By Attila Zønn
I went to work for Saverio, in his grocery store. It was a small place, very tight, on Danforth. He had bread and a deli and a butcher counter, fruits, vegetables and other product familiar to the Italian taste. I work hard there. I make sure everything is kept fresh and in order.
One day after many months of working there, Saverio come to me. He say, “Lorenzo, the customers is complaining.”
Oh, Oh, I think. I’m in big trouble.
“They say the tomatoes is too soft.”
“It’s impossible,” I say. “When I put them out they are fresh and firm.”
“I know, I know,” he say. “I’m not questioning your work. I think…some of the customers is squeeze the tomatoes. Do me a favour. Keep you eyes open. If you see the customers squeeze the tomatoes, you go to them, and in a nice voice say, ‘Please—do not squeeze the tomatoes.’ Can you do this for me?”
Of course, I will do it.
English was still new to me, but I know what each word of that sentence mean. Now, I must deliver it effectively and I think: Where should I put the emphasis?
Should it be please, do not squeeze the tomatoes?
Or please, do not squeeze the tomatoes?
Or please, do not squeeze the tomatoes?
I decide to put the emphasis on squeeze. Oh! I was so proud of this sentence!
Saverio have a son. A teenage boy name of Jimmy. He try to help me with my English, and also make me familiar to the Canadian culture, which to me, was a cold culture but one I must embrace to make a future in this country.
Jimmy sit with me while I have my lunch in the basement of the store and we talk. He tell me about how I should always look people in the eyes and let them know that just because I am a foreigner, they cannot step on me.
Okay, good advise.
He say to me, “If anybody ever give you a hard time, tell them to fuck off.”
“But Jimmy,” I say, ” is not fuck off like va fa’ in culo? I don’t think that’s nice to say.”
“No. No,” he say. “It’s not as bad. Everybody in Canada use this expression. It’s…how you win an argument.”
I like this kid because he want to help me all the time.
In the afternoon, I put out the apples. I try to be artistic with the display— make sure all the stems of the apple face the same way. I did not need to do this, but that is who I am.
There is a heavy woman standing by the tomatoes. She pick up one tomato, squeeze, put to her nose then put back on the pile, pick up another one, squeeze, put to her nose and put back on the pile.
I must stop this! I quickly go to her and I say, “Please, do not squeeze the tomatoes.”
“Yappa, yappa, yappa,” she talk to me. She talk so fast I don’t understand too much. I hear the word fresh a lot.
“Please,” I say. “Do not squeeze the tomatoes.”
I don’t have time for this. I have potatoes to bring up from the basement. I lean in to her and in her face I say as nice as I can, “Please fuck off.”
It was as if the words push her back. Her face turn red, her eyes bulge from her head, she gasp, “Well!” And fly from the store like the wind.
Saverio quickly come from behind the butcher counter.
“Lorenzo,” he say. “What’s a matter? You cannot swear at the customers!” At that moment I feel like an idiot because over his shoulder I see Jimmy standing in the doorway, laughing and pointing at me.
A few days later, I come up behind Jimmy and grab him by the collar.
“You want to fool me?” I say. I put my hand in my pocket and push my finger out. “You see this?” I say. “If you fool me again, I will cut you a new mouth.”
From that day, I never see Jimmy again at the store.
Since I start working for Saverio, I think his wife don’t like me. She never smile and she’s always looking at me. Sometimes I am working and I feel a burn on my neck. I turn around and from across the store I see her eyes on me. I smile and nod, always try to make a good impression but she never respond. I work hard and quick, but she never talk to me—not even “good morning”. Finally, I start to think: don’t worry about her. As long as Saverio like my work, I do not need his wife’s approval.
Every Thursday afternoon, Saverio go to his bookkeeper, and when he come back he pay everybody. One Thursday afternoon I am in the basement sorting the sacks of potatoes and onions. I am concentrating on my task, bent over working. Somebody touch my ass! I jump, look behind me—there is Saverio’s wife, a big smile on her face.
“Signora, what are you doing?” I say.
“You are a beautiful boy,” she say, and stretch out her arms. “I want to hold you against my breasts.”
She try to grab me. I back away. “Please come to me,” she say. She tell me I can have all of her. I can put my cock in her ass if I want.
She make a lunge for me.
My heart is racing as I jump all over the sacks of potatoes and onions trying to get away from her. I reach the steps and take them two at a time, up and out of the store.
Saverio drive up in his car. He call my name but I keep going.
Now I am ruined, I think. I cannot go back. How do I explain to Saverio why I leave the store? I cannot tell him that his wife want me in her bed. That is not a thing one man tells to another man.
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018