“Only 4 each or 8 for a pair.” Again she tries to hand me the fistful of change, but it’s still not enough. I was starting to feel bad for her, but they weren’t even mine to just give away. And again, I’m a hard ass I guess because I’m not giving into the begging mentality.
I asked her how much money she had and she counted, though I wasn’t sure she was correct. I didn’t finish counting it as it was useless. We discussed more about why they “cost so much” even though they were so small. It has to do with labor, though I think the point was lost on her.
I carefully kept my eye on this little girl and soon she noticed a drawing of a fish I had on the table by my computer where I was working before she walked in and she picked it up. It was cut out from paper to use as a template for something I was doing in metal. I didn’t need it anymore and I could have certainly made another easily if I did. I let her have it and told her it was a gift trying to encourage her to leave.
“But how did you do this?” she truly seemed amazed at the cartoonish drawing cutout.
“I just drew it on paper with a pencil and cut it out,” as I thought to myself how stupid this little girl was.
“Really? You mean paper like this?” as she grabs a sheet from the printer behind me.
“Yes, like this,” as I drew her a new fish on the paper and told her to keep them both.
She finally left with her “gifts” and gave me a lighter. I said I didn’t need it, but she left it on the table anyway.
5-10 minutes later…
She returned and asked to use the bathroom. “Okay.” I walked her to the back and turned on the light and waited. It’s a small shop and the bathroom is barely a closet, in fact it doubles as such with just a little more storage space on the top of it outside.
By now I’m slowly warming up to her and thinking of what a hard life she must have right now, but I still don’t trust her. As she comes out and passes my workbench she begins to look at the recently finished jewelry – some earrings in gold, others in copper, brass, etc.
“How do you make these?”
“Using these tools – pliers, hammers, etc.”
“These,” picking up the copper hoops, “are only 2.50€ in Napoli.” She said as if I were overcharging for handmade jewelry that she had no concept of what is involved.
“Well, that depends on where you are buying them from… So, what’s your name?” as I change the subject and try to be friendlier.
“I’m Stephanie. Nice to meet you. How old are you, Maria?”
“Do you live in Napoli?”
“How did you get here to Vietri?”
“Shouldn’t you be in school right now?” as I realized it was still too early in the day for her to be out of school for lunch.
“My momma doesn’t want me to go.”
“Really? When was the last time you went to school?”
“Um, last week,” she replied, but I wasn’t so convinced that was the truth.
“But do you want to go to school?” now feeling very concerned for her. She sort of shrugged her shoulders and seemed indifferent. Maybe she did, but didn’t want to say it.
With a more light-hearted tone and staying inquisitive, “So what was the last grade you finished at school?”
“Third, I think.”
Hmmm, I don’t have kids, but I quickly realized that when I was 12 I should have been in the 6th grade. No wonder this poor girl seems so dumb.
At some point she started flipping through a small sketchbook of mine with some different jewelry sketches for ideas that was on the table. Near the beginning of the book she saw a drawing I did of my cat and we started talking about our pets. She said she has a snake which led to us looking at photos and videos on the computer until finally my friend arrived for her computer lesson.
During this time together I learned that she is Romanian and with my friend’s arrival I told her it was time for us to work. A perfect excuse to have this young girl to leave. Now I wonder if she will return again. Probably she will as it seems she frequents this place. She said that years ago when she was little she remembered a woman that had the shop here who also had jewelry. I told her I didn’t know because the lady previous to me sold herbal products here.
My friend and I discussed her situation after the girl left. Sadly, it’s likely her fate will not be very nice. Perhaps she’ll be sold into prostitution at a young age, maybe she already has, who knows?
I worry now that she’ll go home and tell her family all about what happened here today and what kinds of things I have in my shop. I’m not that naive, so I’m not stupid to think that our exchange was completely innocent today. Maybe she was told to come back and case the joint or maybe she truly is an inquisitive little girl without bad intentions. I can only pray that the latter is true and her family isn’t going to set me up as a target.
What I wish for even more is that she will come back and I can just teach her something. Teach her anything so that she stands a better chance for a more honorable life.
12 years old with only a 3rd grade education and her momma doesn’t want her to go to school. This is why crime and nefarious activity continues in poor societies. I don’t even know where to begin to make a change over here, but if I can somehow I’d sure like to try.