Friday, December 23, 2016

I Sit Here and Stare - Part B


And so it began. An introduction was made by Mrs. Rizzo, “This is…”

“NaNomi.” I’d finished, recognizing the word name again.

“Yes, NaNomi, she’s staying with us now.”

“Oh... I see.” He said hands still by his side; he scrutinized me. I felt his eyes on my heated face as if in search of something. What is it? What am I not?

“Well, I’ll leave you and your husband plus NaNomi to your work. I’ll be inside if you need me.”

“Yes, yes.” Mr. Rizzo spoke up this time. “As a matter of fact we had something to discuss with you concerning our new friend.” He said and his gaze shifted my way.

“Alright then, you can come by now if you want to.” And they did.

 Alone in this unfamiliar place, I’d focused my energy on cleaning the wooden chairs in the room from my left to my right. I’d counted 22 of these long wooden chairs and knew that the room could contain only a few and wondered where the rest went to pray to their God. High up on the wall of the alter rested a statue of a man in grave pain. The pain stricken man was nailed on a cross; bare with only a robe covering the lower part of his body. I stared, wondered, and finally wandered away.

Soon, the Rizzo’s and the priest appeared. This time when he looked at me it was with familiarity, as if we’d known each other in another life. All I could do was stare naively as I neither understood nor spoke the language in which they carried their conversation. A pat on the shoulder of Mr. Rizzo and he was gone but not without a sharp bow to me. I reciprocated by bowing lower than he’d done. The family joined me after the priest left. From the look on their faces they were happy at the job I’d done without them.

A few minutes later, we were home. That night, Mrs. Rizzo made chicken soup again and we ate it with bread left from the morning sales. We ate and slept. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I’d wept throughout the night after my prayers. I’d failed my mother, I knew it. I knew it and so I wept myself to sleep.

The next morning was Saturday. I was awake before the Rizzo’s, waiting for our usual day to commence but they stopped me at the door before we left.

“Church…” She said and although I didn’t want to go back there and see the man on the cross, or the strange priest, I quickly reminded myself of the danger I’d gone through to get to Italy. I was here to survive by all means. I must.

That morning, Mr. Rizzo dropped his wife at their tiny shop with his old and rusty pickup truck and I remained in the car as the couple talked for a few minutes. When Mr. Rizzo came back, he drove me straight to the church.

Today I was wearing a pretty yellow floral dress that stopped a little bit below my knees. The gown fitted my tiny figure as if it’d originally been mine. Mrs. Rizzo had added a brown sandal to match and they fitted perfectly too. I stepped out of the car and smoothed the material of the gown to my body. This felt foreign to me as it was the first time I’d wore clothes that left my arms and legs exposed. Mrs. Rizzo had also used a yellow ribbon to hold my wild curls up, exposing my long neck. I felt naked all of a sudden as a stubborn wind blew the hem of my gown, sending it flying up. I quickly rushed alongside Mr. Rizzo inside the church.

“Wow… NaNomi,” He whispered in shock when he saw me. “As-salam alaykom.” He added and I, without thinking flew straight into his opened arms. I slowly dropped on my knees, holding on dearly to the hem of his white garment and cried, chanting in my language, “Thank God! Thank God!”

“I’ll take it from here, Mr. Rizzo” he said and the man left.

I still wouldn’t let go of him, he’d been to me that day like a savior. He’d given me hope where they hadn’t been any. I was sure my mother had sent him to me to help me.

“Please rise,” Hed said in Arabic as he assisted me in rising up. “I know this is a lot to take in but I am here to help you. God has sent me to you. Now let’s go to my office and we can talk, is that okay?” I nodded and he led the way.

Upon reaching his office, he asked in my language, “How did you come to Italy? Do you have family here?” I answered, “No, no one. I have nobody. I am nobody.”

“But what about your parents?”

“They’re in Sudan. I came here on a boat,” I said. “A big one. We were escaping from the war that has killed many of our people.”

“Wait, we?”

“Yes, many of us. Girls, boys, little girls, and boys…”

“Where are the rest now?”

“I…I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to go back; I don’t want to go back.” I repeated in tears.

“It’s okay, the Rizzo’s has promised to keep you until you’re able to live on your own. However, the government is what we will be most worried about.”

“The government? I don’t want to meet them, please don’t bring them, they kill people. They’re killing my people.”

“Oh no, no, not the Sudanese government, I meant the Italian government here.”  He’d said, but was there any difference?

He’d continued, “We will have problems with immigration but for now if you’re going to stay in Italy you’ll either have to learn English, Italian or both. I have promised the Rizzo’s that I will take full responsibility of your English language education while you remain with us. We can start as soon as possible so you can feel a bit more comfort with the Rizzo family. Would you like that?” He asked and I grabbed the hands on the desk and said, “Yes, please teach me.”

I hadn’t thought about it however spontaneous it might have seemed, but as quickly as it’d happened, I’d realized that I’d yet again failed my mother and all what she’d thought me for the past twenty years blew past my mind. But one look at the hands I was holding on to and I saw much more than the differences my mother had said laid between a man and a woman: My dark hands on his pale, rough, and creamy ones, my dark eyes and his green ones, my God and his God, my language and his language; but how could he speak mine?

“While in school I’d learned Arabic in order to translate parts of the Bible. I also did some mission work in many Arabic speaking countries.” He answered and then I thought maybe he was the one who’d promised my cousins salvation. Maybe he was the messiah they spoke of.

From then on I saw this man three times a week. I’d begun to learn the English language through the help of video tutorials and with his assistant as a teacher. I, however, wasn’t his only student. They’d been others like me but none was quite like me. One evening after the rest students had gone home and while I waited on Mr. Rizzo for a ride home, he’d asked if my faith was fragile enough to be broken. I’d answered yes because the solid foundation of the home I’d shared with my family had been broken once and there I’d known all the love a person should ever know.

Then he called me “Nomi,” like my mother did when she is about to tell me a terrible thing, or a deep secret she couldn’t share with my father. I wasn’t sure which was coming this time as the priest was a peculiar man but whatever it was, I’d braced myself for it.

“What do you know about love?” He’d asked.

...And this was the seventh month since I first saw him.

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Thank you guys for always reading,