And maybe it was an odd thing to think while gazing at tanning beach beauties, all tendon and muscle and dark patches of skin. Or maybe it was the wrong time of day, that time before dinner when the mind turns hungrily towards roasted meats. In any case, they answered with their silence, and I let the subject drop. I turned my back on the beach beauties and watched someone else.
Here in Italy, a man from North Africa pushes a toy on a child. He urges the child to take it; it’s far cheaper than in the shops. The child’s parents sigh: now their baby is throwing a fit. They fork over their money and the child runs off, holding his present high, glittering in the sunlight. This is a country where immigrants push playthings on children, where whimsy replaces danger.
I wonder if this man was thinking of his own babies. Was he thinking that maybe they’d like a toy when they come across the ocean?
He looked dignified and noble as he stood selling ten minutes of peace. I saw his power. There is power in harming none, in making a living as best one can. He stood, calling out quickly in Italian and then slower in English. It was always the same thing.
“Bubble guns!” he said over and over, calling out like he was the only person there.
I watched him instead of the sunset.
Without context, it might have seemed crazy — a man well over six feet shouting “Bubble guns!” in English at nervous tourists. And it was a bit crazy. It was delightfully dark and tragically right. He is here and this is his job. He is selling toys to children.
Dinner was approaching, the sun was sinking slowly. We picked up our bags and turned back the way we came.
We did not buy bubble guns, which I regret. It was my very first sign in a very long time that people are willing to do the right thing. Good people are more powerful than any villain or hero. They have strength; the power of being proud, the greatness of being good. These are the people whose voices ring the loudest on the wind.
Maybe I alone can hear them, but I doubt that greatly. There is too much beauty in this world for one person.
Maybe the hunger of 5:30, the danger of a new place, the obsession with bathing beach beauties can drown out stories. Maybe it is too much; we have to ignore some parts of our existence.
But I let myself be seduced by a man’s humanity, I let myself be charmed by his goodness and peace. He had all the power of a king over me. In that moment, more than I wanted to hear his story in pieces on the wind, I wanted to become a part of it, to tell him how good and kind and wonderful he was.
Back in bitter Boston, the cold wind biting, I realized what he meant to me. He had been the first person I had ever met who I could tell was real. He was not trying to be heroic or good, he was only himself. His job was to convince, but he never lied. As he stood in the most public place in the square, he did nothing but be himself. I wished, I longed, to have that kind of strength and power.
But he was as unapproachable as a distant sun.
In the end, he was too far away, too bright and shining and flawed and sad and human. I was too caught up in thoughts of pasta and gelato and being in a new country. We knew nothing of each other except for his story, his voice calling softly in the wind.
Maria Christian is in 11th grade at Maine Connections Academy. She likes art, music, and outer space. Someday, she’d like to discover life on another planet — failing that, she’d like to write a book.
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