The new ransom of Red Chief

April 20, 2018

Calamari served gratis

Calamari served gratis

   While I don’t go out of my way to meet people (in fact I go in the opposite direction) that does not hold true for children, especially from about two to about six. I sense they feel an instant kinship (“Hey, that grownup is just like us!”). Since that same comparison has been made by adults coercing me, I have to allow the kids may be onto something.

   I was looking for a place to have a glass and wait out the rain in the Boccadasse. I happened upon a tiny café, and I ducked in. The first thing I liked about the place was when I indicated I only wanted a glass of wine, they brought that and garnished it with a tapas of tender, lightly fried calamari, gratis.

   Across from me, an extended family was trying to have a conversation. I say trying, because mostly what all six or so of them were doing was conducting a rugby game with an all but unstoppable three-year old, giving all six of them a run for the money.

   It took a while to make eye contact, but when I did, he greeted me by throwing his toy truck at me. I was about to return the greeting with my pocket notebook, when his mother scolded both of us with a shake of her finger. We spent the rest of the meet and greet only pretending to throw things at each other, his mother somewhat begrudgingly permitting it.

   In O. Henry’s famous short story,  “The Ransom of Red Chief,” kidnappers take the son of a wealthy businessman and demand a ransom. The boy, renaming himself Red Chief, terrorizes the kidnappers with his incessant harassment and exhausting demands to play. So much so, the kidnappers lower their ransom demand. The father responds, demanding the kidnappers pay a ransom to him for the father to take Red Chief back, which the kidnappers do. They then split town for good when the father threatens to send Red Chief back to them.

Red Chief is just off to the left, probably tying shoelaces together

Red Chief is just off to the left, probably tying shoelaces together

   Now my Red Chief was nowhere near O. Henry’s, but that was only because my Red Chief hadn’t read the story. But I could tell he was using everything he had in his repertoire to test and disrupt.

   It was nearing closing time at the little cafe. Red Chief’s family gathered him up by forming a rugby scrum around him. He squirmed and fought, but when his eye caught mine, he smiled. His mom noticed and she brought him over to say hi. We high-fived and waved. I used my translator app to tell his mom that Red Chief looked like he was ready for a nap. She had enough English to reply, “We are all ready for a nap.”

   As she walked away, with Red Chief smiling and waving at me, I thought I saw a plaintive look cross her face, as if to be saying, “We’ll make you any offer for Red Chief you want. Just for the afternoon.”

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