I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but they were Geno’s friends. “Geno, you make the decision. It’s your house as well, and if you want to have friends over, that’s okay by me.” The resulting smile said I made the right decision.
I have a hard time denying Geno anything. Probably some people think I’m too lax with him, but the truth is he hasn’t given me any reason not to listen to his requests. They all are reasonable, and he always checks with me before telling anyone. I don’t see any harm in him having friends and inviting them to our home. I remember when I was his age, I had friends over a lot.
I paid our tab and started to walk toward our home. I was sure I must have looked like the pied piper, leading five young boys up a series of stairs to our home. I looked back, and Geno was talking a mile a minute. I don’t know what he said, but the boys were laughing.
Arriving at our home, I gave the keys to Geno. He was proud to show off his home. While he showed them the house, I poured everyone a glass of juice. I’m fanatical about having fresh orange juice in the fridge, as that is my choice of drink. I heard their comments coming down the stairs. “Geno, ask him.”
“Ask me what?”
“Papa, they want to know if they could take a bath?”
“Yes, but we’ll need clean clothes for them.”
“I think that Marco would fit some of my clothes.”
“What about the rest? Geno, where do these boys stay? Where do they sleep?”
I watched as Geno spoke to the boys. From what I could tell, they were polite, which meant that they weren’t the type of boys one would expect to be living on the streets, a least not to my knowledge based on what I had read over the years.
“Papa, these are my friends. They sleep on the beach and beg for food. They get one meal from the church, but you know that isn’t enough. Can’t we help them? Can I use my money to help them?”
“You would use your money to help them. Are they that important to you?”
“Yes, Papa, they protected me when I was like them.”
I looked at Geno; his eyes were wet. I knew what I had to do. If he was willing to spend his money on these boys, then they must be important to him. “Okay, Geno, let’s get them some clean clothes, then they can take a bath. Once that is done, we’ll think about where they stay tonight; how does that sound?”
His smile was the answer as he nodded okay. He told the boys, and I was swamped with hugs. They did need a bath, very much.
So we went shopping. That in and of itself was an adventure. The condition of the boys caused a problem in some of the stores.A flash of money settled that problem. We bought two sets of clothing for each boy. I just hoped they fit. The salesman just looked at the boy and said this or that was the correct size.
“Papa, could we stop and get something to eat?”
“How about we do that after they have their bath and wear their new clothes?”
He told the boys what I said, they agreed. And so one hour later, we left for a late supper. The boys looked good in their new clothes. The bath helped a lot. I knew I would need to replenish my bath soap and toothpaste as well as toothbrushes.
They decided they would like to eat on the beach. Roberto led us to a restaurant. Geno explained that this restaurant would give the boys something to eat on occasion, and this would be a way to pay them back.
We took a table outside, and when the waiter came, he looked at the boys. He gave us a menu and went inside to bring us bottles of Pellegrino. He came back with a man who I guessed was the owner.
“Is that you, Roberto?”
“Yes, Signore Bianchi.”
“Did you strike it rich?”
“No, Signore. This is the father of my friend Geno. Do you remember Geno?”
“No, I do not. But you’re welcome here anytime. I suggest the fish soup which we made fresh today. Then the pasta, today, we have pasta puttanesca.”
Geno translated for me. “That sounds fine, but I would like to have a fresh salad as well.”
Between Geno and Roberto, the menu was decided. What makes a pleasant supper? Was it the fresh air, the view of the water, or the food? For me, it was all three. The boys were excited, the new clothes and the bath seemed to raise their spirits, and most importantly, for me was the smile on Geno’s face.
While we ate, I looked at the boys and wondered about their future. Geno broke through my thoughts. “Papa, Papa, are you okay?”
I laughed, “Yes, Geno, I’m fine. I was wondering if the boys would agree to go to school if we allowed them to live with us.”
Geno looked at me as if he didn’t understand my English, then the smile I loved. He got up from his seat and hugged me, “Yes, Papa, I think they would do anything to live with us.”
“Why don’t you ask them.”
He turned around, looking at Roberto, he posed the question. Then I had my arms full of boys. I guess that was their answer. When the waiter came back to see what the noise was all about. Roberto told them that I was going to be their Papa. I’m not sure how that happened, but I guess the leap was made. If they were going to live with us, then like Geno, I’d be their father as well.
That night, they slept in the bedrooms, but I knew I needed to have one of the rooms for guests. In the morning, I went to the furniture maker and told him what I wanted, two bunk beds. I got bunk beds that took a mattress for a single bed, bigger than I wanted. It would make the free space in the room tight but doable. It made Geno happy, and that is all I cared about.