The Traveller

2 respect \ri-'spekt\ vt 1 a: to consider worthy of high regard;

ESTEEM b: to refrain from interfering with 2: to have reference to:

CONCERN syn see REGARD ant abuse, misuse

When I was maybe 5 or 6, a "foreign" Italian family lived next door to us. Their youngest son, Tony, a true boy, full of unplumbed power and vinegar, dark eyes and hair, was several years older than me. To me he was worldly and all knowing. No other children on the block, we odd coupled together. He protected me.

Every summer Tony would somehow manage to light a fire in the woods back of our houses. Every summer there'd be the phone call, alerting my Dad and brother to grab their shovels, climb the back wall, find the blaze and make sure it was out. This was not a thing to dwell upon. It was fact. Summer's here, fire season. Other than that singular contact, can't remember interaction between our families. They were foreign. I knew Mom liked Tony. Approved of his watching out for me. Dad, I don't know.

One day however, a cat appeared, tied on a leash, in their back yard. Dad, incensed, stormed over to their house and "took care of that." The cat disappeared. Apparently cats were not to be leashed in back yards. The impression was they had it tied there so as to fatten it up for some pagan "foreign" Bacchus-like festival to be held secretly on a dark stormy night.

An old woman, not related, lived in the basement suite of Tony's house. She used to sit on the low cement wall at the front of the house, summer sun seeping into old bones, and tell tales to Tony and I. Entranced, I'd sit at her knee, while she wove her magic, Tony squirming for action, yet wanting to hear, pacing and fiddling nearby.

The only story the old woman told that stayed with me is this:

Long ago (as always), in a far away land (as always), a land lost forever now, there was a traveller. The Traveller, weary from many journeys, came upon a prosperous town. Everything gleamed with hard work, happiness, contentment and peace. Upon arrival The Traveller was greeted by a guide, eager to show the traveller warmth and succor. The town wined and dined The Traveler, eased The Traveller's weariness, entertained The Traveller's soul, brought warmth and a small measure of home to The Traveller's weary mind. The Traveler stayed for many days, basking in the happiness of the children, the loveliness of the woman, the confidence of the men and the easy bond with the people of the town.

But, being a traveller, time began to weigh. Before leaving, The Traveller sought out the original guide. A heavy question to ask, a need to be resolved. How did this town, unlike all others, manage this easy peace?

All questions answered the guide took The Traveller by the hand and led the traveller through the maze of streets to a door. Through the door they went, down many, seemingly endless flights of stairs to what had to be the bowels of the earth where, at last, they found another door. There, pitiful, desperate, forlorn, pathetic, full of sorrow, lay a child on a dirty matting of straw.

Covered in soars, eyes mindless with pain, unaware of being watched, the child, in a world alone, could only bring hopelessness to those observing. The Traveller was informed this was how the town maintained its serenity. Because this child suffered, the town could flourish. Because this child was without hope the town could prosper. Because of this one child's misery, a "greater good" was served.

The Traveller fled the town, never to return.

Tony and his family moved back to Italy when I was 10. On their last day, Tony grabbed my hand and pulled me into our forest for a last game of tag. I remember running through the woods, his leaving momentarily forgotten, laughing, happy and ultimately wondering when he grabbed me in his arms, gave me my first, and therefore never forgotten kiss and then went crashing through the trees until he was out of sight.

Never saw or heard from Tony again.

Can't remember what happened to the old woman.