First, I don't know for sure they are Italian. Or how old they are. They could be 15, they could be 25.
But I thought I recognized a certain Italian fierceness in the way his mother walked ahead of him as he lagged behind, that first boy. It was on the corner of Sixth Ave and West 8th, near Go Sushi, and I had seen them before. (I might have glanced quickly away, in pity.) This time I really looked.
His mother had a head of perfectly curled and blow-dried gray hair and she was about 5'2" in her stocking feet; compact of body, in a belted black dress and sensible walking shoes. She was leaning forward, at a tilt, as she towed her son through the waves of summer heat that roiled up from the sticky asphalt. He, not in any kind of hurry, let his too-large head dangle this way and that as he surveyed the crowd, his protruding eyeballs taking in everything he would never get to eat or drink or touch or kiss. His body had more angles than I could count at a glance- crooked back, twisted hips, knees knocking together. He shambled behind her, fierce tugboat that she was, secure in the knowledge that she was taking him someplace safe and known. Which she was. She truly was. He was her son, and she would take care of him if it killed her. I felt a sudden stab of envy for their bond. This was unconditional love, right in the dead center of Greenwich Village.
The second boy/man I spotted a few days later, in the early evening. I was returning slowly home along West 4th Street, thinking of nothing at all, when they rushed past, the dark-haired boy and his companion, who seemed to be his sister. It was only a glimpse, but I almost fainted. His complexion was a perfect pale porcelain, his features like a Greek statue's. He was laughing at something he had just said, looking back to his companion, and his thick dark hair was plastered back like an actor in a Bertolucci film set in the 1920's. He seemed unaware of his otherworldly beauty in his animation; he wasn't posing for anyone. But as I passed on, I wondered: Quasimodo boy, or Bertolucci boy: who will suffer more in this life?
Which one will be told he has been loved for himself, for who he is, and actually believe it?
Or, even better- just know, without needing to be told.