The black leather was old and warn, now having the look of scales more than the bright shine it would have had when new. The lines created from the moisture being sucked out of it resembled the land in a desert that hasn’t seen rain in years. Slowly Nick ran his hand back and forth over the black cover as he stared deeply into the layers of age. This notebook had been in his family for generations and with the unexpected passing of his father it was now his. The leather notebook itself was a family heirloom. It was one of the few possessions his great grandfather had brought with him from Italy through Ellis Island in the early 1900’s. He had been able to bring a few select items and this deep black notebook, and the papers within, were seen as valuable enough to make the journey.
Nick had heard stories from his grandfather that the papers, stored carefully inside, were the secret to the family’s riches. The stories told of a time when the Manzini’s were extremely wealthy but during a period of great conflict they had hidden those riches away for future generations to later discover. Nick’s great grandfather had been tasked with fleeing the country to preserve the clues for the future Manzini generations.
Somehow, at the age of twenty-three, Nick found himself as that future generation. The Manzini’s had not become wealthy since arriving in the United States and his father’s life savings, which he had just inherited, amounted to $20,000. He wasn’t balking at receiving that sum of money, it would put a dent in his student loans, but it was a poor exchange for the years he had planned on spending with his father. $20,000, and this black leather notebook, was what he had to remember his family by. He had always thought there would be more time to learn about the contents of this notebook from his father. His grandfather had told him stories, but he too passed before any real depth of knowledge had been shared.
Now sitting on an airplane to Italy he slowly opened the notebook and began analyzing the old brittle papers. The smart thing would have been to pay down his student loans but instead he had bought a one-way ticket to his family’s homeland to do what his father and grandfather had never done. He would use every last cent of the $20,000, if that’s what it took, to discover his family’s true history and with luck, a fortune.
As the pages of the notebook opened Nick could smell the age. Self-consciously he looked to the strangers on either side of him to see if they noticed but the old man with the mustache on his right was asleep and mouth breathing as he had been for the last forty-five minutes and the teenage girl to his left had her hood up and was so enthralled with her phone, he doubted she would notice if the plane was going down. Nick gently turned the pages over trying to decipher what they meant. There were hand sketched maps, drawings that made little sense, and many Italian words that he could not decipher. Of course, he had taken Spanish in high school and while they shared some words the two years of study, if you could call it that, were not proving to be overly beneficial at this time.
Going over every page again and again on the nine-hour flight to Florence he wondered if he had made a big mistake. All he knew was that his family was from some place called Cinque Terra which was made up of five beach towns. One of the hand drawn maps appeared to show the five towns and a farm along the coast which was where he was headed. He would take a train from Florence to Pisa, he assumed check out that tower everyone always talked about, then would catch another train on to Cinque Terra. It sounds easy enough, except for the whole not speaking the language thing.
The flight came to a bumpy end as the pilot bounced their way up to the terminal. With his notebook under arm, he deboarded the plane and began the process of finding his way to the train station. With help from a little Italian girl, that spoke perfect English, he was able to find the correct bus route that would take him to the station. The bus ride was nothing like he had ever seen before. People hopped on and off and it appear no one paid. The driver had the amazing ability to drive through a sea of traffic and not hit a single Vespa as they raced around from every direction.
Arriving at the station led to more confusion as there were trains everywhere. Fortunately, Nick spotted a sign that read Pisa and headed that way. With a big chunk of his $20,000 converted to Euros he was able to hand over the cash in exchange for a ticket. The train was standing room only and Nick got the poor luck of ending up right next to the bathroom. For an hour he stood as people passed by to and from doing their business. Cramped, and wishing he was stateside with his friends, Nick held the notebook tightly against his chest as a nervous child would clutch their teddy bear.
When the train arrived, he exited through the doors and followed the sea of people towards the leaning tower. He stayed back a bit and watched as person after person posed as if holding the tower up. He smirked feeling both superior to the silly tourists and jealous that he they had someone to snap their stupid picture. Famished and exhausted Nick swapped some more Euros for a bowl of pasta he wasn’t that impressed with at the restaurant in the little hotel where he had booked a room for the night. Up In his room Nick fell asleep while once again leafing through the papers hoping that once he got to Cinque Terre, they would all make sense.
He awoke with the smell of leather in his nose. He peeled his face off the black leather, leaving a puddle of drool. Nick cleaned himself up and went downstairs. Where he had eaten mediocre pasta the night before he enjoyed the most delicious espresso and pastry combination of his life. Rejuvenated he headed off to catch his train exited that today, if nothing else, he would walk where generations of Manzini’s had walked before fulfilling a dream for his father and grandfather.
This train ride was less crowded, and he actually had a seat by the window where he was able to take in the beautiful countryside. The train was filled with people on holiday. He thought many of them were German, but he could not be sure. As the train slowed into Cinque Terre Nick could not believe his eyes. The gorgeous green hills dove right into the bay. Colorful buildings stacked on top of each other made up a town that seemed straight out of a fairytale. He wondered how his great grandfather had left such a place only to struggle in a strange new world.
For a couple hours Nick wandered the first town taking in the sights and smells. He ate delicious seafood and sipped on wine. He had almost forgotten why he had come until he stumbled onto a little trail along the coast. Something struck him about the trail, it was as if he had been there before. Not knowing why, he walked up the trail looking very out of place. He in his Converse, shorts, and t-shirt with a black leather notebook under his arm hiking next to people in hiking boots with trekking poles.
After about a mile of walking he stopped. To his left was a steep cliff down to pristine water. To his right was a beautifully terraced farm with rows and rows of grapes. Out in the distance he saw a rock jutting out into the water and he remembered a page in the notebook. Nick opened the pages and found a drawing that he could now see was exactly what he was looking at. Flipping one more page he saw that the map showed that rock jutting out into the sea and a path leading up the hill to a farm. As he flipped back and forth between the pages, he knew that farm was where he needed to be. He snapped the notebook together and hastily moved towards his destination.
As he approached the rock, he could see a small farm on the hill. There was no distinct trail but there was a natural path that felt oddly familiar. As he went off the official trail, he didn’t have the feeling of trespassing but that he was somehow coming home. His heart raced as he climbed, making his way towards an old wooden shed built into the hillside. He paused as he approached, once again leafing through the papers. Another drawing showed what was unmistakably this shed. More slowly now Nick approached the shed. His heart was racing, and his palms were sweaty, but he had a strange feeling of calm about him. Upon reaching the shed Nick touched the old wood and peered inside. There was nothing more than some old wooden buckets and twisted grape cuttings. Not sure what to do next he once again went back to the notebook. Slowly lifting open the black cover he searched the papers for more clues. Not finding anything obvious Nick sat on the stone steps leading to the shed and set the opened notebook down on the ground gazing towards the water.
A moment later a gust of wind swept down the hill scattering the papers into the air. For a moment the world was in slow motion as Nick stared in disbelief as every single one of his great grandfathers’ papers flew towards the sea. Nick would have given chase; he would have leapt off the cliff if he thought it would do any good. The papers were sailing so high so fast it was clear their next destination was the crashing waves below. Despair overcame Nick as tears welled up in his eyes. He had set off to do a great thing and he had lost his families legacy. The papers his grandfather had carried across the ocean were gone in and instant. Slowly Nick lowered his eyes towards the black leather notebook that lay flat on the ground. Through his blurred vision he noticed something on the back page he had never seen before. In the leather there was an impression of drawing of this little shed only unlike the drawing the impression included steps with a big X on them. Nick looked down and realized he was sitting on what could only be these steps. Slowly he stood and cautiously pulled at some lose stones. Under the very one he had been sitting he found a little cavity. Reaching in the cavity he could feel something other than stone and dirt. Quickly now Nick began to frantically dig. Within a few minutes he had removed a wooden chest about the size of a hat box.
Nick placed the chest next to the opened notebook and peered at both objects. He brushed the dirt off the chest and then gently removed the metal latch and opened the lid. Where just minutes later he had been feeling sorrow like he had never felt before, he now felt relief and joy. As he gazed at the contents of the chest, he now knew the secret of the Manzini family.
About the author
I love to read and write about all of my interests of which there are many. I hope you enjoy. Check out some my published work and learn more about me at www.tonymoceri.com. Social @tonymoceri