Gabriella was on a day of repose and he was alone in his shop that morning worrying over some small detail of stock when he heard the door open and felt the rush of cool air that only comes with pouring rain. He looked up and saw a man standing in the entry, soaked through to the bone. He wore no hat to protect his head, no gloves to warm his hands and his over coat, though obviously new, impossibly large for his medium frame. The man did not immediately notice him and simply stood there dripping on the marble floor. Andrea was incensed, for, there was no permission asked before entering, no apology offered for the mess he was making. Andrea stiffened and asked,
The man looked at him blankly.
Impatiently, Andrea spoke again,
“Si, mi dica!”
The man returned his look with an uncertain stare and then spoke slowly and haltingly.
“Uhm… do you speak English?” He asked.
“Yes.” Andrea answered and moved to the man. “But what do you want? Can you not see that you are dropping water all over my shop?”
The man looked down and in a moment’s confusion stepped nervously to his left, nearly knocking over a tie display rack.
Andrea reached and grabbed the display before it crashed to the floor.
“Stai attento, please be careful!” He entreated wagging his hand, palm open.
The stranger wiped rainwater from his forehead, thrust a breath deep into his chest and spoke.
“Do you have any umbrellas?” He asked with some unease.
Andrea grabbed a rag from behind his counter and as he spoke began to sop up the rainwater from his floor at the man’s feet.
“And only that?” Andrea said with incredulity as he knelt. “No gloves for your hands, no scarf for your breast, no hat for your dripping head? But which farm have you come from?”
“Farm?” The man spit out. “I’m American.”
“Yes, yes…” Andrea replied as he stood and took full visage of the tourist. “I am not deaf. I can hear you are American and if I could not hear then, still I would know, for an Italian would have asked permission to enter; an Italian would not drop water all over my shop and an Italian would have sense enough to be properly clothed in this season.”
It was true, Martin was unprepared for the rain and without even realizing that he had done anything wrong had managed to offend this short man. He was indeed making a mess, had nearly knocked over an exhibit, had obviously though inadvertently trounced some local custom and needed directions. He looked over his shoulder through the glass door to the street. The rain was abating but it didn’t look like it would last for any length of time. He turned back to the shopkeeper.
“I’m sorry,” he began, “I didn’t mean to make a mess.”
“Dai, dai, dai…” Andrea chided as he began to wipe the rainwater off of the American’s clothes.
“My name is Martin and I’m lost, that is, may I come in?”
Andrea softened. At least this American had sense enough to apologize. Most of them simply bullied their way through everything and then become impossibly insulted when one confronted them with their ignorance.
“You are in.” Andrea said gently.
Martin smiled a genuine smile.
“Yes.” He said as he cleared his throat. “I need some directions and an umbrella and I guess a few other things too.”
Andrea took two steps to his left and gestured toward those from which to choose.
“We shall discuss your confusions in a moment. Do you wish a large umbrella, a small one or one that perhaps, how do you say, folds?”
“Collapses.” The American countered as he wrung his hands.
“Yes,” Andrea repeated, “collapses.”
Martin looked again to the street. For the moment, a small bit of sunshine peeked through the heavy clouds.
“It will not last Signor.” Andrea injected matter of factly.
“Then a large one, I think.” He answered, turning back to Andrea.
Americans were all the same. If one is good, two must be better. If you must purchase, then purchase big. Andrea smiled to himself. It would be easy to take advantage of this man.
“No, not a large one. It cannot be opened in the smaller streets. It will, how do you say, scratch against the buildings. Better to purchase this small one and a proper hat.” He instructed.
Andrea reached above his counter and pulled down some boxes containing several sizes of felt Italian Fedora’s.
“Size 61, I think; dark blue.” He said as he mentally calculated the American’s hat size. “And for your hands, these lined gloves.”
He pulled a slate gray finely woven wool scarf from his counter top and shook it out.
“And this for under the lapels.”
Andrea fitted the Fedora to Martin’s head, positioning it at a decidedly raffish angle, the gloves to his hands and slipped the scarf around his neck to see if it would hang properly.
“La!” He exclaimed.
Martin looked to a small mirror over the counter and scrutinized himself. First one profile and then the other before straightening the hat back to a more satisfactory cusp. He put his hands to his breast and smoothed himself down as he turned his head several times more. Satisfied, he looked back to Andrea, who was writing the purchases.
“Tre cento mille lire and a little more.” He said, showing Martin the bill. “See?”
Martin reached into the inner pocket of his saturated overcoat, pulled out his passport wallet and produced the necessary bills, which he handed to Andrea.
Andrea took them and simply gazed at him for a moment.
Martin could not understand why the little man just stood there with the bills in his hand. He had apologized, after all and he had just spent $380.00 dollars in this man’s shop. What could he have possibly done to offend the man now?
“What?” He asked sharply. “I gave you the correct amount. What is wrong now?”
“No, Signor, you did not give me the proper sum…” Andrea began.
Martin interrupted him.
“I just gave you $380.00 dollars in cash! Are you going to stand there and tell me that I didn’t?”
Andrea held up a single finger.
“Signor, there is the borsa valori of your dollars; do you not know of the cambio?”
“No. I have never been here before. What is it and how much?”
“You don’t understand straniero;” he chuckled, “I only wish to make your change. Your dollar is more valuable. Did your travel agent tell you nothing? If you pay me the price in dollars, I must to make you a benefit for the difference.”
“Straniero?” Martin repeated suspiciously. “What’s that?”
“Stranger.” Andrea answered. “Is not an insult, it means, like your word, how to say… foreign.”
When the Lion Smiles © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson.
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