Fiction Friendship Inspirational

The day started with the sound of the most annoying sound in the world, which was the sound of my buzzing alarm clock. I could have had the radio come on instead of the jarring buzz, but I needed that edge to shake me from my slumber. I threw off the bed-covers, moaned loudly and immediately felt the chill of my cold, unheated studio apartment in Marrickville. A densely populated - smog and traffic choked suburb near Sydney, but at least it was under the flight path (Queue sarcasm).

I shouldn’t complain too much though, as things could have been a lot worse for me. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for uneducated, twenty something year olds who didn’t have a car (or driver’s license) and assorted criminal histories. So, after I made myself some coffee and scoffed down some Vegemite toast on stale bread, I headed out the door with my old pushbike under my arm.

The rain that had been steadily falling during the night, had eased but the roads were still wet. It wasn’t the puddles that got me. It was the spray from passing cars and buses. It was 5:00 in the morning and still dark, and it was always a risky ride to Mascot but whenever there was a break in the traffic or a smooth stretch of road, I loved looking up at the landing planes. Where did they come from? Were there people returning from a trip of a lifetime or were there people from other parts of the world, coming to discover Australia?

I arrived at Meals on Wheels (a charity dedicated to help the aged and disabled, get nutritious meals) drenched and cold, and started my usual routine. Which was to get changed into my work clothes then get straight to it and by it, I meant cooking seemingly unending pots of pasta. I had been doing this for six months now and I have to tell you, it’s put me off eating it. The irony of cooking so much food when I myself was practically starving, never failed to sting. For those eight-hour shifts, I worked in sauna like conditions but at least my co-workers hated their job as well. Or did they just hate me?

I suppose I looked very different to them, with my goth style and tattoos. People are always fearful of what they don’t understand and sometimes, that fear turns to hate. There was one person that saw through the different layers of my onion and always supported me, and that was my grandfather. I was named after him. Antonio Zucchero, but my friends called me Zook.

Thinking of him, I needed to check on him and see how he was doing. He hadn’t been the same since my grandmother died six months ago - becoming so much frailer. My estranged family and myself, would check up on him and help him anyway we could. He lived in Leichhardt, which translated to two bus rides from Marrickville.

When I arrived home, I called my ‘sort of’ girlfriend and asked if she wanted to come with me to visit him. I say sort of, because we were more like ‘friends with benefits.’ We got to his home at about 5:00 in the evening and knocked loudly on his door (loudly because he was hard of hearing).

My grandfather, or as he liked to be called ‘nonno’, answered the door and at first, he looked a little confused, then he realized who I was.

“Antonio, entra! Entra (Come in)!”

“Ciao, nonno. You remember, River?” I asked.

“Si, your girlfriend!” He said.

River gives me an uncomfortable look and I proceeded and say,

“We thought we’d come by to make sure you didn’t need anything or had a good meal for dinner.”

“Oh… grazie Antonio but my special friend came today and brought me my favourite dinner! Spaghetti Bolognese. I don’t know why but it reminds me of your nonna’s cooking!”

Nonno looked at River and said,

“Maria… ehh… my wife… she would have liked you.”

“Uhm… I’m sure I would have liked her too!” Said River.

She had met my grandmother a number of times, but my grandfather was getting more and more forgetful.

I look around his little apartment filled with old, mahogany furniture and velvet, then went and checked the fridge to make sure that there was food and milk in there and that it hadn’t gone bad. When I opened it, I saw a disposable aluminium container with the words ‘Meals on Wheels’ written on the top of it.

It took me a moment to comprehend what I was looking at then I turned to my grandfather and asked,

“Nonno, I didn’t know you had Meals on Wheels come and bring you food.”

“Si! Yes! I old you last time, remember? I told you Melisa Eels comes to bring me dinner… remember?”

I did remember that, but I thought it was a new neighbor or something. I didn’t realize that he had mispronounced Meals on Wheels. I thought about explaining it, but I didn’t want to confuse him instead I walked up to River and quietly said,

“I made him his dinner… ‘I’ made the spaghetti Bolognese that he said reminded him of my grandmother’s.”

I started to think about my nonna and how great she was. Always fussing over her guests, spoiling us with love and taking good care of her husband. I looked up at River and saw glimmer of affection or maybe I was seeing it because I felt something too. My grandfather turned to River.

“Maria, my wife… she would have liked you.”

He repeated.

“I’m sure I would have liked her too.” Said River, with a patient smile.

I asked my grandfather if he was hungry and volunteered that I warm up his pasta but said he had a sandwich for dinner. He was going to save the spaghetti for lunch the following day. He invited us to sit down and watch some TV with him.

Nonno turned on what must be one of the oldest color televisions in existence and we watched the Chase. Well, River and nonno where, as my mind was a million miles away. Meals on Wheels were more than a charity that fed the old – they provided social interaction and friendly check ins, and, at that moment, I had a different perspective of what I did and who I was doing it for. River and I stayed for about an hour then said our goodbyes and went back to Marrickville.

Buzz, buzz, buzz, screamed my alarm clock and so began another day. Then before I knew it, I was in the kitchen at Meals on Wheels, but things seemed a little… different.

I greeted everyone good morning and they looked at me a little funny. Maybe because I had never said good morning to them before. I got straight to work, filling huge pots of water with handfuls of salt, then start making the Bolognese sauce but with more care.

When I started to add the herbs to the sauce, I quietly said,

“Is that enough oregano nonna?”

At the end of my shift, I looked at all of my hard work and felt proud of my achievement. I’ve made dinner for my nonno. It’s funny but I started applying that thought and consideration to everything I did, and things started to happen for me. Good things.

I became passionate about cooking and started working at a little Italian restaurant on Norton Street in Leichhardt. River and I went from friends with benefits to boyfriend and girlfriend and my nonno was still going well. He would always tell us about his new friend ‘Melissa’ every time we visited (and how nonna would have loved River).

It’s funny how you could look at something or someone day in and day out and then one day, have a whole new perspective and appreciation.

Maybe like pasta, life is more than the sum of its parts. Especially when it’s made with love.

July 06, 2021 00:40

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