The Girl in the Leaning Tower – Chapter 15

An Unwelcome Idea

The group that Polly found already assembled at the Bar Allegro would have seemed to most people to be an unlikely gathering. Sitting with Flora were agente Barto, Mirella, Charles, and Charles’s landlord, signor Luigi. A man whom Polly had never seen before was standing next to one of the two empty chairs, and Mirella was making introductions.

“I’d like to introduce you to my landlord, signor Varelli,” Mirella said brightly, as if she were introducing one of her closest friends. “Signor Varelli, I understand you already know agente Barto from coaching the youth soccer league together.

“And this young lady is Polly. She’s here from America.”

Signor Varelli looked less than enchanted to make Polly’s acquaintance but gamely shook her hand.

Piacere,” he said as each of the others was introduced in turn, but he didn’t really look pleased, and he didn’t offer his hand to either Charles or Flora. After meeting signor Luigi he added, “I have to get back for an appointment at five.” He looked at his watch.

“It was such a coincidence that signor Varelli happened along just when some of us were saying we’d like to go visit him,” Mirella said cheerfully.

“I don’t even know why I came here,” muttered signor Varelli. “This isn’t my usual bar. I’ve only been here once before,” he added with a tone of wonderment. “Suddenly I had a desire for their mushroom focaccia. It was strange. I found myself walking here, all the way from home.”

Polly was pretty sure about the mysterious force that had inspired signor Varelli’s presence. She wasn’t sure how a visit from Mirella and her friends assembled here might have addressed Mirella’s landlord problems, but Sofia must have arranged for him to visit this bar on this particular afternoon. She noticed that the itinerant merchants and several Roma children with accordions under their seats were spread out at the four closest tables. Polly waved at Salime when he looked in her direction. Signor Varelli looked distinctly ill at ease; he pulled out his chair but sat down on the edge, as if wanting to make sure he could hop right back up if necessary.

“It was lucky we saw you so you could sit with people you know,” said Mirella, still with a bright tone.

Signor Luigi picked up the conversation. “While you’re here, we have an idea we’d like to talk about with you.” He glanced toward the police officer, who nodded in agreement. “As you know, signor Varelli, our Mirella is a wonderful teacher. She’d still be teaching at the university if it weren’t for a couple of small-minded administrators.”

Signor Varelli muttered, “Had a pretty good reason for letting her go.”

Signor Luigi ignored the comment and plowed ahead. “Some of us were wondering if you would consider letting Mirella stay in her tower but double her rent payments.” Signor Varelli looked up with interest. “In exchange, she would open a small school in her apartment.”

“A school?” The thought of a school obviously dampened the landlord’s happy anticipation of higher rent. “I don’t want some young ruffians trashing my property!”

“No, no. No ruffians, just eight or so very carefully screened young people. You would become widely recognized for your civic-mindedness, your contribution to Pisan society.”

“Humph,” said signor Varelli, without completely dismissing the idea.

“You see, the students would be the very best of deserving young people, like our Flora and Charles here.”

“No Gypsies!” Signor Varelli practically shrieked. He pushed back his chair as if about to bolt.

A dog barked. Signor Varelli’s eyes searched the ground surrounding the tables. The rest recognized Kinzica’s sturdy voice. Finding no dog in sight, signor Varelli returned his gaze to signor Luigi.

“We should introduce signor Varelli to Sofia,” thought Polly. “If he thinks Mirella is unusual. . . .”

The landlord looked as if he’d already seen a ghost. His momentary indecision was gone: “No school! A school is out of the question! The tower is a private residence only! And no Gypsies for any reason!” He turned to face Mirella. “If I find you’re entertaining Gypsies, you’ll be out even before the end of the month.”

Agente Barto spoke up: “But Flora here shares our concern about the thefts of which some of our Roma neighbors have been accused.”

“Accused! It’s not as if there were any doubt!” shouted signor Varelli.

“Consider what it might do to benefit our Roma youth if an influential girl like Flora received a topnotch education. She could become a mentor for her entire community.”

Signor Varelli shoved back his chair still farther and stood up. “Absolutely not! I’m a busy man. I don’t have time to sit around listening to nonsense. And you remember, Mirella: one step out of line and you’ll be out long before the end of July. At any rate, I’d start packing if I were you.” He turned and strode across the street before heading north.

Everyone sat in silence watching him go. Finally signor Luigi patted Mirella on the shoulder. “We’ll think of something yet; don’t you worry.” But Polly thought he looked as worried as everyone else.

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