Andrew(Andy) and Terri, both in their early 50s ran a small convenience store in Cape May, New Jersey . They grew up in the same neighborhood, proposed and got married. Had a son who worked in downtown New York City and lived in Brooklyn. The couple were very happy in their simple life that stretched between their home, the store, the bar at the corner and the beach in Cape May. They loved it that way. They would occasionally go to New York City, but always hated the fast pace and unfriendly attitude of the people there.
“Andy, do you remember our high school friend Anna? Yes of course you would. She was so into you. Thank goodness I came to your rescue” said Terri one fine evening while they sat on their porch enjoying the breeze and a glass of drink
“Oh yes I very clearly remember her, slender smart sexy..” Andy took a sip from his glass and gave that crooked smile
“I ran into her the other day in the flea market. She’s got an Italian boyfriend, spends around 10 months in Florence and 2 months here. She kept on bragging about her exotic Italian life, almost sounding rude and arrogant …and mentioned Art about 15 times in our 15 minute conversation. She made it sound as if Cape May or for that matter this country has no character” frowned Terri
“We love it anyways, don’t we? So why bother what Anna thinks” Andy could sense Terri’s jealous tone.
“We have never been on any trip abroad. I was thinking why don’t we plan a trip to Italy. I want to see what this so called Art is”, Terri seemed to have made up her mind.
“Oh all that far, why don’t we start with say California. We have never even been to West Coast.” Andy thought this was one of Terri’s fancy ideas that will wear off in fifteen minutes and she will be back to “Cape May is the best ..we don’t need to go anywhere “
“Don’t trick me, you old man. Italy it will be”
“These tiny flight seats are not for us Americans”, Andy tried to stretch his arms and legs as they came out of the Rome airport.
“Look at these lean and handsome European men. Sculpted bodies, sharp features, what a race.” Terri was busy scanning the men and women alike.
“Ciao Signore! You from America? First time coming here? Hotel drop?” a taxi driver enquired
Terri pulled back Andy and politely said “No, Thank you. We are alright”
“We will take the subway. These drivers make a fool of the tourists.” said Terri.
“Are you sure honey? You have never used public transport in your whole life “
“When in Rome, do as Romans do” Terri seemed to shed off her laid back American skin and gotten under the spirited European one.
Terri was unpacking in the hotel room when Andy screamed from the washroom.
“What is it now? “ Terri asked
“These people are crazy. Come see for yourself. “
There were two plumbing structures, one a regular commode and the other with a small fountain in the middle of it.
“Oh I should have told you, that is bi-det. It is to cleanse yourself with water after using the commode. So did you sit on it and …”, Terri began to laugh uncontrollably. She had done a bit of research.
“Why on the earth do they need that, when good old tissue does the job” Andy had simply assumed America is the standard that everyone around the world follows.
Terri was already in the lobby when Andy finished his breakfast and joined her.
“I love Italian people. They are so warm. They talk and smile, not like the uptight New Yorkers. You know I was talking to the man there, Dante. He is such a nice gentleman“, said Terri pointing to a man walking out of the lobby.
“Don’t get over friendly. You never know. This is a foreign country. “Andy spoke while looking at the subway map. He was trying to chalk out the trip details for the day. He had circled the spots they wanted to cover and the subway route.
They held hands and strolled along the pebbled roads of Rome like young lovebirds. Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi fountain. They saw, they kissed, they clicked and checked off the spots one after the other from their list.
“Signora ..” a voice called and tapped lightly on Terri’s shoulder as she rested her head on Andy and soaked in the romance of Spanish steps .
“Hello Dante, what a lovely surprise …This is my husband Andrew.”
Dante took his hat off to greet Andy. Pleasantries exchanged, Andy excused himself to attend to nature’s call and grab a beer, leaving Terri in Dante’s company.
Terri continued “We loved Rome. I don’t know as much history, but even the ruins and rubbles looked magnificent. I could have only imagined something like Colosseum as a Hollywood movie set”
“Grazie..yes we hear that from all tourists. The architecture and grandeur of these structures is indeed breathtaking. But there some unexplored treasures like guarded secrets in this city unknown even to to the Italians. Not everyone has that taste and interest “, Dante was now speaking in a hushed voice.
Terri sat upright and paid attention. She felt important. “What exactly are you talking about?”
“Signora, look at that old man with a canvas by the fountain at the bottom of the steps there? His name is Antonio Ser Piero .“ Dante tried to come close enough to whisper to Terri now.
It was way past sunset and the crowd had thinned out. Terri could see the old man coughing. He looked like the many artists found on tourist spots, drawing caricatures.
“He has with him a prized possession. An unfinished work of Da Vinci…”
Terri widened her eyes in shock. She had definitely heard of Da Vinci and what Dante just said was unbelievable.
“You don’t believe me, do you? No one in a sane state of mind would. Let me give you a little history to back up my claim. Antonio is a descendant of one of Da Vinci’s sibling, Giovanni Ser Piero. After Da Vinci’s death, Giovanni had kept this work as a memory of his beloved brother. And since it was an unfinished work, it was not even known to exist at that time, so it never came under any radar. Antonio now calls it ‘Perso Tesoro’, the Lost Treasure. My Papa was a close friend of his and that is how I know of the treasure”
“This is some story, Dante. Now why should I believe you? Why didn’t Antonio ever want to sell it?”
“You are free not to believe me. But when I met you in the morning today, you were studying the art hung on the hotel wall. I instantly knew you had some taste.“
“Well, that is true .I greatly admire all works from the Renaissance era” Terri was trying to put all of her minimal knowledge to use now. She was unable to control her excitement.
“Antonio doesn’t not want to part away from this piece either. With is no one left after him to carry forward this family treasure, I have convinced him to sell this off at a very decent price to a genuine art lover. “
“I am not sure I can afford to buy something like this. This is huge. And what about the customs and all”
“Not much Signora, he has priced it at just 500 USD. If he auctions it, he can fetch millions. But he doesn’t want this to end up in another museum. And it is not framed. It can easily be passed off as any normal painting. Only a real seeker like you will know its worth.“
Terri was in a dilemma now. She did not have the money with her and she didn’t want to turn down the offer.
“Can I trade off my Apple Watch for it? It is the latest series and almost new, a gift from my son. But when I show him what I have got in return for it, he would be so proud of me.”
Antonio paused and said, “Perfezionare Signora. I am sure Signore Andrew would be so surprised .Give me your watch, I will get the ‘Perso Tesoro’ for you from the old man.”
“Anna, you will now see what ART is.” Terri smiled to herself and lost sight of Dante.
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