After thirty years in the land of the maple leaf, John was returning back to his roots, the isle of Calypso. It was a cold January evening as the ‘Malita’ ferry boat cut through the waves across the channel between the two little islands. The sea was relatively calm, the sun was hiding behind the clouds and some seagulls were hovering overhead.
Thirty years! His first visit since he had emigrated at the age of 25. His name was then Ganni. He had worked hard, did not indulge in any luxuries and took great care of his money. As a result he was now a relatively wealthy man. He was still a bachelor. He had dated several girls, had short relations with some others, but he never married. Maybe he was looking for the perfect woman. Maybe he did not thrust these sophisticated and independent Canadian girls. But there was a nice and gentle lady he wanted so much to see in Gozo and for whom he still carried a flame in his heart. She was, in truth, the only one he never forgot throughout his years away from his beloved island. He recalled seeing her the day he left for Canada. He remembered the loving smile on her face. His separation from her was the only thing that made his departure from the island difficult to bear. But it had to be done. There was no other choice. He could see no prospects on the little island and, on the other hand, there were new opportunities of work in the new land.
For thirty whole years he had carried a small photo of her in his wallet. How often had he looked at it with admiration, and how many times had he showed it to his friends with pride? The photo had now become tattered and yellowish with the years but he could still see her lovely smiling face on it. Now, after all those years, John was looking with anticipation to see her once again. The boat was full up with passengers, mostly Gozitans returning home from work. John bought a coffee and two ‘pastizzi’ from the cafeteria on board and sat down on a chair looking through the glass windows eager to get the first glimpse of Gozo. He intended to buy a house in his home town of Nadur and pass his retirement years in peace and quiet. His friends had told him that many returning migrants had proudly named their house for their country of adoption – Uncle Sam, Stars and Stripes, USA, Maple Leaf, Canada, Niagara, Down Under, Waltzing Matilda and so forth. But he had other ideas for the name of his house.
His roving mind took him back to the place he had just left – Canada. The little bungalow not far from the Dundas area where Maltese still met regularly, eating ‘pastizzi’ and ‘qassatat’ bought from the Maltese Bakery Shop. When they met in the afternoons, they still talked about Malta and Gozo, about the patron saints of their towns and villages, about the relatives and neighbours they had left behind.
“May I use this chair?” asked a young man. “Of course, no problem” replied John as he looked at the youth holding a cup of coffee in his hands. “Is the boat always full at this time?” asked John. “Yes. Most Gozitans working in Malta are now returning back home for the weekend” replied the young man. They struck a conversation and John learned much about new developments taking place in Gozo. “Where are you from?” asked the young man. “I was born in Gozo but have lived in Canada these last thirty years. In fact this is my first visit since,” replied John. “Canada?” exclaimed the young man. “It is so far away I would never dream of going there. You see, I am afraid of flying, afraid that the plane would crash!”
“Nonsense,” replied John. “God won’t let you die in a plane crash if He means you to die of some other thing.” The youth looked at the older man in a pensive way and said – “But that’s the rub friend. I won’t know what God has in mind for me!”
As the ferry approached Mgarr harbour both men prepared to go below. They shook hands, wished each other ‘good luck’ and separated. John could see, even from a distance, how his little island had changed. Then as it berthed in port, he took his bags, went through the new terminal, hailed a taxi and went straight to his rented accommodation in Nadur. All the time he noted the widened and smooth tarmaced roads, the roundabouts with multi-coloured flowers and landscaping all around.
He woke up on Saturday morning feeling fine and brisk. He’ll be meeting her today, the lady who was always on his mind during his long absence from Gozo. He went to ‘Piazza San Pietru u San Pawl’, the centre of activity in the town. He phoned a taxi and gave the driver directions. When he arrived at the destination, he paid the taxi-driver and looked around him.
He walked over to the majestic and imposing baroque church, went inside, kept to the left of the colonnades and headed straight towards the area behind the main altar. Even though it was January, he was sweating with anticipation and excitement. And then he saw her – Il-Madonna ta Pinu! The gentle Lady was wrapped in a blue cloak and a silver crown above her head. He went down on his knees and prayed as he had never prayed before – thanking her for keeping him safe all those years he had been away from his beloved island of Gozo.