We sit on barstools at the counter facing the large open window to Main Street’s foot traffic. Juice from the fish taco I’m devouring runs past my wrist and down my arm, I catch it with a napkin. You haven’t touched your quesadilla, but you have nearly finished your fries. I try to coax you into taking a bite, but you shake your head, your golden curls bounce, “I don’t like it.”
You give me a dimpled smile and sip your soda because you know I won’t make you eat it. I’m your Nonna and it’s not my job to enforce any rules. I indulge your every whim, spoiling you when we spend time together. Still, I’d rather give your parents a good report, tell them that you gobbled up your dinner. They’ll forgive me. A night out and free babysitting is worth an evening of poor food choices. I bribe you into taking a cheesy bite with the promise of ice cream if you eat at least half. Chewing slowly, you cock your head and ask, “What sound is that Nonna?”
You’re asking about the violin that plays. And though we cannot see him I know exactly who it is, a little boy, about nine years old. He performs outside the restaurant now and then. You kneel on the stool and lean forward as far as you can trying to catch a glimpse. But you’re too little to see beyond the window’s opening. I tell you if you eat two more bites we’ll go watch him play.
As you finish your quesadilla quota, I people watch. I recognize a young man, wild untidy hair frames his face. I see him often wandering around town, on the bike path and on the pier. His distinct slow shuffle makes him easy to spot even at a distance. When our paths cross he is always smiling, but not at me. His faraway eyes focus on no one, a look that says he’s listening to something in his head, something pleasant. I’m invisible in his world. He never responds to my greeting.
But on this fall evening he is captivated by the music. He stops and stares toward the boy who plays so beautifully. Mesmerized, without shifting his gaze, he reaches into his pocket, retrieves two crumpled dollar bills and attempts to smooth them flat against his thigh. I notice a change in his expression, as though he is trying to place the boy or the music. I write a story in my head, perhaps he is remembering a life before he spent his days wandering.
The peaceful looks returns to his face, his appreciation for the music evident. He shuffles toward the violinist and drops the now folded bills into the open violin case with the other tips. A sweet gesture from someone who seemingly has nothing.
I look at you, my precious granddaughter. You’ve gone back to finishing those fries. I push your curls away from your food and your face and marvel at your perfection. I wonder about the young man with the faraway eyes. He is precious and perfect to someone I am sure. Someone who loves him as much as I love you.
Outside the last bits of sunlight disappear into the ocean as we listen to the violinist. I hold your hand as you dance. And beyond the small crowd that has gathered, I see the young man once more. I am reminded of the many unlikely teachers I have had in my life. He is one of them.