Our after-school routine has stayed pretty much the same for about a year now.
I pick up my 4-year old son from school, we take the metro and get off at one of the major train stations of Milan. After a session of reading maps, watching trains, listening to announcements and discussing the information on the displays, we head homeward. An enjoyable stroll. We peer into shop windows, read restaurant menus, grab a coffee and juice sometimes, greet friendly folks with a ‘Ciao’.
One autumn afternoon, during our homeward stroll, an elderly gentleman, (in his 70s or 80s, maybe) smiled at Junior. Junior smiled back at him. For a few days, they exchanged smiles outside a cafe.
Then, one day, the gentleman, Mr. A, said ‘Ciao!‘. Junior replied with an enthusiastic ‘Ciao!‘. For a few days, they exchanged ‘Ciao‘s :).
The ‘Ciao‘ developed into ‘Come stai?‘ (how are you?).
Soon, Junior started showing Mr. A his “toy of the day”, which, almost always, was a car. They would exchange a couple of words about the car.
One day, we didn’t see Mr. A at the usual spot near a cafe. Junior was visibly sad on not meeting his friend that day.
The next day, on spotting Mr. A from a distance, my son ran toward him and they exchanged a hug!
The weather became erratic – grey skies and rains one day, clear blue skies another day – and so, sometimes, the “meeting” did not take place. Whenever it did, they would rush towards each other, exchange a few greetings and a hug, comment about the “toy of the day”, discuss the weather (with Mr. A always asking Junior to stay warm) and wave goodbye. Junior always looked forward to meeting his friend.
December came calling. Low temperatures, frequent spells of rain, warm layers of clothes.
One grey day, we met Mr. A after more than a week. Junior and his friend had visibly missed each other. Mr. A told me that he had a gift for my son, and that he would leave it at the neighborhood cafe for us to pick up whenever we got a chance. I was touched, and agreed.
In a couple of days, the winter holidays commenced, we were off on vacation.
Xmas tree. Piazza Gae Aulenti, Milan, Italy
After a good break, we resumed our routine in the second week of January. And one afternoon, during our ‘neighborhood walk’, Mr. A walked towards us. Junior and he had an animated conversation about the holidays. And then, he asked me why I had not picked up the gift. I apologized immensely and he promised that he would have it ready the next day.
The next day, during our walk back home, Mr. A lovingly handed over his gift to his ‘little’ friend. A gift for Christmas. With instructions to open it at home.
At home, Junior was thrilled to open the package. Inside, was a toy car. A Christmas tree. Another toy car. And an angel.
Junior and I do not know Mr. A’s name. He does not know Junior’s name. Junior and Mr. A did not have long conversations – they exchanged a few words, greetings and a hug in the street. Each time they met, I was a spectator, and I observed that they spoke so much through their expressions. Wide grins. Eyes full of joy. Genuine care and affection for each other. Sad faces when they did not see each other. Absolute delight on meeting after a long time.
And a gift for Christmas. From someone I would like to think of as an angel. Mr. A.