Her Name Was Aprile, a novel by Elisa Barbaro at Spillwords.com

Her Name Was Aprile

«See! You know how to drive!» He said, encouragingly, before I had even put my foot on the accelerator. «Now let’s go forward as far as the wall and then we’ll park it.»
Why not? I thought. What could possibly happen in twenty metres of garden, without any hills or bends, without any walls? I started the engine, put it in gear, gently took my foot off the clutch, accelerated slowly and, sure enough, the car moved. Straight ahead. Slowly. Perfectly.
«Well done! That was great Tommy! I told you it’s child’s play. Now put it in reverse and we’ll park it where it was before. Dad will be none the wiser.»
Yes, we had succeeded, nobody would notice.
As easy as pie! All I had to do was put it into reverse, take my foot gently off the clutch, accelerate slowly and the car would move backwards. But… instead… boom!
I saw panic in Matteo’s eyes. Our heads shot round.
Framed in the back rear window, like in a painting, we saw the trunk of the fig tree in our garden. The car had crashed into it.
«Where did that tree come from?»
«What kind of question is that? It’s always been there!»
«And now what?» My brother started to realize how serious this was.
In the meantime, my grandmother had appeared on the balcony, but it was too late to stop us. She had seen the crash and had gone back into the house. She wouldn’t be there to help us this time. We were no longer figghioli, but big enough to shoulder our responsibilities.
I tried to park the car as best I could, although I was shaking with fear and nerves.
I swore at my brother, who had finally stopped talking.
The impact was small, and the bodywork was not damaged. Only the metal bumper was slightly scratched.
We went back into the house. We put the keys back where they were and hid on the balcony, waiting for my parents to return.
As soon as they came into the garden, they noticed that something strange had happened. On the ground, there was a mass of smashed, ripe figs announcing the misdemeanour. There were also figs on the roof of the car.
My mother began to scream and rant, yelling at us: «Mi `mmazzastu a ficara, you scoundrels.» (you’ve killed my fig tree)
Walking around the 500, they saw the scratches on the back bumper.
My father’s calm nature was really put to the test this time. He checked the rest of the bodywork in silence, remaining unruffled, with his eyes wide open, staring. He left without saying a word.
Women’s priorities are so different from men. How could my mother be thinking about the fig tree, without caring about the damage to the car?
I thought that my father might be angry with her too this time. His punishment was worse than a beating, though, because he didn’t speak a word to us for five whole days.
In my village, there were no secondary schools, so I enrolled in the Technical Industrial Institute of Messina. A bus left very early every morning to get me to my lessons on time.
On board, there were boys like me, going to school, and commuting adults who worked in the city. We were “the bus people”, faces without names, smiles of circumstance, a few polite words: sorry, excuse me, thanks, you’re welcome.
The only person with a name was the driver, Luigi. Before getting on board, he always smoked a cigarette, which he held between his lips, framed by his dark beard, while the smoke made him squint.
He was over fifty and his teeth were yellow, like his fingers. He always wore a black coppola (flat cap) on his head, even in summer.
The school building was the biggest and most modern in town. It was divided into two parts: one was known as the old wing, with traditional classrooms identified by the letter A and a new wing with modern classrooms, identified by the letter B. It contained electronics laboratories, automated systems and computers, two well-equipped indoor gymnasiums and an outdoor five-a-side football field.
On the first day of school, the headmistress welcomed the first-year pupils, who were gathered in the large gym.
She was a fifty-year-old woman with two names and two surnames, too many to be remembered. She was a bit on the sturdy side and the students joked saying that she was wider than she was long and that if you met her in the street, you would be better off jumping over her than walking round her.
That morning she started by making statements that soon became familiar at every school assembly. «Girls and boys, I welcome you to what will be your new school and a big family for the next five years…»
«If you don’t fail your exams and get put back a year, of course. Otherwise, it could be six or seven years!» A boy sitting next to me added. «I’m Alfio. I’ve repeated the first year twice already.» He smiled, showing a row of white teeth against his sun-tanned face.
«Tommaso, but people call me Tommy.» I introduced myself, holding out my hand.
«Tommy… that’s bit of a childish name, isn’t it? It might be better if people called you Tom instead.» He suggested, shaking my hand.
«Yes, of course.» I stuttered, puzzled, turning my head to carry on listening to the welcome speech.
«…I speak to you with an open heart, like a mother to her children», the headmistress continued.
«Oh my God! Isn’t my mother enough already?» Snorted a girl with straight black hair and a fringe, who was sitting next to Alfio.
I sat staring at her, taken aback. I had never seen anyone dressed like her before. She was a dark, as my friends explained to me later. She followed one of the many fashions of the 1980s.
She only wore black clothes. She painted her fingernails black and drew her eyebrows in black. Even her lipstick was black.
It disturbed me a little. I had never seen a face masked in such a way, apart from during the carnival period. I gazed at her grey eyes outlined with dark make-up. They could undoubtedly have starred in a nightmare.
«Well?! What do you think you’re looking at?» She snapped at me.
Alfio, who was sitting between us, introduced us.
«Meg, let me introduce my friend Tom. He’s a new arrival. Try not to eat him up for breakfast.»
A strikingly white arm reached out towards me, on which she was wearing black leather bracelets with fake metal studs. She held out her hand to greet to me, but I hesitated for a moment.
«Well? Are you a half-wit or something?»

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