She struggled daily with her non-decision. “Should I give money to the beggars on the street? Should I speak with them?” She needed to make a choice in the matter, if only for today’s quick dash to the bus stop. The beggar she thinks of as the Praying Madonna claims a square of sidewalk between her apartment steps and her stop. Determined to appear distracted, hurried by her important life, or an urgent task, she makes her way along the newly familiar cobblestone, careful to avoid brushing the city-gritty buildings. Her busy façade in place, she nearly overlooks the empty Madonna spot. Amusing herself with the idea of a beggar’s union in charge of assigning street corners, she wonders with a smug chuckle whether the union offers sick pay.
The tall ornately carved doors of the Instituto l’Italiano are propped open as she enters the cool dark vaulted hallway. Riding up the tiny elevator, a creaky grille its only offering of protection. The Madonna slips from her thoughts. Settled at the small student desk, she stares out of the high windows and allows her mind to slip aimlessly along the red tile rooftops, a hodgepodge of pitches and domes. Content to drift, she hopes the nouns and verbs are entering her inattentive brain cells through osmosis.
Swaying with her fellow passengers to the rhythm of the rush hour traffic, she had finally fallen outside of her fears and headlong into a glorious exaltation of life. Each passenger silent within their cocoons of thought, bodies crushed against each other, they moved with the precision of a flock of birds, a school of fish. Her ears grasped like the gnarled hands of the beggar woman for any morsel. She is fed by three schoolboys whose backpacks hold her upright in the warm fleshy press. Their language is the universal pushing, shoving, teasing of male children. Familiar nouns and verbs float and drift among the distracted Mamas, wending their way home to an evening of dinner, children.
In the twilight she steps off the return bus. Rounding the corner, the stuttering of a nearly spent candle catches her eye, then her heart, the swirling detritus of the day its only companion, at the shrine of The Praying Madonna of the Beggar’s Union.