The Souvenir

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Part 3

I woke up early to catch up on pending work. As I pored over my course assignment on Dante and Voltaire, my thoughts went back to the old man. Today I must ask him to give an explanation for his behaviour. Who was he? What was his story? The questions resurfaced again and again while preparing for the day.

Later at the Institute, I realized I could squeeze in a couple of hours break before my afternoon session. Hurriedly finishing my presentation, I caught up with a few students and instructors before heading to the restaurant. I had not told my colleagues of my rendezvous as I feared they would stop me.

It was past 12 when I reached and the place was teeming with early diners. It was a quaint corner with seating arranged on the cobbled street over which the awning stretched protectively. There were little pots of bright red flowers arranged tastefully to render a spritely look. I saw him sitting in a corner, poring over an Italian book. I greeted him and sat down. He acknowledged my presence and went back to his book.

“Were you not expecting me?” I asked timidly.

Before he could reply the waiter appeared from inside, writing pad and pen in hand.

“Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, mushroom and ham pizza are our specialties”, he offered helpfully when he saw my blank look.

The stranger asked for some house wine too. It was funny how we were sharing a table like family, and sat comfortably in silence. No questions were asked. No explanations given either. By now he had put down his book and was keenly watching a couple at the opposite table. I fidgeted, wondering how to question him. Obviously he had no intention of giving me the portrait.

“What’s your name?” I asked suddenly.

He shifted his eyes to meet mine, “Amedeo, What’s yours?”

“Anna,” I mumbled.

“How long are you here?” His voice was not curious but matter-of-fact.

“I’ll be here only two more days. I will be returning to Florence to complete the course.”

After a pause, I added, “So, have you something to give, an apple perhaps?”

“The apple!” he exclaimed suddenly.  “Why, your thoughts are still stuck on that apple. It was never yours, you know. It belonged to a farmer once. Afterwards, it belonged to the street vendor. You were just a temporary steward. Before it came to me,” his eyes twinkled.

“I paid for it,” I could not keep the resentment out of my voice.

“But I ate it.” After a few moments he resumed, “If it is the portrait you want, I cannot give it. My art is my joy. It will be of no use to you, don’t you realize? You enjoyed the process, I will take the reward.”

I ogled at his nonchalance. In the ensuing silence, the food that appeared disappeared quickly. All the while, he kept humming softly.

What actually did I want from this strange man? The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that it was I who had been following him, even though he had invited me on both the days.

How could I explain to this stranger that I was chasing something I did not understand? Life was a perpetual chase – relationships, skills, beauty, knowledge, ideas, even God, to make sense of the chaos we are born into. We all run till death overtakes us.

He looked at me keenly, “You cannot chase God or run from him, you know. It’s He who holds it together while you run. ”

Caught off guard by his comment, I did not reply. I got up to pay the bill at the counter. I was getting a stipend from the exchange programme, luckily. Use it on whims and fancies like him, I thought sarcastically. He was eccentric. He was kind. He was …

I turned around –

Gone.  So were my novel, street map, hat and the new coat, still unopened, that I had bought for him, to let him know I was extending my hand in friendship.  Though it was not my fault that he had behaved strangely, I was the one who had felt an apology was due on my part. In spite of this, he had taken my things and his gift and walked away.

Disappointed and upset, I sat down. Across from where he had sat, the wine bottle stood like a silent monument to his presence there a few moments back.  Had I let go of that apple, I wouldn’t have had to face this moment I thought miserably. How could he break a naive heart? And spill the last ounce of cherished trust? Was he just a common thief?

The realization, that he gave much more than what he had taken, came much later in life. It was so, that I returned to Venice many times as a professional and with family. Yet, for me, one of the most beautiful memories of the place was that first ferry ride with him. And that one hour when he turned my sadness into beauty through his art. But the biggest gift he had for me was a series of paintings he made with me as its subject. I chanced upon these at a sponsored exhibition in Rome, titled The Traveller’s Search, by Amedeo, ten years later. I finally let go on that day, when I understood.

For now though, as I poured myself the remaining wine, I wept – I was a stranger in Venice with a broken souvenir.

 

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. […] The Souvenir The Souvenir […]

    Reply

  2. I just read straight through 🙂 It’s such a sweet story. More, please 🙂

    Reply

  3. Posted by Sicy on August 10, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Lovely story.May God Bless you.

    Reply

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