Giovanni Herriton Carella — often just called Gio Herriton — stepped off the train onto the platform. He held a small suitcase in his left hand, and lifted his other to place his hat on his head.
He was tall and slender, with olive skin and brown eyes.
He took a handkerchief out of his coat pocket and held it to his nose before looking either direction and walking down the platform. Once outside of the train station, he replaced the handkerchief in his pocket and lifted his head to examine his surroundings. It was about six o’clock in the evening, and the sun was starting to descend slowly to Gio’s right. A cart was parked a few feet from him, and a man was putting suitcases and trunks into the back of it. A woman stood by the man and watched him handle her luggage warily. She wore a pale beige dress and a big hat. The brim fell over her eyes, and she had to hold it up with one slender, tan hand. Gio approached the cart and asked if there was room for him, bowing slightly to the lady as he spoke in Italian to the man. The woman looked at him sideways, facing the sun and letting it bathe her face in gold. She had hazel eyes, and honey colored hair peeked out from under her hat.
Gio helped the man load the rest of the luggage and then offered his hand to the lady as she got into the cart. She settled herself between a green suitcase and a few boxes, and closed her eyes. Gio got into the cart and took off his hat. He looked at the woman and she opened her eyes and stared at him, turning her head a bit as if posing for a photograph.
As they rolled down the road, Gio looked around at the landscape that he knew so well from his Uncle Philip’s stories, picture books and paintings.
This had been his home many years ago, though he did not remember it. When he was a baby his Uncle Philip had come and taken him back to England after his mother died.
A cool breeze blew over him and Gio began to think about his parents and how they lived here before he was born. Uncle Philip had many stories about Gio’s mother; and even Aunt Harriet, who’s health and mind had failed her in her old age, would sometimes burst out with a story of Gio’s father, or his mother’s life after she had married him. His mother had been married once before, to Philip and Harriet’s brother. But that man had died, and Gio’s mother had come here to Italy with Caroline Abbot, a young woman who the Herritons thought they could trust to keep Lilia — Gio’s mother — out of trouble. That scheme had not worked, and Lilia had been married to Gino — Gio’s father — before they could bring her back to the safety of their home. After a year they had Gio, and then his mother died, leaving him in the care of young Gino. Uncle Philip and Aunt Harriet had come to take him back home to England with them, along with Miss Abbot, who was too seduced by Italy in the short time they were there. He had been raised in Sawston to be everything his mother’s family wished him to be, and now he had come back to Italy — his father’s home — to find out who he might have been instead.
Gio helped the young woman down from the cart when they stopped in front of the hotel, and then went inside to get a room. The hotel windows were open, and let in the evening sunlight. There were no curtains on the ground floor, and nothing covering the tile beneath his feet. Behind the counter stood a young woman with a green and yellow scarf tied around her head, who nodded to him when he came in.
Gio approached the counter and set his suitcase down. He asked for a room in bad Italian, blushing as he spoke in the foreign language. The woman led him up the stairs and to a room, while below the young lady from the cart ordered a man in English to be careful with her things.
Gio thanked the woman, who gave him his key and left him alone in the room. He looked around at the cracked wall, the faded painting above the bed, and out the window. He could see the church tower, and he remembered a story Uncle Philip had told him about the Saint it was named for.
It felt strange to be in the place he had heard so much about, and been told so many stories of. It was as if he had stepped into a dream without having fallen asleep.
After washing his face and changing his shirt, Gio went down and ate dinner. The woman from the cart was there sitting at a table alone. After supper he returned to his room and read until he fell asleep.
The next morning Gio woke and watched the sun rising over the hills of lavender. He dressed in his black suit and went down to eat breakfast. When he was finished, he left the hotel and began walking towards the house that his father owned.
When he got there he knocked on the door and stepped back, looking at the house as he waited for someone to answer the door. But nobody came. He walked around the side and entered a courtyard where an olive tree grew. There was noise from within the house, and there was an open window which he looked through. People gathered in the front room, and talked in hushed voices that all together made a great sound. They lowered their heads and crossed themselves, and then looked up to the heavens with tears in their eyes. Gio felt like he was watching a play, and he dared not move from his spot at the window where he could see all the actors.
Someone came out the door into the courtyard and said something to him in Italian which he didn’t understand. He stepped away from the window and told the man who had come out who he was, and that he was here for the funeral. The man’s dark eyes showed surprise, and he opened the door again and called into the house “The son is here.”
Gio moved into the opening of the doorway and the room went quiet. Someone pulled him farther into the room by his hand and men and women approached him and examined his face and body. Then exclamations went up towards the heavens once more, and Gio received smiles and nods from the whole troupe.
He was handed drinks and plates of food, and he tried to understand the questions that were asked of him and answer correctly in their language.
At noon, everyone began to gather their things and move out of the house. An old woman took Gio’s arm and walked with him after the crowd. They went to the church, and Gio went up with the rest of the people to see his father’s body. He tried to pick out parts of the man that he saw in himself, but the most marked resemblance between father and son were their eyes, and Gino’s were closed.
Gio followed the people to the graveyard, where the casket was lowered into the ground. Gio felt like crying as his father’s body was covered in the dark soil. The people began to sing a song, and Gio stood quietly and watched them.
Then, the procession walked slowly back to the house, where they cried and laughed, and finally said goodbye to one another.
A man asked Gio to come with him for a drink, and Gio followed the man back into town. By then it was dusk. They met three other men and drank with them. Gio paid for another round for them all and the men smiled and laughed with each other, but he did not know what they said of him.
At about ten that night, Gio went back to the hotel. He went up to his room and switched on the fan.
That night he dreamed of living in his father’s house with his parents. He woke in the morning when it was still dark, hearing a noise coming from the room next to his. He put on his robe and went out into the hall. The sounds of sobs came from the other room, and he moved close to the door and said, “Hello? Is everyone alright?”
Something hit the door and then fell to the floor as another sob erupted from within.
Gio went back to bed and lay awake until the noise stopped.
The next day was Sunday, and church bells woke him. The first thing he remembered when he woke up was that he was leaving that night. He had already bought the train ticket. What he had come here for was done, and now he had no reason to be here. No reason not to go back to his job the next day and let this time slip into the back of his mind with his childhood and his years at school. Along with his financée who had died in a car accident three months before they were to be married. With Miss Abbott who used to come around when he was a boy, until one day he had heard his uncle fighting with her, and she had never came again. He could go back and nearly forget about Italy.
But he felt that he would not be going back the same man that he had been when he left, and that part of him was now here, in the grave where his father lay and in the house where his parents had lived.
Gio walked up the hill and looked around himself. The valley below was distorted by distance, but he could make out the olive trees and the lavender that grew there. A few rough homes, stables and pins where animals were kept. He looked up next, at the mountains and the clouds that had been painted in his imagination a thousand times. It was late morning by then, nearly noon. Gio’s train left the station at eight o’clock this evening.
He sat down on the grass and thought about what his life might have been like, had his mother lived and he had stayed here in Italy with his parents. He might have felt the love from that woman which he had always lacked. He might have been happier here. But that kind of thinking was useless. Gio’s life had been good, all things considered, and he thought now that he had seen a small part of what he had missed, he could be happy with what he had.
Gio didn’t return to the hotel until late in the afternoon. It was around five when he got there, and he went to the dining room. The room was full of light and the ceiling fans blew the air around him lazily. There was a patio out from the dining room, and Gio went out and had his meal there in the late afternoon sunlight.
When he had finished, he went up and got his things and then paid his bill.
"How can I get to the train station?" Gio asked the woman at the front desk.
She went into the back room and called the cafè on the telephone. A little while later the man who drove the cart came and took him to the station. On the way there Gio looked at everything around him, trying to focus on the details so he could remember everything about this place. He wondered as he paid the man and waited for his train if he would ever return. He thought again about the lives that had been led here by his family, their friends. Now they were all gone, and he was saying goodbye to Italy; the place where angels dwelt.