Three big white Toulouse geese bounded joyfully from the corner of the greenhouse down to the bench, where three men were enjoying the relative freshness of the evening.
“Dante, Gemma, Beatrice, come here! Do you need a little human company?”
You could see the geese were fond of the man who spoke to them, because they ignored the other two, rubbing their long necks against his legs, covered by a worn out pair of jeans. He scratched their heads and received some friendly pecks in return.
“Hey, hey, Beatrice, calm down. Did you eat psychedelic grass or what?”
He laughed heartily, shaking his head as his long, dark ponytail danced on his shoulder. William Collins–because we are speaking of him, right now–had not changed during the last three years, even though many things had changed in his life.
We can see him: he’s the one who looks more theatrical, like an actor of an adventure film in a shooting break. He’s wearing a black t-shirt over his old jeans, a normally ordinary outfit; but somehow on William it becomes a smashingly unique original.
Next to William, a much tanned, fair-haired handsome man in his late 30’s is smiling too. Lucky for him, he looks younger than his years, and his tan is a natural consequence of his life outdoors, not of a sunlamp in a solarium. It must be Peter Boyle, William’s partner in life. We can easily recognize him from the aura of serene honesty radiating from his smiling eyes.
The smiles of sincere people start with their lips and move quickly into their eyes. Hypocrites and pretenders smile only with their lips, in an artificial way, while their eyes remain mistrustful and cold. Peter smiles with his eyes first, then with all his face; there are not many adults who show such a positive and generous attitude to all of life.
What about the third man? He is older, maybe in his early 60’s. We have the impression we have already seen him somewhere, but there is something different in his way of being now. He looks like a traveller who, after a perilous trip, has just arrived to a new land where he might settle. In fact, that is exactly what happened to him.
Let us return to that early evening when we left the three of them with the geese.
The environment was so ideally beautiful that it might look like an artificial film set as well. The bench where the three men were sitting leant against the grey-stoned façade of a massive, perfectly restored farmhouse. The big rectangular courtyard was framed on three sides by the house, a lower building of the same grey stone, and a stable. The fourth side opened toward an impressive view, with a field of sunflowers in the foreground and a faint blue outline of the Tuscan hills in the background.
Looking left, behind the lower building, was an ancient Lombardic tower surrounded by olive trees, about 300 metres away.
Reginald, the oldest man, took off his glasses, as he always did when he felt troubled or moved. He had not seen his dear friends for over a year and a fundamental profound change had transformed his life in that period. He had been a catholic priest for 35 years until he decided to abandon the ministry, under the psychological pressure of many events, mostly because of his own spiritual evolution.
He had come to believe that while he would never lose his faith in God, he had totally lost faith in the church.
Reginald’s best friend, Julia Fitzpatrick, had died three years earlier, when she was 85, leaving a gap that couldn’t be filled in the lives of all those who loved her. As her adopted son, Peter was devastated. He and his companion, William, who had kept their relationship hidden from most of the small Irish village where they lived, felt that without Julia there was nothing to keep them in Ballybeg. They no longer needed to live their loving relationship in a hypocritical way.
Julia had bequeathed to Peter her generous patrimony, which turned out to be much larger than expected once legal and practical matters were settled. William owned a sizeable personal fortune as well.
They decided to move to Tuscany, a region of Italy they both adored. They bought an old farmhouse in the hills surrounding Arezzo with a big plot of land and restored it with care and taste. Then they transformed a part of it into a refined and smart farmhouse B&B. William opened there a small, exclusive restaurant which quickly grew into a famous and treasured destination in the region.
During this time, Reginald had remained alone in Ireland, wrestling with his increasing doubts about the church which had defined his world for most of his life.
“You must be tired, Reginald. It’s been a long day full of emotions. An early night will make you feel much better and tomorrow you’ll have time to get familiar with your new home.” Peter spoke to him in an encouraging tone, since he realized Reginald looked a little lost.
“I’m so grateful to both of you for inviting me here; I would not have known what to do with myself. It’s difficult at my age to start all over again. I have no profession. I’ve always been a priest, but I was not very good at that either, it seems. If I had been a good priest I would not have left…”
“Oh stop it, Reginald. Dante, Gemma and Beatrice get suspicious when they see someone sad here,” William continued cuddling his geese, which actually had begun looking at Reginald as if they were worried.
William had always had the talent to cheer people up with his funny histrionic attitude, and soon Reginald’s sorrows seemed to wane.
“I’m incredibly happy to be here with you; everything looks so heavenly and beautiful and I missed both of you so badly. I’m very exhausted indeed. But tomorrow I’ll be glad to explore the charms of your home.”
“Hey, wait a minute, what are you saying? Peter, did you hear what this man dared to say? This is your home as well, not only ours, now, Reginald! For as long as you wish you’ll live with us. Did you really think we would have made you come all the way from Ireland for just a holiday? Nonsense!” William was nearly shouting and it made the geese nervous. The three big birds joined him shouting, flapping their big white wings.
“Hush, hush, Beatrice, Gemma, Dante, be quiet…Oh shut up before I decided to transform all of you into pâté de foie gras! Damn, you see what you have done Reginald? You offended them; they feel hurt you don’t want to live here with all of us!”
Reginald, moved to tears and infinitely grateful, looked at Peter, who had remained silent, nodding in assent.
“I…I cannot believe it, I’d only burden your life and…”
“But Reginald, it was obvious you would live with us now. We might be an anomalous one, but we three are a family.” Peter put a comforting arm around his friend’s shoulder.
“I have no words.” Reginald didn’t know where to put his glasses “I’m happy beyond anything I can imagine. But I’ll work. I want to contribute, as soon as I learn what to do. Just tell me what I’m supposed to do and I will.”
William had more or less managed to reassure his geese, who were now less aggressive, as if they had realized Reginald was not a menace, but a member of their community.
“The first thing you should do, Reginald, is try to learn Italian!”