A Family for Armando
Armando shed tears of joy to think there was someone who cared for him that much. He knew they’d take good care of his business and customers were quite familiar with the children who’d grown up helping him there. They were now adults. The train journey south was quite different to the one many years ago when he made the trip north from Sydney under army guard. Those had been frightening years and it was only by chance he’d been assigned to the kind care of the Oliver family.
Only a few of the people he’d known in those early years remained in Sydney to welcome him. Many of the ones that did remain had aged or moved to different parts of the city but once he’d found one in diligently searching the whole community remaining came to know and met together on several occasions to share their joy at the reunion. Armando luxuriated in hotel provided and hosted one of the meetings at his own expense. Each in turn told of their war experiences and how they’d arisen from the ashes of war. Armando’s made enquiry from different groups to see if there was any knowledge of people from his village in Italy and learned to his sorrow the village had been decimated toward the end of the war and lay in ruins. However, it appeared that there was one woman who may know more about it, but she was a widow with children and two busy working to support her family to attend many of their celebrations.
They gave her contact details and one evening in the middle of his vacation he contacted her and arranged a meeting at an Italian restaurant in a western suburb. On reaching the restaurant he looked for his contact Brina wondering how he’d recognize her among this Italian patronage or how she’d recognize him. He asked the waiter if he knew her, and he pointed to a table at the far end of the restaurant where a woman sat studying the menu. As he reached the table, he introduced himself and waited for an invitation to sit.
Brina lowered the menu and smiled. Always good to meet someone from the homeland. Then a look of disbelief came over her face.
“Armando Favero?” Brina wept and people dining nearby paused to watch.
Armando didn’t know who this woman was, but it was obvious she knew who he was, and it caused her to cry. He sat down with his mouth open embarrassed at the curious stares from those around them and waited for her to compose herself. He was becoming increasingly uneasy as the curious stares hardened into threatening looks.
“Perhaps I should leave?”
Brina stood in alarm. “No, we are from the same village in Italy and I’m happy to see you after all these years, but you’d most likely not know me because I was a young girl when you left. The girls of the village idealized you and I had a crush on you too. Even though you’re older I still recognize you.”
For the next hour they recalled their youth in the village and shared their sadness over the destruction of their ancestral place. Brina didn’t know what happened to his relatives. Most of the villagers had fled in different directions as Germans and allies fought over each inch of the country. She’d met her husband in one of the displaced persons camps and they married and were given a chance to migrate to Australia for the building of the nation after the war along with thousands of other refugees. Her husband had died on a construction project leaving her with children and the community had assisted her to gain employment. She rarely attended Italian celebrations as that usually required a trip to the city and she worried about her children being by themselves in the unsafe part of the city she lived in. She wished she had the means to leave the city and ensure her children were not subjected to the many temptations prevalent there.
Armando could not remember Brina from his growing up years, but he had knowledge of her family. They were farmers as his family had been. He’d suffered much until the Oliver’s had taken him in and showered him in kindness and his heart went out to Brina in her circumstances.
“Why don’t you leave Sydney and come to stay in the town I live in now Brina? Your children would be in a better environment if what you say about this place is true.”
Brina laughed. “Armando, I don’t have money to make a move, where would I live and how could I find work? I have to be practical I’m stuck in this city because I have a job here that pays well, and we can survive.”
You could live with me, and I’d take care of you after all we are from the same village and should support each other. I borrowed from my extended family to move to Australia on a promise to help them come here too. Now I have no family to help, and you could be the one to fulfill my vow if you’d be willing.”
Brina frowned. “It’s not proper for a woman to live with a man she’s not married to Armando. I know you’re offering out of the kindness of your heart, but our community would not see such an arrangement as proper. But thank you for the kind offer anyway. I think I need to return home as my children need to be supervised.”
“Then marry me Brina. That would solve the problem of our community perception and if you don’t like me, I promise I wouldn’t touch you in that marriage. I want to help make your life better and the children I’ve been responsible for are now grown up and will soon be gone to make their own family life. I need to have children around me to shower my love on in the place of them.”
“You have children Armando? How could I marry a man who is already married?”
Armando told her the story of his life in Australia, his life in captivity on the Oliver farm, the tensions, his moderate success in life and accumulating wealth and his promise to the Oliver’s daughter on her death to look after her children. Bina listened spellbound.
“Armando you’re a good man!” If you’re serious I accept your offer and promise I’d be a good wife to you in every way. I’ve always liked you as we grew up and I know I could love you now.”
Armando beamed with pleasure. “Brina, would you do me the honor of becoming Mrs. Brina Armando Favero?”
“Then please make arrangements for a priest to perform the marriage before I have to return home so you will know I’m serious about my proposal. It would have to be this weekend and I presume you’d like a private ceremony?” Brina nodded in agreement.
But there are no secrets in an Italian community, and they were taken over by the acknowledged leaders in the community. The ceremony may have been simple, but the community rallied to make it a big celebration afterward with much feasting and speechmaking. Armando departed for home a happy man and Brina could hardly wait to wind up her activities in Sydney and join her new husband when he’d made suitable arrangements to house them and attend to the future schooling of Brina’s children.
Armando arrived home and shared his joy with the two young adults who’d made his happiness possible. They were delighted their gift had produced such a reward and looked forward to meeting his new family who’d they’d take under their wing to see were accepted into town society. But the first order of business would be to find a place for them to live and the siblings put their heads together to talk that over and suggest a solution. They were quite familiar with Armando’s financial situation as he trusted them with his business and private affairs.
They were of age now and needed to be independent. Perhaps Uncle Armando would be interested in buying the home they were all living in. James and June had ample funding to buy their own homes, but James would soon finish his education and would likely transfer to a city where his business degree would offer him more opportunities. June was still involved in her teaching studies and had high hopes the young man she’d been dating for years would ask her to marry him on completion of her studies. They were classmates and when that happened could be transferred anywhere so for the time being it was prudent they rent independent apartments waiting for their career paths to clarify. They approached Armando.
Armando was deeply moved. He had quite sufficient for a deposit on the home and was confident his successful business would permit him a bank loan. He pored over finances to see if he’d have enough income to support Brina’s children education and establishment as adults. She’d help him in the store and the children would be taught the art of shopkeeping as he’d done with the Henderson children. He was deliriously happy as he thought of having this family to shower his love on. He was well respected in town now as old war prejudices softened gradually and the town approved of his support of Mabel Henderson and her children. The enemy was now a friend in their eyes.
Armando, James and June met Brina and her children at the rail station and Brina relaxed as she basked in the warmth of that welcome. She gasped in happy surprise as they conducted them to the former Henderson home now owned by Armando and marveled at its charm and spaciousness. She embraced James and June and thanked them for their kind act in facilitating Armando’s first ever vacation making it possible for he and Brina to meet and bubbled with happiness to be included as their adopted family members. She’d do all in her power to show them her gratitude in future. She too had been considered an enemy all these years and was grateful to be accepted along with her new husband as friend in her adopted country.
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