My thanks go to PapaGus and Deryk for assisting me in preparing this story for posting.
I'd wandered away from the cathedral entrance, wondering what the hell I was doing there anyway. It was the third day of our holiday, and my two daughters had taken their spouses inside to enjoy the splendour of the old building. And the coolness of the air, I should imagine.
I didn't want to go inside the building myself. I'd seen it all too many times before and like most of the city, it held too many memories for me.
Quite honestly I didn't want to be in Italy at all, let alone Venice and even less so, St Marks Square. For some reason Venice, especially the famous Piazza, had been Mary's most favourite spot in the whole damned world. Okay, Venice had been the city we'd spent our honeymoon in, but I'd never thought it necessary for us to return to the city almost every other year.
Mary must have thought it was romantic, I suppose; she loved the place. I'll admit that I kind-a liked the city myself. Christ, I was so familiar with the place by then, it was something like coming home again; Mary and I had visited the city so often.
But for me personally, it wasn't the city itself; the fascination for me had always been the woman I was with when I visited.
But I'd lost Mary some five years before, and with her going the city had lost most of its charm for me. I have no idea what possessed the girls and their husbands to book this holiday, or even why I had -- after a lot of cajoling -- agreed to come along with them.
Yeah, neither of my son-in-laws had visited the city before, but my two girls knew the place almost as intimately as I did. So their story, of me playing tour guide didn't really hold water. But when I put that argument up, all I got was:
"Oh dad, you haven't been away since mother passed on. It's time you got out and did something. Besides you like Venice, it'll cheer you up no end, to get back there."
I honestly do not believe my daughters had thought that one through properly. Venice without Mary was hardly likely to cheer me up, now was it?
Anyway eventually, and against my better judgement, I'd agreed to go with them.
Telling them I'd meet them in one of the many cafes that surround St Marks Square, after they'd had their fill of the cathedral, I took a stroll up one side of the Piazza under the colonnade, or whatever you call the bloody thing. I think I was intending to walk back down the other side, but I noted that the sun was still partly finding its way under there, so I turned back the way I came. Just stopping for a moment to gaze in the window of a little jewellery store and remembering when I'd bought Mary a necklace she'd spotted in there one time, long before.
As I gazed into the window, I became aware that I could see a young child with incredibly large eyes reflected in the glass. She could only have been about five or six years old and for some inexplicable reason she appeared to be studying me with great interest.
Slightly embarrassed, I turned and smiled at the child. I have no idea why, maybe I thought that me looking at her, might drive the little girl away. No chance, the little girl continued to study me rolling her head this way and that, and then looking me up and down. Very curious behaviour I thought, and I wondered whether I'd suddenly sprouted horns or a tail or something.
Then suddenly a slightly older child, another girl, probably eight years of age, appeared by the little one's side. I figured an older sister. After exchanging a couple of words in Italian with her sister, she took hold of the little one's hand, then dragged the protesting smaller child away.
I probably smiled to myself, remembering how I'd seen my two girls studying something in the same manner, as the little girl had stared at me when they were young. I just could not imagine what the little girl had found so enthralling about me and cursed myself for not picking up more of the language over the years.
Then I made my way back along the colonnade to one of the pavement cafés nearer the Cathedral's entrance, so that my family would not have too much trouble locating me.
Picking a table that I thought would remain in the shade for a little while at least, I ordered a pot of tea and a couple of rounds of toast, pulled out the paperback I'd been reading and settled back to lose myself in it until the family showed up.
A short while later, I was reaching for the second slice of toast when something caught my eye. Just on the other side of the barrier that separated the many pavement cafés from each other and leaning against it was the little dark haired girl with the big green eyes again. What's more, standing beside her and also staring intently at me, was her larger sister.
I smiled -- I suppose slightly embarrassed to find myself the centre of their attention yet again -- then sat back wondering what the hell the children found so fascinating about a middle-aged Englishman and nibbled at my toast, while I tried to get back into my book.
Yes, it did cross my mind that they might be hungry. We've all seen those pictures of staving children from around the world on TV. But I was in Italy for Chri'sake, and those two young girls did not look at all underfed to me.
"Surely they've seen people eating buttered toast before?" was the one salient thought that crossed my mind.
I suppose ... well, maybe ten minutes must have passed, while I nibbled at my toast and tried to pretend that I was reading my book. And keeping an eye on the two little girls out of the corner of my eye at the same time. Neither moved or said anything to me, or each other.
Then I heard a female voice talking in Italian and both girls' attention moved from me to the lady. Actually at the time, I wasn't completely sure it was their mother, as she didn't really look old enough, and at first had hazarded a guess that she might have been a much older sister ... There was a distinct and unmistakable resemblance between them, that for some inexplicable reason I found familiar.
Later I discovered that my guess was wrong and that the woman was their mother. But she looked to me, much younger than both of my own daughters.
The woman quite obviously chastised the two little girls, in Italian. I assumed because they'd done a disappearing act on her. Well, those of us who have had children of our own, know what it's like when you suddenly realise that one of the little tykes, isn't where they should be, or you thought they were.
But then something strange happened. The smallest child said something her mother in Italian, which caused the woman to look at me; doing so brought the oddest response from her. The woman's eyes appeared to grow as large as her daughters' had been, and her complexion turned a distinct shade of pink, when she realised that I was looking back at her. Then grabbing both children by the hand she muttered "Sorry!" In English, without the slightest trace of an accent, and then retreated from my sight between the tables of the next pavement café, at high speed.
I was still sort of wondering what the hell had just happened when I realised that I'd become the centre of attention for quite a few people sitting at adjacent tables, who were, without exception, smiling at me. I could only assume that whatever joke they were smiling at, must have had something to do with the words the child had said to her mother. But hardly speaking a word of the lingo, it had gone over my head.
I shrugged back at the people on the nearest table -- which brought an even bigger grin to their faces, and confused me even more -- then returned to trying to read my book; or rather, I attempted too.
Maybe another five minutes had passed, and everyone had apparently gone back to minding they're own business, before I figured it safe enough to pour myself another cup of tea. Under those circumstances I'd figured I my best option to keep my eyes down up until then.
But as I was putting sugar into my cup the little girls' mother appeared at my table.
"Excuse me ... I..." was as far as she got before I'd leapt to my feet.
Sorry, it was something I couldn't prevent myself from doing. One doesn't converse with a lady you do not know, whilst seated, if she is standing. Well, not when they look as good as that particular young lady does, you don't!
Look, I might have been pushing fifty, but I wasn't that old!
"I'm sorry if my daughters have caused you any embarrassment." The young woman was saying. "But they ... Well they didn't actually, but my mother thought ... No, this is ridiculous. There's no possible chance..."
"I'm sorry young lady, but you are making a very good job of confusing the hell out of me." I said when she stopped to take a breath.
"Yes, I'm sorry. My name is Vitalia. My friends call me Talia. Look, I'm sorry, you don't know me from Adam and I know this might sound like a ridiculous question, but your name isn't Matt Moncrieff, is it?"
"Mathew Algernon Earnest Moncrieff at your service madam." The name Algernon brought a flicker to Talia's eye, so I explained. "My mother had a thing about Oscar Wilde and thought it quite humorous. Most people call me Matt."
Talia was staring back at me with eyes that looked -- relatively speaking -- even bigger then her daughters' had appeared to be. Then she sank into one of the other seats around my table.
"Oh my god. Honestly?" she asked
"Would I lie to a lady, especially one as pretty as you, Talia?"
"My god, I would never believe it was possible."
.... There is more of this story ...