Il Giardino (The Garden)

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Il Giardino (The Garden)

(Silver Key in Short Story)

Sophie Bello, 8th grade

My name means ‘little fire’ in Italian, and I sure lived up to it. Even more now after mom left dad. I have quite the temper, and how my parents knew I would is a mystery, but they sure named me correctly. People called me fuoco (that means “fire” in Italian) sometimes, like a nickname, and I used to hate it back home. But now I miss even that, as it reminds me of Italy. Mama says we’ll visit soon, but soon almost definitely means in a few years. When we moved to Cleveland, we left important things behind. Sure, we left toys, books, clothes, and other things that have become worthless to me. That stuff doesn’t matter. We left my papa and brother behind. I can’t clear my head of seeing my big brother crying as we said arrivederci.

I don’t think I can ever remember seeing tears on his face. He is four years older than me, strong, brave, and very kind-hearted. He has always looked out for me, and the longest we have been apart is three weeks, when he left for sleep away camp, which was torture and ever since either we didn’t go or we went together. He told me that next summer, when he’s 18, he’ll be able to pay for my plane ticket home, but I know that Mama would never allow it. I feel so stuck here, being away from my beloved Verona and living in this stupid American town. I suppose I should be happy in this so-called “free” country, except I don’t feel free at all.

After a month of coming home after school and immediately storming upstairs to my room to avoid conversation, my mother finally got me to go outside and get some fresh air (or as she called it, aria fresca). I sulked down the street and as I turned the corner I was surprised to see a garden, with people of all different ethnicities and cultures working on it. Curious, I walked up to the open gate.  I stood there awkwardly and looked around at all the people and their crops. The beauty of the plants and the happy vibe I got was overwhelming to me. I didn’t want to believe that Ohio could be a nice place just yet. Italy has been on my mind, and nothing compared to it. I couldn’t see this garden as competition for Mr. Ginarro’s down the street, even though it definitely was.

Just as I was turning to leave, an elderly man walked up to me. He pushed his glasses up on his nose with one hand, and in the other he cradled some sort of seeds. His face was wrinkled and his eyes were bright and kind as he began to speak in English. I only understood bits and pieces, but I’ve studied enough of the language to know that he was asking for my help. I was reluctant at first, saying that I could never fit in such a beautiful place, but the man insisted. I tried to pull off a look of annoyance, but inside my heart was beating fast and jumping with joy. I’m an awful liar, especially to myself, but I told myself it was just one neat garden. That doesn’t mean Cleveland is full of them.

The stranger led me to his plot, which consisted of s. A vaguely familiar Hispanic boy looked up at me from his position on the ground, his face streaked with dirt. I struggled to remember where I’d seen him, but before I could comment, he addressed me.

“Hey, Fiametta. Did Dave recruit you too?” he asked.

“Uh… how do you know my—”

“Name?” He finished with a grin. “We have Algebra together, remember? I’m Enrique.” Oh, Enrique. Yes, he’s that kid who raises his hand to answer every problem Mr. Sade puts on the board.

“Ah. Scusa, I am not good at… knowing faces,” I apologized, embarrassed.

“It’s fine. You just moved here from Italy, after all,” he said. The man Enrique called Dave cut in, interested.

“Italy, is it? My, you’ve come here a long way, huh?” I nodded. “Why Cleveland?” he asked. Funny, that is the question I keep asking madre. Dave accepted my silence and said, “Before I pry any more than I have to, I realize that we have not yet been properly introduced,” he held his hand out for me to shake. “My name is David Galton. And you are…?” I smiled and grasped his hand.

“Fiametta De Luca. Good meeting you,” I said, wincing at my attempt at English grammar. David did not seem to care.

“Well, now that we know each other, I can ask you to plant some of these pumpkin seeds. Now I shall ask you—will you plant some pumpkin seeds for me?” he asked, smiling. I considered his question for a moment. Should I help David, this stranger? He is very friendly, though, and Enrique also attends Holy Cross Middle.  I decided that was a good answer, because this elderly man wants my help. I told David I agreed, and quickly I became smothered with soil. The three of us worked fast, and soon enough the holes had been replaced with little piles of dirt.

“Wow, it’s already three! The time sure flies when pumpkins are being made,” David said after checking his watch. I did not really understand his silly comment about flying clocks, but I did know that three in the afternoon meant I had been at this paradiso orto, or garden paradise, for over two hours!

“Ay, I must go! Madre may worry!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. The others stood too.

“Monday after school, do you want to come back to work at the garden?” Enrique asked me.

“Sí, yes,” I replied, nodding, before our trio bid farewell. I raced down the street and into my apartment.

As promised, Enrique and I headed to the garden after school on Monday. David was not there yet, and so we only watered the seeds while we chatted.

“Ah, here are the two early birds,” a booming voice said, and when I turned around I saw David. We greeted him and he knelt beside us.

“Sorry I was late,” David apologized, “but I was with family. Today is the first day of Rosh Hashana, after all.”

“Wait, are you Jewish?” I asked, surprised. David looked taken aback.

“Yes, I am. And there is nothing wrong with that, young lady.”

“Of course, but I’m surprised. I thought you were Christian. It is what I told madre,” I explained. See, mama is crazy religious, and says you can always trust Christians. That is totally untrue, because at church one time, they talked about sins. Meaning that you cannot always trust a Christian because like everyone else they sin, too. Besides, the whole thing is prejudice. Once a Muslim foreign exchange student came to my old school in Italia, and mama begged me not to speak to her! The student was very nice, and we talked anyways, because unlike my mother I am not preguidizio (prejudiced). Everyone is equal in my opinion.

I explained my thoughts to David, and he nodded. “It’s okay, I understand. Well, sort-of. I don’t know any Italian so bear with me here,” he chuckled, referring to my speech infused with many words from my native tongue. Gears begin turning in my mind. Maybe David belongs to a church…would he let me come once or twice? I would like to learn about other religions after being kept in the dark for so long.

“David, do you think I could… come to church with you sometime? It would be interesting and good to try. Can I?” I asked. Wow, almost a month here, and already I have worked in a community garden, made friends, and asked to study Judaism. Wonder what madre will think now…

“It’s called a synagogue, not a church. But, okay. We can discuss the plans later. Now let’s get to work on our garden plot!” David announced with a grin. We all smile, including Enrique. He had been so silent, I almost forgot he was here. We began to plant more seeds, getting soil all over us, laughing and smiling and digging holes. I think I might like this place.

Already two weeks have gone by since I met David and Enrique. I go to the giardino almost every day after school, my English has improved, and today I went to the synagogue with David. He wore his yarmulke, the hat that many Jewish men wear to synagogue. I stood at the appropriate times, and smiled at lots of people. I enjoyed hearing the Hebrew roll off everyone’s tongues, how musical and foreign it sounded to my ears. I really liked going, and I think I will go again soon.

That was the first day I skipped my garden visit, so when Monday rolled around I was jittery. Enrique and I rode the school bus to the garden and when we got off, David was already there.

“Hi Fia!” he shouted to me once we reached the gate. I smiled and we walked over to him. “Hello David,” I said, and he frowned.

“David sounds too formal, kid. Why don’t you just call me Dave, like Enrique does,” he suggested with a grin that I returned.

“Okay, Dave. Now, I have something to tell the both of you. Enrique, I -”

Enrique cut me off and added, “You know what, call me Enriq, Fia.”

All three of us laughed and I continued, “Enriq, it was… difficult to not speak of this on the bus. I was, as I have heard you say, bursting with excitement. So, here is my idea: you know how I have been saying that I miss my Italia?” I asked, conscious of my thick accent. They both nodded. “I was thinking….maybe I can plant something on my own part of the garden, something Italian. It might help me deal with homesickness and I will be sticking to my Italian roots,” I finished. David, now Dave, chuckled quietly. “What?” I asked.

“You are sticking to your Italian roots by planting an Italian plant in the soil. Plants have roots. Italian roots, plant roots. Get it?” Dave said. Enrique and I shared a knowing look and grinned. Dave has worse jokes than Mrs. Rizzo, my old history teacher.

“I decided to try to get a plot next to you, so I can still see you everyday, and -” I was interrupted again, this time by Dave.

“No, you will plant in my garden plot. We can help you, and you can help us. I know you are just saying you will get your own to be nice,” the elderly man said, crossing his arms.

“Yeah, he’s right Fia. I still want you to help me plant the kiwi, if we can get that to work out. I mean, I’ll see you at school, but screwing up my school uniforms is no fun unless someone else goes to school wearing grass stains,” Enrique joked. I sighed.

“Oh all right, but I do not want to take up all your space with my plant,” I gave in.

“Speaking of which, what plant are you thinking of?” Dave asked me, the matter of plots clearly settled. I shrugged.

“I do not know. Maybe a herb of some sort. I will check out the seed store on Whitney Avenue,” I responded. I bid them goodbye and walked away. To the seed store!

On my way there, I contemplated the seeds I should buy. Parsley, maybe? Basil…no. I was temporarily stumped, but then the idea hit me. Oregano! It is such a perfect choice. I love the smell of cilantro, the taste of it. The taste of Italy. As I continued to walk down Whitney Avenue, I smiled sadly to myself. I truly do miss my Verona, I thought as I reached the store. I pushed open the door and a little bell rang. “Hello! Welcome to Green Seeds! How may I help you?” the clerk chirped. “Do you have any oregano semi?” I asked. The clerk looked puzzled. “Oh! Sorry, sir, I mean oregano seeds,” I corrected myself. “Of course! Here, follow me,” the relieved clerk replied, leading me to a shelf. He handed me a packet that read ‘Oregano seeds—imported from Italy’. I happily paid for it and literally skipped out of the store. I walked back to my “home” in a good mood, not even caring that it was a small apartment in the middle of the city.

The next day after school I went to the garden and began to work. I was all alone for the first time. I dug holes in the soil, fertilized it, planted my new seeds, and watered. Finished, I smiled, wiping my dirt stained hands on my jeans. Pleased with my work, I left, and a little over a month later the oregano sprouted. I discovered this on my own again, late one Sunday afternoon. At the sight of the oregano leaves I sunk to the ground and all those tears I had been holding in for so long came out. I just knelt there and cried. Cried at the memory of my padre always making sure there was some oregano growing in the small terracotta pot on our balcony. I cried at the all too familiar smell, a smell from a life that is too far away from me now. I cried, thinking about how much I missed brother, my guardian angel, who was always looking out for me. I cried so hard I didn’t even notice when an arm wrapped around my shoulders, until I heard his voice. “Fia,” he whispered softly, reassuringly. I sniffled and looked up at Enrique. I began to cry even harder, but this time the tears were for friendship, for kindness and love. I cried for the garden, and how lucky I am to have it to orchestrate my welcome.

I wiped my eyes and looked at Enriq. He smiled at me and we stayed there, staring at the cilantro until the moon came out and shone bright in the sky.

Every day Enrique and I come to care for my oregano and the new pumpkins after school. The only day I don’t come is when I go to the synagogue with Dave. My madre was proud of me, for finding happiness, for nurturing that beautiful garden. We began to speak frequently again, just like we used to.  It turns out that I really am home. Not home in Italy, but home in Cleveland, Ohio.


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Art by Olivia Ingle

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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
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