George wandered along the cobbled main street of San Giamignano in the hot mid-day sun, wishing there was a place to sit as his wife busied herself snapping photos of just about everything in sight. He was enjoying his tour of Italy, but he was beginning to wish they hadn’t come in summer.
Sarah called out to him. “C’mon George, there’s a cute delicatessen up here you just have to see.”
George picked up his pace and caught up with her. He was immediately taken with a stuffed boar that graced the entryway to the store. It’s head poked out between the legs of a wooden table laden with pasta, and two ribbons, one red, one green hung from it’s left ear. A small sign in Italian hung from a wine rack next to the table, but George couldn’t read Italian. Not that it wasn’t a beautiful language to listen to. It was so lyrical, especially the further north you travelled.
He took in the wonderful aroma of the cured meats and marinated vegetables for sale, and thought about buying some salami. Perhaps they could have a picnic lunch at the castle up the hill, if he could make it that far in the heat. His attention was drawn back to the boar, which he found curiously irresistible. He went back over to inspect it and patted it on the head.
As he did, the proprietor, a large, elderly woman came racing around the counter and wagged her finger in his face, scolding him for all she was worth. At least that’s what he assumed she was doing, as he couldn’t make out a word of what she said, but her body language told the story. He backed up, surprised at her anger. She jabbed one gnarly finger at the sign on the wine rack and George surmised that the sign said not to touch the boar. He wondered why, but settled for making an apologetic motion with his palms up and a shrug of the shoulders.
She continued to berate him, which seemed all of proportion to his offence, so he tried to placate her by inquiring about the price of a small salami and a loaf of some delicious looking bread. She understood what he wanted and went from scold to businesswoman in a heartbeat, though she continued to scowl at him as she wrapped up the salami. As they left the shop, with Sarah turning a deaf ear to his protestations that the whole thing was a tempest in a teacup, he noticed a raggedly dressed boy smirking at him from beside the doorway, who winked at him as soon as he caught George’s eye.
“What’s so funny?” George inquired with a hint of exasperation in his voice.
The boy shrugged his shoulders and then snickered behind his hand. George glared at him as Sarah took his arm and dragged him up the hill to the fortress. They had lunch at a picnic table in the shade of the entryway to the fortress and Sarah wanted to take more pictures, but George begged off saying his feet were tired, so she left him where he was and went off to shoot.
As he sat there enjoying the shade and people watching, George became aware of a presence at an adjacent table. It was the boy who had found the scene at the delicatessen so amusing. He motioned for the boy to come over to his table and the youth hopped up and approached.
“Do you speak English?” George enquired.
“Yes. Some. We learn at school.” The boy gave him a disarming smile and sat down opposite.
“Good. So tell me, why was the old woman so upset that I touched the boar?”
The boy looked thoughtful, probably translating the question in his head, then his eyes lit up.
“Oh! No one is to touch the pig. There is a…how do you say…curse that will happen if you touch it.” He shrugged as if to say, hey, what can you do?
George took that in and then laughed. “A curse? What sort of curse?”
The boy got a serious look and shook his head. “It is not to be spoken of, but, well, it is said that the pig can bring much bad luck.” He trailed off and waved his hand.
George snorted in derision and shook his head. “Just some local superstition, eh?”
The boy looked at him, all serious and severe. “Oh no, Senor. It is true. It doesn’t always happen, but many times it does.”
Sarah returned, and the boy moved away without further comment. “What was that all about?”
George smiled. “Oh, nothing. Just talking about local customs.”
They walked back down the hill and as they window shopped and moved through the crowded street George suddenly tripped and pitched forward. Putting his hand out to break his fall, he caught one finger on a cobblestone and sprained it. He got up, cursing, and as Sarah fussed over him, he saw the boy watching intently nearby. He shook his head and looked in the direction of the boar at the nearby delicatessen. Some other boys running down the street jostled George as they passed, and he yelled at them as they retreated.
He turned to look at the boy again, but he was gone. He thought about what the boy had said about bad luck, but decided it was a coincidence. Sarah fussed a bit more, and they continued looking in shop windows. Sarah spotted a beautiful carved bowl she wanted and asked George for some money. He reached for the cash he kept in his jacket pocket for souvenirs, only to find it was gone. Damn. Had it fallen out somewhere, or had he been the victim of a pickpocket?
He stopped in mid thought. His luck. No, it couldn’t be. It was just a silly superstition, wasn’t it? He told Sarah he’d be back in a minute and went back to the delicatessen to talk to the old woman. He tried to explain to her about the curse and get her to tell him more about it, but she shook her head and shrugged. She didn’t speak enough English.
Again, the boy was standing near by. He had a grave look on his face. “What is the matter, Senor? I saw you fall back there. I hope nothing else bad has happened.”
George was alarmed now. “Well, my pocket money, it’s gone. I suppose it could have fallen out, but.” He stopped in mid-sentence as the boy took on an alarmed look. “Well, I still have my wallet, so it’s not that big a problem. Still, I wonder how it could have happened.”
The boy folded his arms. “Senor, it is the curse. I was afraid this would happen.” He shook his head slowly from side to side in dismay.
George bit his lip. This was silly. Still…He cocked his head at the boy. “So what can I do about this? God only knows what else might happen. If I were to get sick, well, there must be some way to lift this curse. Isn’t there?”
The boy nodded his head. “There is a strega who lives not far from here. She can lift the curse.”
“Oh, sorry.” He thought for a moment. “A woman who does magic. What is the word? Ah, a sorceress!”
“Really? Well, can you take me to her?”
“Oh no, Senor, she will not see you personally. You are not of this village. But she can lift the curse. I could take something of yours and she can do the magic. A lock of your hair will do.” He took out a pocketknife.
George couldn’t believe this was happening. “So, that’s all you need, just some hair?”
“Well, Senor, she must also be paid.” He looked apologetic.
“Oh, of course. And i’ll give you something for your trouble.” He took out his wallet. “All I have is a fifty dollar bill, will that do?”
The boy smiled. “Oh yes, Senor. I will pay her and she will lift the curse. Don’t worry.”
George handed over the money as Sarah returned. “What’s going on George?”
“Oh nothing. Just talking. Shall we go back to the hotel? My hand is hurting.”
The boy ran off, shouting thanks over his shoulder as George and Sarah walked away. He rounded a corner and there were his friends waiting for him. One of them held his hand out.
“Relax, we did good. He gave me fifty dollars. I’ll get change and give you guys your cut.”
The tallest of the bunch said “I should get extra for tripping him. He didn’t even notice.”
Another chimed in, “Me too, it wasn’t easy getting the cash from his pocket, it was deep in there.”
“Look, you know the deal, it’s an even split. Besides, there will be more tourists tomorrow.”
They wandered off down the street to the bank to cash in.