Giovanni closed the front door softly so that he wouldn’t wake his family. Though early in the morning, it was already warm in Sicily, the large island at the “toe” of the Italy “boot.” The air felt heavy and moist like a damp blanket. The street was quiet except for the sound of the boy’s footsteps as thoughts of last night’s family home evening swirled in his head.
Mama had read from her new Book of Mormon that was already showing signs of wear, “‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.’”* She’d stopped reading and stared blankly at the page.
Giovanni had looked down at his hands and said quietly, “Ever since we were baptized and started paying tithing, it seems like we’ve just gotten more problems.” His mother turned toward him, a look of surprise in her eyes, but he could not keep the words inside any longer. “Paying tithing didn’t keep Papa from losing his job, and it hasn’t given us the money we need. What good is paying tithing?”
The room was silent for a long time. Finally Papa spoke. “Giovanni, what if every time you obeyed a commandment, someone gave you a reward?”
“It would be easy to choose the right.”
“Too easy,” Papa added.
“But Heavenly Father wants us to choose the right so we can live with Him again.”
“Yes, He does,” Papa said. “But we must want to live with Him again, too—enough to choose the right even if we aren’t rewarded right away. And enough to avoid evil, even if it seems profitable. Heavenly Father won’t solve all our problems for us. But He will help us as we work to solve them.”
A dog barked from behind a wood fence, startling Giovanni as he walked, interrupting his thoughts. “I wish this problem would have been solved before I had to spend my summer looking for work,” he muttered to himself.
Jobs were scarce, especially for a boy. Everyone he asked had answered the same: “No.” Only one person would hire him—Tomaso. He had a reputation for never smiling—and for never keeping a worker more than one day.
Giovanni heard the bell tower’s deep bong. It was six o’clock, and Tomaso had been very clear that he was to arrive by six o’clock. Giovanni ran the last block to the Mercato Aperto (open air market). He found Tomaso already setting up under the dusty canvas canopy. He was a short, wiry man, though what he lacked in height, he made up for in his hands. Giovanni had never seen bigger hands. Tomaso easily hefted two full crates onto the rickety table.
“Finish these,” he said, motioning with his head.
Giovanni unloaded the crate of sanguinelle (blood oranges). They looked like any other orange on the outside, but on the inside, the fruit was a beautiful ruby red. Giovanni took a deep breath. The sweet, tangy odor mingled with the aroma of pollo allo spiedo (roast chickens) across the street and the pungent smell of olives floating in vinegar in the booth next door. Already people were milling about and vendors were shouting their wares in noisy competition for customers.
“Arancie, mille lire (oranges, a thousand lira),” Giovanni joined in.
“Due chili” (two kilos), answered a woman.
Giovanni placed a bag on the scale and began to fill it. Suddenly his eye caught the glint of something shiny among the oranges. He picked it up. It was a 500-lire coin, with silver edges around a brass center. He glanced around quickly. The woman was searching her purse for money. Tomaso was busy helping another customer. Giovanni slipped the coin into his pocket. He finished filling the bag and handed it to the woman.
The customers came one after another all morning long. Giovanni forgot about the coin until another gleam caught his eye. This time it was two 500-lire coins! That made 1,500 lire, half of what Tomaso had promised to pay him for a day’s work! Giovanni remembered what his father had said at family night, “Heavenly Father will help us as we work to solve our problems.” This must beHeavenly Father’s way of blessing us for paying tithing, he thought. But as he slipped the coins into his pocket, he felt that something was not right.
“That’s all for today,” Tomaso said shortly. “Let’s clean up.”
Giovanni tried to ignore the knot in his stomach as he boxed the remaining oranges and helped collapse the tables. He wished Tomaso would pay him so that he could get away.
“Three thousand lire,” Tomaso said gruffly, holding out three bills in his hand.
Giovanni reached for the money, then stopped. His father’s words echoed in his mind, “… avoid evil, even if it seems profitable.”
He slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out the three coins. “I found these today among the oranges. I don’t know who they belong to, but they do not belong to me.”
Tomaso stared at the coins for a moment. Then a smile began to turn up the corners of his mouth. “Thank you, Giovanni,” he said, taking the coins from the boy’s small hand with his large one. “I thought I had lost them. They are part of my brother’s coin collection. They are not worth much beyond their face value, but they give my brother much pleasure. He is ill and has few pleasures, so I was distressed at losing them.”
Tomaso turned and put some oranges into a sack. He handed it to Giovanni with the lire bills. “You are not only a hard worker but honest. All the other boys I hired stole oranges from me. You not only returned my brother’s coins, but you also did not steal any fruit. I cannot afford to pay you more money, but I can give you this.”
Now it was Giovanni’s turn to smile. The terrible knot in his stomach had disappeared. He took the three bills and the sack Tomaso held out, and turned to go.
“Giovanni,” Tomaso said, “come again tomorrow—six o’clock sharp.”