Bracelet Man

Milan

We arrived in Milan at 8AM. Despite our grogginess, I was intent on making every single minute of our vacation count. And so after leaving our luggage at the front desk of Hotel Berna, my sleepy boyfriend and I found ourselves in the open square in front of Milan’s famous Duomo on a sunny spring morning. Surrounded by pigeons and tourists, we stood looking at the cathedral in our tired state of awe. As I looked around for the best photo spot, two men walked up to us.

“Welcome to Milan,” they said, “where are you visiting from?” As we spoke, I heard a familiarity in their accents. “Are you from Senegal?” I asked. One of the men nodded in surprise: “How did you know?” I excitedly told him about how his accent reminded me of a close friend back in New York, who was also from Senegal. “Do you also speak Wolof and French?” I continued the conversation, happy to show off my limited knowledge of Senegal.

The conversations quickly took a turn as the friendly men tied string bracelets on our wrists. “Is this free?” I asked cautiously, my wary tourist alarms finally going off in my head. “Yes, it’s free, it’s just a friendship bracelet, a welcome to our city,” the men smiled. “This is free, nothing attached, right?” I overheard my boyfriend asking. Before I knew it, the knot on my wrist was tightened – and the man from Senegal smiled, “A few coins, now, just a few coins, for the bracelet.”

The knot in my heart tightened. “You said it was free,” I accused, “I asked you and you said we didn’t have to pay.”

“Oh, but just a few coins,” the man continued to smile, coaxing me to pay for the strings around my wrist that no longer looked so colorful. Betrayed by my new “friend,” I was contemplating how to respond as my boyfriend suddenly appeared and took my wrist. “We’re leaving,” he said firmly, dragging me away with determination I didn’t have the heart to muster myself. I never looked back.

When we talked about it later, my boyfriend told me that he had reluctantly given the other man some coins – before feeling angry about being duped and deciding to save me from the same fate. As for me, I was sad that the brief connection I thought I’d made with the man was marred by his ulterior motive. My eyes were opened to the fragility of the human connection: how easy it was to share conversation, and how easy it was to scar it.

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3 thoughts on “Bracelet Man

      1. So true. Because we open our hearts as travelers to the warmth of others…only to be disappointed. But hey! Let this not change your drive to connect!

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