O Mio Babbino Caro
By Veronica Randolph Batterson
The old man blinked. His vision was cloudy but he knew someone was standing in front of him. He could barely make out a shape, but he sensed it was a woman. The scent told him so. He’d long since lost his vision and the ability to taste much of anything, but his sense of smell was as sharp as ever. And the smell was perfume. It was a fragrance that took him back to a time he was recalling more often lately.
She was saying something to him. He was trying to listen but it was difficult to hear. He’d lost that, too. The hearing aids no longer helped much so he’d stopped using them. He tried to concentrate, straining his ears but he couldn’t make out the words. The woman’s voice continued causing him to wonder if the person standing in front of him was even saying anything. Damn it, was he losing his mind, too?
Then he heard the music. The sounds from the violin were clear and sweet and took him back just as the fragrance did. She was smiling at him, and he could now see her face. The brown eyes were soft as they gazed back at him, and she began to hum along to the music. It was more than familiar to him. It had been their song. The beautiful aria from that silly Puccini opera had mirrored their lives. At least he had thought so.
“O Mio Babbino Caro, mi piace, è bello, bello.”
She would always translate for him, singing the Italian lyrics, then translating the meaning to English. She’d done it so many times that he remembered, even after all this time, the meaning. “Oh my beloved father, I love him, I love him!”
He smiled as he remembered. Oh, Sophia, he thought as he closed his eyes. The longing and sadness for something that never was threatened to envelope his heart as strongly as it did decades ago. He had loved a woman he couldn’t have. She loved him in return. Parental interference doomed their fate, sealing their separate lives. Emptiness followed.
He had been a young, American art student studying in Rome when he met Sophia and her family. Her father had hated him instantly. It was Easter and a long holiday weekend loomed for him, as his friends were spending a few days in Greece. He hadn’t the money to travel, so he stayed behind. His apartment felt empty with everyone gone, so he’d wandered out for the evening and found himself amongst tourists, sitting at an outdoor café in Piazza Navona.
Crowds moved in and out of the nearby Pantheon, with most stopping to pose for the obligatory photo in front of the historic structure. Children played tag and parents bustled them closer. The atmosphere was light and laughter rang through the twilight, enhancing the charm of the evening.
“Scusi,” a female voice interrupted his trance.
She stood before him smiling, the young woman he’d noticed in one of his classes. The one with the soft brown eyes and smile that could light the night. He recovered his wits and stood.
“You are the Americano, sì? The one in my class?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“May I join you?” came her voice.
He nodded and blurted, “I’m happy you speak English. My Italian is almost non-existent.” That made her laugh, he remembered, and gave him confidence. They sat together and shared some wine, talked of life and who they were, what they thought of the world and their hopes for the future. Time passed quickly and a shadow suddenly appeared, even though the sun had long said goodnight.
“Sophia,” the masculine voice bellowed, “Vorremmo andare a casa.”
Behind the voice stood a stern faced man and next to him was his wife. Sophia’s parents. The tone and look of the man were enough to make Sophia rise without question. “I must go,” she whispered, slipping a piece of paper discreetly across the table to him.
“Ciao,” she said more loudly, turning to leave, and added, “Buona Pasqua!”
Happy Easter, he understood, as she walked away with the couple. He watched until they were no longer distinguishable, blending into the mass of people enjoying the night. Glancing down, he opened the note.
“Tomorrow, noon, Trevi Fountain,” she’d scribbled on the paper.
That time couldn’t get there soon enough, he thought, remembering how he got to the location an hour early. The beautiful fountain was swarming with tourists, many tossing a coin over their shoulders into the water in hopes of returning to Rome one day. A ritual for all who visited the fountain and something he had yet to do. Perhaps he’d have a reason to do so, afterall.
She greeted him with a smile, touching his arm as he turned toward her. Sophia was wearing large-framed sunglasses with dark lenses. The sunlight, reflecting on the water in the fountain, danced across her face and highlighted the caramel and chestnut colors in her dark hair. An awkward silence was brief, as a child squealed with delight at a bird that fluttered too close. They laughed in response and their nervousness vanished, allowing a comfortable ease to settle between them.
That spring went by quickly, he remembered. They spent most of their free time together, meeting after classes, taking walks along the River Tiber, spending Sunday afternoons lounging in the Villa Borghese gardens and eating gelato. He’d found time for them to be alone together in his apartment, too. Her kisses made him dizzy and the sweet perfume she wore would always make him remember. They would lie together on his bed with the window open and that was when he’d first heard the aria. It was as if the wind carried the tune up to them, drifting in the breeze and fluttering past the curtains for their ears only.
“O Mio Babbino Caro, mi piace, è bello, bello. Vo’andare in Porta Rosa a comperar l’anello!”
Sophia sang along, her voice close to his ear as he held her. He didn’t care what the words meant. It was her voice and her presence that held him intoxicated, like a drug that had taken over his body. He had no control and he didn’t care because it was relaxing and comforting, erasing all thoughts from his mind.
“Aren’t you curious?” her English broke through his trance.
“Tell me,” he replied.
“Lauretta loves Rinuccio, but there’s trouble between their families that threatens them being together,” she explained.
“Sort of like us?” he asked.
“She sings this to her father,” Sophia continued, ignoring him. “She wishes to die if she can’t be with Rinuccio.”
“Why doesn’t your father like me?” he persisted.
“He’s set in the old ways. He wishes me to marry Giancarlo,” she said.
Giancarlo. His rival. The tall, muscular young Italian, with model good looks and a chiseled face. The one who had his eyes on every female he passed, yet seemed to look straight through Sophia with impatience and disinterest. Why would a father want that for his daughter? He knew there would be no happiness for Sophia in a marriage such as that one.
“Sì, sì, ci voglio andare! E se l’amassi indarno, andrei sul Ponte Vecchio, ma per buttarmi in Arno!”
She continued to sing in his ear but his mood had changed. His future didn’t include Sophia, as he knew she wouldn’t defy her father. The aria didn’t exactly tell their story but he felt the pleas to a father to understand how a daughter loved were about him.
On the day Sophia married Giancarlo, he left Rome, never to return. It was a good thing he hadn’t tossed a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain, he remembered. He had no desire to ever go back.
Searing pain ripped through his chest, his attention on the present yet he still sensed the woman nearby. He seemed to be in a hospital room, reclining on a bed with shadows standing around him. The pain was unbearable. He faintly heard the steady beeping of a machine somewhere. Was that his heart beating? Was he dying? The shadows shuffled, merging together then parting into several forms. It was getting harder to breathe, but he felt light for some reason and the pain started to recede.
Then the beeps were replaced by the music. The lovely aria played through his head while his surroundings turned white, the shadows disappearing. He saw her clearly as she stepped forward, her eyes just as bright as he’d remembered. She took his hand and he walked with her. He had no pain and he felt the youth of sixty years ago with the woman he loved walking beside him.
O Mio Babbino Caro, no more.