Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Turiddu returned Fernando's intense stare, remaining silent and motionless. For a moment Fernando's mind drifted back to childhood and the "staring contests" he would have with friends and siblings. Fernando could have claimed "victory", as Turiddu ran the fingers of his right hand through his own thick black hair. He then cupped both his hands around his mouth and looked away from the Spaniard. After a few moments, he turned to Fernando.

"Quiero presentarte a mi papá."

Turiddu told Fernando that he wanted to introduce him to his father. This was totally unexpected and caught Gaitero a bit unprepared. In his mind the elder Licata was an unapproachable and threatening man. He couldn't help but wonder if Turiddu's bravado was due to his state of partial intoxication or the fact that he had another agenda...or both.

"Como no...sería un placer."

Fernando's response was just as assertive as Turiddu's offer. He graciously agreed to meet the legendary Mr. Licata. Before Fernando could ask Turiddu when, where, and how this would happen, the young Sicilian stood up and began a frenzied attempt to tidy up his appearance by adjusting his tie and tucking in his shirt. He was clearly preparing for a hasty departure. Fernando then realized that this meeting, in Turiddu's mind, was imminent.

"Hombre, que haces?"

Fernando asked Turiddu what he was doing. He responded that the way to show a respectful interest toward a young Sicilian girl is to first speak to her father, and tonight was the perfect opportunity to do so. Gaitero nodded in agreement but questioned the lack of discretion in not having made prior arrangements with Mr. Licata. Turiddu responded that his father, in the best of circumstances, was not very approachable. He added that tonight he felt particularly emboldened to make such an introduction for a variety of reasons. The partial language barrier and the emotions of the evening aside, Fernando understood that this was essentially a rare opportunity, and that he’d best take advantage of it. It might be his only path to meeting Giuseppina. He nodded in agreement with Turiddu.

Fernando paid their check and the two men left the cafe. Turiddu made it clear that Fernando was to follow him. They walked about two blocks west on La Séptima. At the corner of 18th St, Turiddu stopped in front of a rather large building. On the front window was written "L'Unione Italiana"..."The Italian Union". This was the social club and mutual aid society for most of Tampa's Sicilian and Italian community. On either side of the main entrance were long benches, filled with men speaking loudly in Sicilian or Italian. Several of the men stood up, walked over to Turiddu and gave him kisses on both cheeks. It was obvious that Turiddu Licata was well-known and respected in the community. He introduced Fernando to several of the men. The conversations were in very rapid Sicilian and Fernando could only determine the gist of what was being said. He assumed, and hoped, that this was merely normal polite conversation.

Turiddu gestured to Fernando to follow him into the building. It was similar to the Spanish Center but smaller. The main level, like that of the Centro Español, seemed to be off-limits to women. The room was filled with men sitting at tables. Most were playing cards, some dominoes. Turiddu gestured toward a staircase in a corner of the room. Fernando followed him up the stairs. At the top they passed through large double doors and entered what appeared to be a ballroom filled with round tables set up for a formal dinner. The attendees appeared to be well-dressed families enjoying a quiet dinner. A string quartet provided soft background music. Candles adorned the tables. Fernando felt as if he had entered a very expensive restaurant in Havana.  At the other end of the room was a long rectangular table at which were seated approximately twenty people. The young Spaniard suddenly felt terribly out of place and embarrassed, realizing that this was a private affair to which he had not been invited.

Turiddu stopped walking, gazing around the room. It appeared that he was searching for a particular group of guests. Fernando grabbed him by the arm. Not wanting to attract more attention by speaking, Fernando communicated his feelings of awkwardness to Turiddu with hand gestures and facial expressions....suggesting they should immediately leave. The young Sicilian responded by gently nudging him to continue walking along a side wall toward a corner in the rear of the room. Fernando hesitatingly did so, realizing that they were beginning to attract curious stares from the diners.

As they got to the very back of the room, Fernando noticed that a man seated in the very corner table had stood up and was hurrying toward them. As the man approached them, he grabbed Turiddu by his left ear with one hand and by his neck with the other. He then dragged him behind a room divider immediately next to his table. Fernando discretely stepped to the side, not sure of what to do. By now, many of the guests seated nearby were aware of the developing scene. Just as he was about to make a hasty departure, he noticed a table of only women and children, adjacent to the man's table. Several of the women were elderly, dressed in rather drab black dresses. Others were quite young. One of the younger women was directly facing him. As Fernando's eyes met hers, she immediately diverted her attention to another lady seated next to her. He realized that she was Giuseppina Licata. 

Before Fernando could decide what to do, someone had grabbed his arm, pulling him behind the room divider and into a kitchen, whose doors were blocked from view by the partition. In the light of the kitchen he could see that it was the gentleman who had dragged Turiddu by his ear.

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This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020