A bus bound for Bulgaria. Everyday stories of welcome.

Isabella Barbetta

“For a few months there had been a gentleman outside the supermarket, helping with people’s shopping wagons in exchange for a small fee. I began to greet him, but he remained cold. I drew a bit closer, but he didn’t speak Italian. We gradually began to greet each other every morning and the ice between us began to melt and disappear.

He was looking for work, but no one would stop and listen, both because he doesn’t know any Italian and because of his gruff appearance. At the end of summer his wife appeared, Valentina, who knew how to speak Italian because she had previously worked as a caregiver. A relationship was easier with Valentina. I willingly stopped every morning to chat with her a bit. She was searching for work, but for the moment things are difficult in Italy.

They were sleeping in the entrance of the supermarket on some cardboard cartons. Fausto managed to find a place for them to spend the night at an institute run by religious sisters. Now, Valentina and Michele were in my daily prayers. One morning Valentina wasn’t able to speak or to swallow. I could see that it was something serious.

I bought her medicines, and then I asked Fausto to visit her. We took him to the hospital where she was on drip. During the night I went to take her out of the hospital and back to the sisters, together with her husband who stayed in the waiting room. They still hadn’t found work. Winter was coming and, instead of returning to Bulgaria, as they were planning, the went back to sleeping on the streets. I brought them some candies that I had prepared with lots of chocolate, so they’d be more substantial.

Christmas drew near. One night the temperature was 2° below zero, Fausto and I went by the supermarket. Valentina and Michele were seated on a carton, numbed by the cold. We tried to convince them to go somewhere where they could spend the night in warmth. Michele didn’t want it. Fausto asked them why they hadn’t returned to Bulgaria as was there intention. The answer was simple: “We don’t have money for the tickets.” Fausto and I looked at each other: If the problem is money, we thought, we will make do with a little less this Christmas. We asked when the bus would be leaving for Bulgaria: the next morning from the Tiburtine Station. We returned home and as Fausto fetched the money, I prepared a sack bread bread, cheese, ham, fruit, some sweets and water, which they could snack on during the two-day-long trip.

We left with Valentina and Michele and arrived at Tiburtine Station at one-thirty. We exchanged addresses, glad that it would also be a happy Christmas for them in the company of their family. But the next day Valentina telephoned to say that the bus was already full and they would be forced to return to Aricccia. But they bought tickets for the following Friday. Valentina said to me: “Italy doesn’t wish, Bulgaria doesn’t wish, only you wish us well.” The sisters were happy to take them in, having experienced for themselves their courtesy and politeness. On Friday morning at six, Fausto took them to Rome – this time with an abundance of sacks filled with groceries, and a warm winter coat to replace the dirty and ice-covered coat of Valentina.

I wasn’t able to provide my friends with a job, but I’m sure I provided them with a bit of love.”

Editor’s note: This story was shared by Isabella in January 2008. We offer it again today, because of its timely significance.

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