The moonlight skimmed the surface of the water, turning the dark depths of the canal into silvery liquid. The night was wrapped in a blanket of peace, with not a sound heard but the occasional scuffling of mice. If one listened closely, one would be able to hear the hushed breathing of two children, the breaths short and shallow as to minimise the sound. It was too late at night for children of any decent households to be about, but these two had no home to belong to, let alone a decent one. They were hiding, desperately hiding from the dark silhouettes that kicked them out of the warehouse. The warehouse that was, until a few short hours ago, their sad substitute for a home.
Isa curled herself around the bundle that contained all they owned: a chipped bowl, two rusty spoons, a knife, a few flat metal pieces, an old umbrella, two old paperbacks and a collection of old toys found on the street. The coats they owned were all worn by the two siblings; Isa shivering slightly in her thinner and more worn one. She set the bundle on the ground before her, carefully taking out everything and trying to arrange in into a neater pack. They didn’t have the time to pack anything when the men came, just enough time to grab everything and run. Those men, they were working men with the distinct smell of sweat mixed with engine oil always hanging about them. They came for the warehouse, the old place that held scraps of metal and other junk that would now be used to create new machines.
Hidden beneath the loud clangs of metal scraping as the men piled them into a cart to be taken first thing in the morning, Isa pushed her brother and their possessions through a hole at the base of the warehouse. Xavier, still sick, had tried to stay silent but could not hold in a cough as they emerged from the hole. Heads whipped around the corner of the warehouse just seconds later, and Isa struggled to her feet to pull her brother away down the alleyway. The yells of the men were magnified a thousand times in the silence of the night, the barbed words and names hitting Isa as hard as bullets. They haven’t bothered chasing the two urchins, for what’s the use of wasting energy on two useless waifs? Experienced with such thing, the men knew that the two children would not return to the warehouse. They’ve scared them off as easily as scaring off a couple of mice.
Isa kept running, nevertheless, twisting and turning down random lanes until she hit the canals. They were both crying, Isa from sheer exhaustion and Xavier from the huge effort of holding back any coughs or sneezes. Fleeing down a familiar set of steps, she sat flat back against the brickwork and motioned for her brother to do the same. They’d been here before, hiding beneath the bridge on this little platform the last time they were chased away. It’d take at least a couple of days to find another empty warehouse, and Isa shuddered at the thought of spending the nights here. Her brother had drifted off into fitful sleep. Shuffling closer to him to keep them both warm, she stared out across the water.
When the gondola glided along the moonlit water towards her, Isa had to pinch herself. She thought she had fallen asleep and that this was a dream, but the sharp pain her finger left behind proved otherwise. Getting onto her knees, she crawled to the edge of the platform. The gondola was almost beside her now, moving yet as motionless as the lone figure steering it. The clank of the gondola as it stopped next to the stone platform scared Isa out of her skin, and she knew then, for sure, that this was real.
“Isabella Perazzo?” asked a deep voice.
She nodded, then realised that the owner of the voice could not see her clearly in the shadow of the bridge.
“Yes,” she said, unsure whether to add ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.
“Will anyone remember you, when you are gone?” asked the man. Or was it a woman? The figure on the gondola was slender, but the voice... It was too confusing.
“I guess not,” she replied after a long pause, “Xavier would, I know he would, but we always go together so he would never have to remember me. And the lion on top of Saint Mark’s would miss having someone admire him every day. And I guess Signora Elvira would miss an extra pair of hands to help knead the dough at her bread shop, but other than that... No one.”
“Would you like to travel? To go anywhere but this old miserable place?” asked the woman. Isa knew this for sure because the hood of the cape had been blown back by a night breeze, revealing a face so delicate it could only be a woman’s. That and the long braid of hair flowing down her back.
“If Xavier could come, then yes,” she said straightaway, “But to where?”
“Somewhere where you’ll be remembered. Somewhere happy. But he cannot come, I’m only here for you,” the woman extended a hand out, gently inviting Isa to step on the unnaturally still gondola.
“Then no,” Isabella said, pushing down the enormous desire within her to go to this happy place.
The gently inviting hand turned into a vice as those words were uttered, clamping itself tightly around Isa’s arm and pulling her off the platform. She tried to dig her heels into the stony surface beneath, to do anything that would make the woman let go. But it was useless. As she was halfway in the gondola, she made the last attempt to save herself. Her bony fingers closed on something warm and soft, and she clung on hard to her brother’s wrist as the gondola disappeared with them all aboard.