The golden beams of light ricocheted off the many statues overhead and pooled in shimmering puddles at Isa’s feet, a kaleidoscope of colours. She paused for a moment on the worn cobblestones, staring with wonder at this miracle before her. The stream of people rushing in the peak hour pushed past her, monotonous men with black umbrellas and leather briefcases walking shoulder to shoulder with the waifs and urchins from long-forgotten warehouses. A particularly sharp walking stick jabbed Isa in the shin, and the gentleman who held it let off a string of angry words so vulgar even she cringed. She tore her eyes away from the glittering light beneath her, and let herself move along with the constant flow of the crowd.
The rush of people thinned as they left the narrow lane for Saint Mark’s Square, with the gentlemen in suits heading towards the wealthier neighbourhoods. The cafes and shops lining the square were emptier as the gowned and bonneted ladies wheeled their baby carriages home. Only street urchins such as Isa still hung about, their starved eyes planning how they would steal for supper. She clutched her loaf of bread tighter to herself, the loaf of bread that had taken her all morning to get. Wandering over to the church at the other end of the square, she paused for the briefest moment to stare longingly at a particularly nice dress in the tailor’s shop. Looking at her, no one would’ve suspected that she had managed to steal a sliver of cheese and some olives from the nearby stand in that one second.
Shoving the stolen goods into the grimy pocket on her dress, she quickened her pace towards the cathedral. The holy place was empty, with only a few lamps lighting up the aisle here and there. She half ran down the smooth path, her dirty feet leaving behind prints of muck. Kneeling down very close to the altar, she bent her head low in prayers. She prayed that her brother’s fever would be over soon, and that somehow they would get out of this miserable existence as little nobodies. All the while her pale hands slipped candle after candle out of the storage shelf beneath the altar. When her remaining pocket could hold no more, she asked God for forgiveness and left the cathedral.
Outside the sun had set, painting the sky a warm orange. The golden lions atop the cathedral glowed with an ethereal light, their wingtips bright blades slicing through the twilight air. Isa walked briskly down a familiar laneway, happy to be heading home with full pockets. Her ragged skirt flapped in the evening breeze, a breeze touched with the first chill of autumn. Pressing herself closer to the buildings that lined the lane in search for any warmth that may have escaped from inside, she spotted something bright in the gutter. Bending down to pick up the object, she saw that it was a tiny model car, probably a toy of one of the spoilt rich children. Wiping the muck off with the hem of her skirt, she pocketed the car.
“Girl!” yelled a voice, and although it did not address her by name Isa knew it meant her, “What’s that you got there?”
Instinct took over even before she could manage to think of a reply, and Isabella Perazzo sprinted down and out of the laneway, reaching the famed canals of Venice. The source of the voice followed her, heavy footsteps pounding on the uneven pavement. She took a sharp turn and weaved up another laneway, squeezing herself into a narrow gap between two buildings. With her gray dress and dirt-coloured coat, she was so much part of the ancient buildings that the man bypassed her.
Counting slowly to ten, she slipped out of the space and ran back down to the canals. A gondola had just stopped close by to the alley, and a jostling crowd was boarding it. Mingling in between the many people, Isa weaved through the many feet and crumpled gowns to stand in an inconspicuous corner of the gondola. Finally she was heading home, up the canal and into the poorest part of the city. She was heading back to her brother and their makeshift home in the basement of a warehouse. As the gondola bobbed away from the steps, Isa craned her neck to catch a last glimpse of her favourite sight in the world. The winged lion looked down at her from the far away cathedral, its golden eyes glinting with a warm “goodnight” meant just for her.