassuring, it was like he somehow knew we were going to form a bond. A bond strong enough to let our guards down, let the words float around without judging.
What’s your name, madam? Mother told me not to talk to strangers. But what if strangers made you feel better? He’s the only exception.
Shamsa… What’s yours?
You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen Shamsa. I love how when I sit on your right side it’s a shade of earthy brown with a speck of hazel, and when I’m on your left its sapphire blue. Its like you’re two completely different people but in one. You’re unique. I blushed, instantly. When was he able to catch a glimpse of what I look like?
Thank you. I have to go now…
No, thank you for this. It was nice talking to you. That was such a heartwarming comment.
I went back in, and suddenly I felt lighter. Like it was easier to do things, like something was lifted off. Could a simple compliment from a complete stranger change the way I feel? Maybe he sees something in me… Or maybe its because I helped him. With every pace I pound, a question would pop up. I need to see him again, I have to its not a choice it’s a command. He needs help, and I can offer him that help.
I kept on meeting him, not on an on-going basis. But he would frequently appear and when he did I took my break. We would talk, he spoke so little and I gave him the time he needed to open up. I didn’t tempt on pulling out the information from him directly. Pietro noticed the change in my mood when I came back to the restaurant, I felt like I was fueled up with energy and somehow pumped up with happiness. He observed us from afar. It was getting late and my shift for the day was over, so Pietro and I went out for gelato.
Who’s this guy you see?
The beggar you take food to.
He’s not a beggar.
Then what you call someone who looks like that? A businessman?
Pietro! That’s so mean of you… He’s someone who needs help.
If he need help why he not go to the government and look for a job? Why he come to you?
I don’t know, maybe he’s scared?
Whatever is going on between you and him, I don’t like. You cannot trust someone you just met. And trust cannot happen when you know nothing about him and he knows about you.
He knows nothing about me.
He knows where you work. He knows how you look. What does he look like?
I don’t know…
What’s his name?
He won’t tell me.
Oddio! He laughed. He placed an arm around my shoulders and continued laughing. Carino! Listen Shamsa, next time you see him. Tell him what’s your name? Or else I report him to the polizia. Beggars don’t walk around the streets of Venice. I swallowed hard, I never saw him so serious. His sudden change from laughing to a poker face meant one thing, he’s serious. I knew where this was coming from, I knew he was responsible of me but I am responsible of myself. I do whatever pleases me. But him interfering made me feel safer yet bad. I felt like I backstabbed the stranger for a second. What goes on between us is confidential. We went back home and I went back to my sketchbook. I tried sketching his features by just listening to his voice, which was impossible.
He didn’t show up the next day. Or the day after, or two days after that. I was getting worried, maybe something happened to him. Maybe the police caught him; maybe he was starving and stole something. I hated the fact that I knew nothing about him. I left work early today. I had to find him. Venice was big but not too big. He’s somewhere here and I am going to find him. I walked around looking for that tattered old parka, but I saw none. Why am I so attached to someone I know I won’t see again…? I found him by the Grand Canal; it was almost impossible to find him between the rush of people and his parka that looked camouflaged. He stood so close to the water, too close that it scared me.
Sir! I ran up to him.
What are you doing here?
I need to talk to you.
I don’t know, let’s just talk. Lift some weight off of our shoulders.
Why are you doing this?
I don’t know… But I want to know more about you
Like a job interview?
Something like that. So, are you in or out?
In. I thanked god for his reply. I felt a rush of adrenaline, my body was buzzing with excitement.
Great! But before we begin we need to get some gelato.
He laughed. It was intoxicatingly electrifying.
He waited outside while I was ordering for the two of us. We walked past the crowd and sat down at some quiet place. There weren’t many people that passed by this area, it was so peaceful.
I need to tell you something. But before I do so, I need you to promise me one thing. Promise me that you’ll never leave.
I promise that I will never leave and never let you go. But whatever we discuss, it remains between us.
I promise you, it’s confidential. But first, what’s your name?
They call me Young Bill.
So do I just call you Young?
Yeah, why not?
And from there we picked up the pace from where we left off last time. Funny how the more he spoke the more I saw a resemblance. How we’re sitting by the riverbanks, he spoke about his life. A drowning person who can no longer tread water and I was the fisher who caught him with a rod. And that’s when it hit me, the fact that he needed help and my instinct was right. I felt like I betrayed my feelings but more importantly I betrayed him.
What did you major in, in university?
Oh, I still didn’t decide. I came here to study Fine Arts but I thought its best if I learn the language first.
Want to hear some advice from a complete stranger?
Sure. Why not I laughed
Fine Arts is a hobbie. You should be studying something else. You can be an artist but work at a totally different sector.
What do you have in mind?
What makes you think that I should be a psychologist?
The way you speak. The way you don’t judge people based on who they are, you’re way past that. You enter their souls. You’re helping me out, trust me if I went seeking help in some other place they’d spit at my face. No one cares about us, the ones who come from the lowest part of society. They treat us like dirt, they fear that we’ll do something to them. The always see us with this look, filled with disgust, sympathy and fright. On occasions you get those who throw a penny at you. But you’re not like that, you’re much much more than that. Out of this world.
I didn’t know what to say. How was I supposed to react to something like that?
I love the idea.
You don’t sound so enthusiastic. You don’t believe me?
No. No! I do, trust me I do. It’s just that there are so many factors stopping me from becoming a psychologist. I’m not mentally or ‘psychologically’ prepared for this.
What’s stopping you?
Everything. I can’t just change majors! It’s like changing life itself, changing the path I’m dedicated towards. And besides, I can’t afford paying to some posh university that teaches psychology. I’m here on a scholarship. And my parents are depending on me.
We spoke for god knows how much or how long. It was getting dark and we had to get going. I got up, my legs were entirely numb. It felt good to talk until your throat was dry and your legs were numb.
We should do this frequently.
You need to show up more frequently.
Meet me here tomorrow, at 3:45.
See you then. Take good care of yourself.
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”