The park was deserted. It had rained all that Thursday morning, so people were obviously staying away.
My two year-old was in his waterproof suit and happily rocketing down wet slides and stomping through damp leaves.
I was pushing him in the swing when a woman and two children approached over the grass. The younger boy wanted to get into the swing next to my son. The older girl ran off to the huge basket swing. I listened to them talking and wondered if it was Italian.
My son waved at the boy next to him.
“Are you saying hi? I think you need to say ‘ciao’,” I told him.
The woman smiled.
“Yes, ciao,” she said.
We were the only adults in the park, I suppose it would have been weird not to talk.
“I don’t speak Italian,” I apologised. “I speak Spanish so I can kind of get the gist,” I said and then wondered if she would understand the colloquialism.
“Yes, they are similar,” she agreed.
Her English was good – I noticed her correcting her own grammar – and she told me she had studied since she arrived in Scotland a year and a half ago.
“Italian peoples – people – don’t speak English. I knew a little from school,” she explained.
It’s difficult to hold a conversation when you’re chasing three children around a park, but she made a real effort to keep chatting. She asked questions about my son, and where I was from – she said she found it easy to understand my accent – and said her kids were learning English at ‘kindergarten’. She was enjoying the free time it gave her and she was hoping to work a little more. I told her I had been to Rome, but never Verona, where she was from, and she explained that her husband was from the south, a whole different world from the north.
“I do not understand the dialectic from there,” she laughed with a typical Italian hand gesture. She reminded me of the Italian girl I had shared a flat with when I was a student, whose flamboyant hand gestures had always fascinated me.
I really warmed to this woman. She was funny and friendly and our kids played well together.
I felt sad when my son’s freezing hands, red nose and whining forced me to leave.
“How do you say ‘bye’ in Italian?” I asked her.
“It’s the same as hello,” she said. “Ciao ciao.”