by Melinda Gallo

Begging in the streets

This morning I was sitting in Piazza Strozzi waiting for a good friend of mine so we could have a coffee. The sun was out, but I was sitting in the shade on the cement lip of the palazzo. The weather has been warming up, and at 10 this morning I was comfortable sitting outside. I began to write in my notebook while I was waiting and a zingara (gypsy) carrying a baby came to ask me for money. "Per favore, una monetina. (Please, a coin.)" I ignored her and kept writing. I pretended that she wasn't there and after a few tries, she stopped addressing me and just sat down about a foot away from me.

I wasn't uncomfortable with her being so close to me and just continued to write. As she sat there, she began to sing to her baby and play with him. I tried not to pay attention to her and just focus on my writing, but as soon as a man walked in front of us both, she asked him for money. The man turned around and said, "Va' a lavorare...non a stare qui a fare nulla. (Go work...don't stay here and do nothing.)" I glanced up at him and noticed the harsh look he was giving her. I felt quite bad and almost hurt that someone could speak so badly to another person.

She didn't seem to be bothered by what he said and continued playing with her baby. I didn't look at her, but I wondered if she was affected by the nasty stares, unkind words, and rejection that she must get all the time every day. I wondered what she was telling herself about her life as she sat there next to me.

I felt some compassion for her that I had not felt previously for any of the zingari. I would not like to live the life of a zingara. I began to realize how fortunate I was to be born in the United States: my country has allowed me the possibility to educate myself, choose my path, and pursue my dreams no matter how poor or unfortunate my family situation might have been.

The zingara stood up and walked toward the street that leads to Piazza Repubblica. I heard her ask two women for money as they walked out of Palazzo Strozzi, but they ignored her. The zingara kept walking on, not looking back, and not letting everyone's reactions affect her. She walked on and then as she approached the end of the piazza, she disappeared.

My friend came only a few minutes later, but I kept thinking about how fortunate I truly am. Sometimes I forget that I have so many advantages and possibilities in my life. Not only do I live in my favorite city, have a great family and friends, and am married to a wonderful man, but I also know that no matter what happens in my life that I will never have to beg in the streets.

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