Half a lira please
The first thing she heard was the clattering drone of the struggling engine. Then it coupled with the whispers and hums of hushed up voices, quarrelling and arguing over something she had no clue about. She felt helpless, lonely; and a mind numbing fear threw her pulsating heart at a thousand arrhythmic ticks per minute. She did not know where she was. All she knew, all she felt, was the juddering floor beneath her bound body and the reeking sock that was crammed into her mouth.
For the longest time, the only companion Sofia ever had was hunger. Stomach cramping, nauseating hunger. Hunger accompanied her when she finally laid to rest in her straw hewn bed, hunger accompanied her when opened her eyes anew under the gloomy skies, and hunger dutifully accompanied her when Sofia trotted on her small feet around the piazza, soliciting her balloons to its new visitors. Yet she clambered on, knowing hunger was not the worst thing that she ever knew.
So she sold her balloons, hawking, coaxing, and doing whatever the situation called for. She walked bare foot on the cobbled ancient old piazza and showcased her goods to the colorful and vibrant people that the city knew no end of. She indiscriminately went up to them, old and young and to those who would mercifully spare a glance, and hawked up to them in her squeaky voice,
“Want a balloon mister? Want a balloon miss? Just half a lira please. I haven’t eaten for two days”.
Scathing looks, apathy and shoos are all she would get most of the time. And when some days her luck ran especially bitter, the baton wielding nobs of the square would pull her from her desperate pursuit by the hair and throw her mercilessly out of the piazza. But Sofia, being ever so adamant, was not to leave without her half a lira. So she would circle the piazza and in time opportune would go rushing back to hawk her goods to the fresh new kaleidoscope of faces that the Florentine piazza knew no end of. For going back without at least half a lira would mean agony beyond that of hunger. It would mean the jaundiced yellow eyes of her father, looking down upon her bloodied and bruised self with sadist animalistic rage. It would mean getting thrown out of their cardboard and plastic enmeshed shanty, to spend the treacherous night in bitter cold and as always in hunger.
She did not know, how long her battered, tiny little body had? Even though the hunger was always there, the nausea came in, in a flurry of blackness and then left quickly. But it lingered much longer now, leaving her mindlessly floating, in a state of stasis, for minutes on end. So she licked at an awkward angled the cut newly acquired on her face and scurried of to the center of attention of the rest of the street urchins just like herself.
Dark was setting in finally, after a long haul of the Florentine sun. The visitors left one by one, swinging cameras on one shoulder while swinging their bag full of souvenirs on the other. As Sofia cut throw the heads of the less worthy of the society, holding her balloons up high for her robed quarries to see, she was handed a piece of wrapped chocolate, by the most kind and maternal face she had ever seen. As she slowly chewed on something so beautiful and moreish, she never knew could have existed, she slowly succumbed to a slumber which was only broken by the juddering floor of a struggling van.