For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #113, where we write about this photo from Edward Hopper.
Paolo had just returned from a month-long business trip to Mexico and was overjoyed to see his young family again. Rewarded with leave, he offered to spend time with his young son by taking him out for the day. Besides, as his wife had been looking after Luca all that time, the father/son bonding session would give her a well-deserved day off.
Setting out just after breakfast, the pair visited the Museum Egizio, a short distance away in Turin. In common with most boys of that age, Luca had particularly enjoyed the dinosaur exhibit, and that scale model of the Ariane rocket had made Luca explode with excitement.
Paolo’s plan was that they would visit the aquarium this afternoon, too, but before that, they needed some lunch. With Luca simply choosing “cheese”, Paulo had selected a city-centre café, and ordered a toastie each. And as a special treat, two enormous mugs of hot chocolate.
Armed with the drinks, Paulo approached one of the café’s free tables. As Paolo set the cream-laden mugs down, he realised that he had forgotten to pick up any napkins.
He felt the young boy tug on his arm. Luca was at that inquisitive age. Everything he said these days began with “why?”
“What is it, Luca? What’s the matter?”, soothed Paulo.
Luca had clearly been thinking some more about the conversation the pair had been having yesterday, as they had returned from church. As children of Luca’s age are wont to do, he spoke at volume and could be overheard at neighbouring tables, although the café was almost empty. “Daddy…”, he began, “if there is a God… that lady we saw coming in… why does he make her sleep in the street? Why doesn’t she sleep in a nice house, like we do?”
Paolo squirmed, imperceptibly. He barely remembered stepping past this young woman, crouching in the doorway, on their way into the shop. Recovering, he thought quickly. “It’s because she must have done something wrong, Luca, and God is punishing her. Now, be a good boy for daddy and go and pick us up a napkin each from the counter”. Luca obediently sauntered over, Paolo breathing a sigh of relief, thinking that the awkward scene was complete. He was a thinker, this boy, but he was young enough to be deflected easily.
Luca returned with the napkins, as instructed, but instead of sitting down to his drink, he turned. Keeping a careful watch, Paolo tracked the boy to the door. When Luca opened it and stepped outside, it was time to act. Paolo found Luca, standing outside the shop, talking to the homeless woman. Just before his father caught up with him, Luca asked her, “What did you do wrong?”
Intervening, Paolo found himself apologising to the woman, and started berating the boy, as he dragged him inside. “What have we told you about talking to strangers?”, Paolo chided.
Momentarily, the girl at the next table glanced up from her book, inquisitive to learn the cause of the commotion.