Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mothers and Sons, XV

“Are you sure? They won’t care?” Servi asked Paulo again, holding his hand and moving quickly away from the day school.

“Yes,” Paulo answered, looking straight ahead. “They won’t care at all. They don’t know who is there and who isn’t.” Then the boy was quiet, and Servi imagined he was thinking long and hard about his predicament.

“Just get me to Father Roberto when Mama is supposed to come,” he said nearly inaudibly. “She’ll expect to find me there.”

Servi took the boy to a playground. He pushed him on a swing until the boy said he wanted to stop, and then Servi sat on a bench while he nimbly climbed the monkey bars. Paulo was scrawny, yet he clambered with considerable dexterity. But the day was scorching, and after sweating a while on the asphalt playground, Servi suggested they get a drink. The boy nodded, neither relieved nor appreciative as Servi ordered him a cherry flavored soda from a push cart.

They sat on a bench under a linden tree surrounded by retired pensioners playing chess. Servi watched as the boy slurped his soda and the warm breeze, the first stirrings of the sirocco, tossed about his wispy black hair. Servi examined him for strain, but the boy bore his suffering with stoicism. He seemed neither happy nor sad that Servi had taken him out of his dreaded daily routine, and as the boy was not inclined to loquaciousness, Servi allowed him to sit in dignified silence.

When the boy was finished with the soda Servi asked if he wanted a gelato. The boy nodded and Servi walked to a vendor and as the boy did not specify a flavor, chose lemon. He handed Paulo the little paper cup. When the boy was half way through, he finally looked up at Servi; his brown eyes bore a hint of expectancy in their glint, as if Servi, and not he, was about to reveal a satisfying secret.

“Did you leave that note in my pant’s pocket, Paulo?” Servi asked, producing the letter. The lad looked at it for a moment, not so much because he did not recognize it, but rather to give himself time to get the facts straight without initial missteps.

“Yes,” the boy finally answered between casual slurps of his gelato. A flock of pigeons landed near their feet. An old man had opened a bag of stale bread and was casting it among the dappled blanket of birds. A scooter squealed by, it exhaust hung in the air. “I’m not really Paulo Sacerdotti and that woman is not my real mother.”

“But how do you know this for sure,” Servi asked. “That boy, Cosmo Ricchetti, was only two when he disappeared. How old are you, seven? You can remember your other family?”

“Of course,” the boy said evenly. “I had a Papa who went to work in the morning, but always came home at night. He wore dark suits and was handsome. And Mama stayed home with me all day, and cooked anything I wanted.”

“Does anyone else know who you really are?”

“Yes,” the boy answered. “Father Roberto. But he can’t tell a living soul. I told him in confession.”

“If you are really Cosmo Ricchetti,” Servi explained patiently, trying to build up his case gradually, sentence by sentence, word by word. “Why don’t you go to the police?”

“I can’t,” the boy explained, getting near the end of his gelato. “Claudia would find out.”

“Claudia?” Servi asked. “Your mother?”

“She’s not my mother,” the boy answered resolutely. “She is the woman who took me from my real mother.”

“What does Father Roberto tell you, when you tell him you aren’t Paulo Sarcedotti?”

“He doesn’t say a thing,” the boy answered. “It isn’t a sin not to be the person people say you are, so what can he do? But he has to keep the secret, because I told him in confession.”

“Why did you give me the note?”

“I don’t know,” the boy said, looking off into the distance. “I guess so you can bring me back to my real Mama and Papa.”

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