Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Just as Fernando was pushed into the kitchen, two other men quickly approached him. They were large, burly men and were reaching into their jackets. Simultaneously, Turridu was frantically speaking to the first man who had grabbed him. The conversation was in rapid Sicilian, and Turiddu would occasionally point toward Fernando. The Spaniard was able to understand that the first man was Turiddu's father and that Turiddu was explaining who Fernando was and why they were there. Mercifully, the elder Mr. Licata waved away the two men who now had drawn pistols. Gaitero had never been this close to hand guns. He wisely remained silent as the pistols were returned into ominous-looking shoulder holsters. 

As the armed men stepped away further into the kitchen, Turiddu's father released his hold on his son. He then turned toward Fernando. He began speaking in a soft, measured, and gracious tone.

"Por favor, perdona la estupidez de mi hijo. A veces es malcriado y no respeta a su familia. Soy Gaetano Licata."

In broken Spanish, Turiddu's father had apologized for his son's boorish and stupid behavior, explaining that he sometimes disrespects his family. He introduced himself as Gaetano Licata, extending his right hand. The young Spaniard was still trying to process the events of the last few minutes but was able to extend his hand in return. The two men shook hands, but Gaetano Licata's face showed no emotion at all. Fernando remained silent.

Glancing toward his two "assistants", Mr. Licata spoke very quickly in Sicilian. Immediately, Turiddu and Fernando were being gently escorted through the kitchen, out a rear door, and down a back staircase into an alley. One of the two men tipped his hat and nodded respectfully toward Turiddu. Gaetano Licata's "assistants" quickly climbed the stairs and reentered the building.

Turiddu looked at Fernando and began speaking rapidly in an attempt to explain what had just transpired. What followed was a disjointed mixture of Sicilian and broken Spanish. It reminded Gaitero of the ramblings of a bad liar. In this case, he interpreted it as an expression of anger, remorse, and embarrassment. It appeared that the evening of too much liquor and too much emotion had taken its toll, in many ways. Turiddu suddenly grew silent, ran toward a line of trash cans, and began vomiting profusely. Fernando turned away, sparing both himself and the young Sicilian any further feelings of awkwardness.

"Fernando, me siento mejor. Vamos."

Turiddu called out to Fernando, explaining that he felt much better and that they should go.

The two young men began walking around the L'Unione Italiana building and toward La Séptima. When they got to the corner of 7th Ave. and 18th St. they paused under a streetlamp. By now La Séptima had few people and the row of benches in front of the Italian club were empty. Guests were starting to leave the private function at the clubhouse. Turiddu pointed to an area on the benches furthest away from the main doors of the building. They sat down and Turiddu began speaking. In contrast to his earlier frenzied manner, his voice was calm and his words measured.

In that now familiar mixture of Sicilian and limited Spanish, the young Licata confessed that his wanting to introduce Fernando to his father was less altruistic than it might have appeared. It was less of an attempt to help Fernando in his efforts to meet Giuseppina than it was a way of challenging his father. The special occasion that they had just invaded was the wedding of Gaetano Licata's goddaughter, whose father worked for Mr. Licata. In the Sicilian culture, the relationship between godparents and godchildren was a sacred one. As an act of defiance, Turiddu had refused to go to the wedding, intending to infuriate his father and disrespect both families. On a cultural level, this was a sin that exceeded most of those mentioned in the holy scriptures, and almost beyond redemption and forgiveness. The social gaffe was worsened by Turiddu's appearing in a disheveled and inebriated state, with an uninvited friend. Additionally, his father had explained to the bride's father that Turiddu's unexpected absence was due to a case of the flu, thus further embarrassing Gaetano Licata and his family. The evening had been a social disaster for the Licata family and Turiddu was responsible. 

Fernando could see the utter despair on Turiddu's face and decided that silence was his best option. He extended his hand to Turiddu, thanking him for his efforts, regardless of his motivations. Turiddu reciprocated the handshake and handed Fernando a business card for "Licata's Fruits and Vegetables". The young Sicilian stood up and began walking east on La Séptima. Fernando saved the card in his wallet and headed back home, anxious to explain to Ignacio just how memorable this special birthday had become. 

As Gaitero walked north on 18th St. toward La Gallega boarding house, he couldn't help but think that the Licatas' business interests extended beyond fruits and vegetables. 

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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