As the time for the Festa Del Grillo drew near in Florence, Romano was ready. He had been saving his money and knew the cricket he wanted to buy.
The coins jingled in his pocket as he hurried to the cricket shop.
“If my cricket is judged the best singer in the Festa Del Grillo,” Romano murmured, “it could bring happiness back to my family. A singing cricket always brings good luck.”
Romano remembered the smiles of his mother and father and the singing in their home before his little brother became terribly ill. Now that his brother was gone, there was no singing and only a rare smile. Maybe the cricket will help, he hoped. Romano knew he must choose his cricket well to get a singer.
A tiny bell rang as the boy opened the door to the shop. Many people bought crickets at this time of the year, and there were many from which to choose.
“Buon giorno (good morning),” he said to the shopkeeper. “I want to buy a cricket that is a good singer. See the cage I have made for him.”
“It is a fine cage,” said the shopkeeper. “And I have a fine cricket for it. Look closely, now, Romano. There is only a tiny stripe on this one, but it marks him for a good singer.”
“I shall take him then,” said Romano. He spread out his money for the shopkeeper to see. “This is all I have,” he said.
The shopkeeper gathered up several of the coins. “This is just right,” he said. “Just what I must have for that fine cricket.”
Romano put the cricket inside the cage and fastened the tiny door. “I hope he sings well,” said the boy. “My family needs some good luck.”
“As we all do,” said the shopkeeper, nodding. “With so many crickets, I cannot be certain which ones are singing the loudest. All I can tell you is that there is a lot of singing here in my shop. And he has the yellow stripe. He looks like he’ll be a singer.”
Several times on his way home, Romano stopped and put the cage up to his ear, but he heard nothing. Suppose after I spent my money the cricket won’t sing! he worried. But it must! The boy looked again for the tiny yellow stripe. Seeing it, he was reassured.
“See what a fine cricket I have,” he said to his parents when he had returned home. “He will bring us good luck when he begins to sing.”
His father looked up from his paper and nodded.
“Has he sung for you already?” asked his mother.
“Not yet,” replied Romano.
“Perhaps he is hungry,” said his mother. “It is hard to sing when your stomach or your heart is hurting with emptiness.”
“That’s true,” said Romano. “I’ll go to the garden and get him a lettuce leaf. Then he’s sure to sing!”
The cricket began at once to make uneven scallops all along the edge of the ruffled leaf. But then it stopped. And still it did not sing.
That night it was quiet in the small apartment. Romano remembered when they had lived in the little country house and he and his brother had laughed together while his parents played music and sang. But tonight not even the cricket sang. His parents did not smile, nor did Romano.
On the morning of the Festa Del Grillo, Romano scrubbed himself until his face and his hair were as shiny as his dark eyes. He put on his best trousers and his bright red shirt and walked along beside his parents, carrying the cage. His mother’s blue flowered skirt softly swished as she walked, but that was about the only sound Romano heard. The cricket in the cage remained silent.
At the festival there was music, and friends greeted each other. There were also many things to buy and crickets that sang. The judges came by his cricket several times. Romano waited by the cage and listened and hoped. But his cricket did not sing.
Romano’s heart was heavy as he returned to the apartment. He had the same feeling that he had known before, one of being almost smothered by the high buildings. He longed for soft grass under his feet instead of the hard sidewalks and for the open country where he could sing without feeling closed in.
My cricket’s closed in! Could that be the reason it doesn’t sing? he wondered. He must give it one more chance. If only it would sing, just once, it might bring good luck to their home for a whole year. And so the boy waited. But no sound came.
At dusk he took the cage and left the apartment. He carried the cricket out to a hill beyond the city. There he stopped and opened the cage. And as the cricket took flight, the sound came that he had been waiting for. Yes! It was singing!
But it’s too late, thought Romano as he turned toward home. His cricket did not win at the Festa Del Grillo. Neither did it sing to bring good luck to their home. But in his sadness there was a tiny glow of happiness as he thought of his cricket flying free. Somewhere, at this very moment, it would still be singing.
As he neared his home he could see a light in the window. His parents were there in its glow, waiting for him. He held up the cage.
“The cricket!” exclaimed his father. “It is gone?”
“Yes,” said Romano. “He did not like the cage.”
His mother nodded. “That is good,” she said.
Romano shook his head. “But now there will be no good luck. We would have had it for a whole year if only he had sung in our home.”
His father arose and put an arm around the shoulders of the boy. “To turn the cricket free when the festival is over is a great kindness,” he said. “And even now, we have good luck. We have a son who wants happiness for a small cricket.”
Romano looked at his parents. On their faces he saw the smiles he had been longing for. He thought of his cricket, flying far and free. A good feeling crept over him, and in his heart, he, too, was singing.