When I sat on that eight-hour plane ride home from Italy back to America last December, wedged in between a 300-pound man and some guy designing Nike sneakers on his laptop, I took a deep breath and I did the unthinkable– I finally added up my expenses from my semester.
Luckily, I took note of every dollar and euro I spent in my handy notebook, which most inconveniently, took quite a while to get all in my calculator. Watching those numbers add up, and up, and up, feeling my brow chilling, and finally seeing that final number, I realized… I didn’t really spend all that much.
I was pretty proud of myself, looking back from that moment, patting myself on the back for refusing to buy the beautiful clothes, some of the more expensive meals, the extra glass of wine. Actually, the only things I really did bring home were bottles of wine and olive oil for basically everyone that I know… and one Italian leather bag, that I bought for myself. I came to regret this sole purchase as time went on and I realized that all I spent the remainder of my money at home on were uglier clothes and sushi.
Unfortunately, my beautiful leather bag soon broke, its strap coming unhinged from the bag itself. I tried stuffing the strap back in myself, gluing it, and many other temporary solutions that would mostly last a grand total of five minutes. So today, on this rainy, miserable day, I brought it to Johnny’s Shoe Repair, a dilapidated hole-in-the-whole semi-apartment I found on the Internet.
I was pretty surprised to walk in and see not even what you could call a shop, but more of just Johnny himself, a squat old man with glasses, holding up one shoe amongst the thousands that were hanging from the ceiling, sitting on the floor, sitting on the desks, all intermingled with one another. I handed him my bag and explained what happened to it and went through my long list of ways I had tried to fix it, in which he just looked it at me like a disappointed father, telling me that if he fixed it, it really wouldn’t look as good as before.
“Look man, I really don’t even care if the button doesn’t look the same or the strap doesn’t move or any of that stuff. See, I studied abroad in Italy, and all I brought back for myself was this bag–”
Apparently, that was the game changer. All of a sudden, Johnny understood. He asked me why the hell I ever left Italy, because it was the most beautiful country in the world. He told me about he and his wife were born and raised in Calabria, and a lot of his family still lived there, and would always live there. I told him I was Sicilian, and he pulled me in and smiled when he whispered, all of his wrinkles crunched, “We’re neighbors.”
At that point, Johnny told me to come back in two days for my bag. He didn’t need my number, he didn’t even need my name. He said it would cost three dollars, and it would be beautiful again. Because that’s what neighbors do, no matter how far from home they happen to be.