Roman Rescue

In 1987 my cousin Paul an I took a trip to Paris where we met with our French friend, Ariane, and after several weeks of exploring France together we three decided to take a trip to Rome by train.

It was an overnight train so unfortunately we weren’t able to see much of the rest of Italy, but we awoke arriving in a station in Rome, where an Italian woman graciously lead us by foot to our hotel, which we would have had difficulty finding otherwise.

The three of us spent the next few days exploring that impressive ancient city, walking up to ten miles each day in the hot sun.

One afternoon we stopped to rest in a cafe across the street from the Roman Colosseum, where we sat at an outdoor table under an umbrella and ordered some cold drinks.

I must have finished my drink first because I told Ariane and Paul that I wanted to photograph the Colosseum from a nearby park adjacent to the massive structure. So I left them there, promising to return shortly.

I remember that the park was on a little hill across the street from the Colosseum: a large span of grass largely shaded by giant canopied pines.

I only just arrived when I saw a little girl, perhaps three years old, on the pathway not far from where I stood. She sobbed, and cried “Mamma! Mamma!” Shockingly, no one else was visible in the entire park.

The moment swept over me like a wave as I realized that my vacation plans were about to change—for there was no way I was going to leave this little girl alone in the park.

But what do do? Pick her up and go get help—and run the risk that someone might see me and think that I was abducting her? And what about Ariane and Paul, waiting for me at the cafe and expecting me to soon return?

I squatted down to appear less threatening to the little girl and spoke to her softly, repeating the one word I knew she understood.

“Are you looking for your mamma?” I said. “Shall I help you find your mamma?”

She calmed down a little and mumbled “mamma” among words in Italian that I did not understand.

I saw that the nearest signs of civilization—and possible help—was a group of shops on the ground floor of an old, multi-story building perhaps a hundred yards away.

I stood and gestured to the little girl to follow me, being careful to maintain my distance while being watchful for any signs of her parents. I spoke to her softly, knowing she could not understand what I said but that my words reassured her.

Her face was sad but she stopped crying and followed me closely as we slowly walked together toward the shops.

Finally, we approached what looked to be a small travel agency. I held the door open for the little girl and we went inside.

“Do you speak English?” I blurted out to the man behind the counter. “Yes,” he said. Thank goodness!

I tried my best to explain the situation to him: I was an American tourist, taking photographs. I found this little girl in the park, without her parents. Could he please help?

He looked at me suspiciously, a little annoyed. He stepped around the counter to get a better look at the little girl. He spoke a few words to her in Italian, and she responded.

A woman entered the room from a door in the back (the man’s wife?) and the tone immediately changed for the better. She spoke to her husband in Italian and he to her, and I had the feeling that she overheard the conversation I had with the man when I entered.

The woman approached the little girl, spoke to her in a kind voice, and sat her in a chair. The man wanted me to show him where I found the child, so we went outside and walked toward the park, where I pointed out where I first encountered her. On the way back to the shop someone threw a bucket of liquid from a window high above, which nearly splashed on us. The man yelled up and gestured wildly, just like in an Italian movie.

Back in the shop the man and woman spoke to one another again, and finally the man said to me “We will call the police,” and gestured to the woman, who placed the call.

I didn’t feel comfortable dumping my problem of the little girl on him, and I could tell he wasn’t comfortable with that scenario either. Plus, I now felt responsible for her and wanted to make sure she was safe. So I decided to stay and see it through—hoping that Ariane and Paul wouldn’t worry too much about me being gone for so long.

After perhaps 15 minutes had passed, the telephone rang. It was the police. The child’s parents were with them, seeking their help in finding their child. All was well!

Before long a police car arrived to transport the child back to her parents. She was placed in the back seat. “They want to meet you and thank you,” one of the two policemen said to me in English.

“Please send them my regards,” I said, "but my friends are waiting and I must get back to them.”

We all shook hands then, smiles all around, and the last I saw of the little girl was her small head in the back seat of the police car as it drove away. I returned to Ariane and Paul with a story to tell.