The Good Samaritan
Ciro T. De Rosa
Copyright 2010 by Ciro T. De Rosa
She had been a Visitor exactly ten years. Her motives were pure when she volunteered. It wasn’t about money or making herself superior to those less fortunate. She always thought of the story of the Good Samaritan, and this was how she thought of herself, as a Good Samaritan helping those less fortunate. She wanted to give them a kind word, a pleasant smile, a glimmer of hope for the future, but for them it didn’t matter. They lived in the moment without any thought of tomorrow. It was their bellies that occupied their minds. It seemed no matter how hard she tried to comfort them, to appease the resentment built up against the “them” they always whined about, or their sly attempts to wheedle something, anything, out of her, it was to no avail and the years had taken their toll until she now went through the motions, and the weight of an invisible stone on her back contributed to her growing fatigue. “How had it come to this?” she thought.
At the time when Don Ignazio asked for volunteers to give succor to those less fortunate in the village, she responded to his heartfelt plea. Having never married she didn’t have the responsibility of husband or children that consumed one’s time. She had her job at the Municipio as a ragionere, which was a little more than a glorified clerk, for which she acquitted herself with dignity around the others in the office. Other than her colleagues she had no real friends, making for a rather lonely life that she had gotten used to.The chance to do something more, to make some difference in someone’s life, prompted her to see the priest and become his first acolyte. A few days later she made her first visit to an elderly couple who lived in a hovel along the via Giardini that lay three kilometers beyond the Porta Napoli, the southern most zone of the village. She noted the irony of the name of the area, since it no more resembled a garden than a toad to a prince. Thus began her mission as a Good Samaritan.
She searched the height of the building as if by some magic she might fly up to the flat and avoid having to breathe their air or suffer the same questions and accusations again... This was one of the older buildings with no elevator. The rent for the flats was cheap enough, but the higher one went, the cheaper the fee. So the old lady’s family had her moved to the top floor. The Signorina had been coming to visit her for the past five years. A crone with angry eyes, lips sucked into her mouth for the lack of teeth with wisps of dead white hair protruding every where, she’d crackle obscenities at the signorina as she attempted to remove the soiled diaper from her frail body in the rumpled bed. She smelled of urine and old age. Her bones appeared to be battling to break through her frail pale skin. Soaking a wash cloth in soapy, warm water, she proceeded to sponge the old lady from head to toe. Patting her dry, she put on a clean diaper and vainly tried to put the wild hair into some sort of order behind her head.
That completed, the visitor went about checking the medications in what passed for a toilet. There was a bowl and a leaky sink with red rust stains around the drain, while the old lady screeched that the doctors were cheating her on her medicines. She wanted to denounce them all,” the bastards! They want to kill me, that’s what they want!” She’d begin to sob and moan, pulling at her face with her hands. The woman would stop the hands before the grimy fingernails scratched the shriveled skin. The old lady’s loud sobs continued. “ Signora, signora,… Please don’t pull at your face. You might give yourself a bad infection.” The words came automatically since this was the thing the old lady did every visit. “There, there, she crooned, as she patted the gnarled hands making sure not to come in contact with the filthy fingernails. We will get something to eat, yes? Of course, I’ll warm up a cup of soup and you’ll have a bit of bread too. Yes?”
She left the bedside, and walked into the tiny kitchen. The old stove had just two burners that were caked with old grease. On the opposite wall was a small icebox. Above it, a clock with the hour handles missing. She opened the door and found a bit of chicken and some crusts of bread on the only shelf. In the tiny oven compartment she found the tin pot she always used to warm up the soup. Above the stove a shelf held a small box of pastina. A few minutes later the pot was boiling and a hand full of the pastina swirled around in it. The old lady was quiet now. The visitor glanced at the bed; a low rasping breath escaped the gaping mouth. The old lady was asleep. When the pasta was done, she brought it to the bedside, woke the old lady, and wrapped a soiled napkin around her thin neck, then blew on the hot liquid as she spooned it into her mouth. Slowly, the bits of pasta began to disappear from the bowl, and with each audible gulp the old lady smacked her lips in pleasure. She cracked a smile that distorted her face in a wild grimace.
The visitor scanned the wretched room where everything appeared untouched since the day the old lady had moved in. The long dark drapery shut out the sun and created shadows all around the dirty room. A small lamp was the only object on a battered night stand by the bed. The bed was one of the old style, a deep mahogany head board and cannon ball finials surmounting the wide foot board. When it was new, it surely was a beautiful piece, but the years of neglect had taken their toll. And the Signora lay in its rumpled sheets and coverlets that practically enveloped her wasted body until she almost disappeared beneath them.
Deciding that she’d completed her services to the old lady, the signorina proceeded to sweep her nape hairs in a steady motion so as not to miss any stray piece into the bun in the nape of her neck. She tucked the exposed tail of her blouse into the skirt and slowly put on her jacket. The old lady had drifted off into another coma like sleep. It was only the slight rise and fall of her chest that attested to her being alive. Once more she scanned the room. She went into the kitchen to make sure the stove was out and that the pot was back in the oven compartment. She checked to see how much pastina was left, because she might have to bring a new box next week. She took a last glance at the bed and left the flat.
An hour later she entered her own flat. As usual it was silent and she now thought cold, lacking the natural warmth a living space should have because it’s inhabited. When her mother and father were alive things were very different. She hung up her jacket and walked into the kitchen. She prepared her evening meal and sat down at the round table tucked in the corner of the kitchen. She always had mama to talk to. Mama died almost fifteen years ago and papa followed her within a year. Since that time her life too seemed to have ended. Always rather shy and introverted, she accepted the fact that she was destined for spinsterhood, but papa would always say that some young man would find her. Her vanity mirror said otherwise; a middle aged woman, hair tumbling over her thin shoulders, unappealing streaked with gray, stared back at her. Her lips had lost the fullness of youth and her eyes were devoid of any radiance.
Lately she began to feel the loneliness, the lack of real human companionship more acutely. The quietude of her solitary life was becoming too much to bear. Sometimes she’d stare, for what seemed like forever, at her hands lying still in her lap. At these times no thought wandered through her head. More often she felt like a ghost roaming around the silent rooms with only the old photographs to remind her of a life she once had. Her youthful dreams of the sweet taste of love were now gone and all that remained were the bitter lees of lost illusions. At those moments of her despair she’d close her eyes and remember a time long ago and lovely spring days and flowers in bloom and light breezes wafting through the happy home. By nine she lay in her bed listening to the silence, wishing for sleep and then to wake to the gray dawn and begin another day.
Thus was her life. And now even that bit of hope she wanted to give to those others less fortunate had turned to dust. She could no longer pretend to care. Their miseries had become hers. Their petulance had seeped into her bones and left her drained of any compassion or concern for them. She knew the time would come when she’d no longer be able to continue trekking to the crumbling buildings, smelling the decay of old age and witnessing lives lived without hope.
The week passed and the day of her scheduled visit to the old lady had arrived. The visitor put the fresh box of pastina in her shopping bag and set out for the apartments. As she traversed the Piazza dei Giudici and headed down along the Corso toward the Porta Napoli she wondered what the old lady must have been like as a young girl, loving a man, having children and taking care of a home and family. Now she was abandoned by them and left to the ministrations of a stranger. When she arrived at the building, she paused a moment to reflect on a thought that had been running through her mind for the past few days. A moment later she braced herself and eyes focused on the swirling dark veins in the marble stairs ascended the long flight. The usual people accosted her on the way, and she answered them with the same promises and they with the same disagreeable remarks retreated back into their flats.
The old lady was in bed. A fine film of dust covered every exposed surface, and the shadows crowded out the light. The signorina removed her jacket and went about her routine of changing, washing and dressing the woman. She adjusted her in the bed and fixed the comforter neatly across it. Then she went into the kitchen and made the pastina. Once again she awakened the old woman, placed a napkin on her chest and began to spoon the soup into her mouth. A few minutes later she wiped the signora’s chin, and stepped back into the kitchen. She looked over to the bed and as usual the old woman was asleep. The visitor washed the pot, placed it back into the oven compartment, and put the bowl aside. She adjusted her blouse and put on her jacket. She walked over to the sleeping woman and looking down at her in peaceful and serene repose, she reached for the pillow she had placed at the foot of the bed earlier and tenderly placed it over the old lady’s face. The slight twitch of the frail body beneath the blanket stopped after a moment and settled into the bed.
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