Although they were adults, both of their families frowned upon the idea of them marrying and considered it premature. So, my mother thought the best thing to do would be to get pregnant, which she did, after just three months of her relationship with my father. They had resorted to what we call a fuitina, a little escape.
This was something that adolescents usually did, after falling out with their parents, who were against their marriage. It was a way of making their sexual relationship explicit, thus putting both families before a fait accompli. Their parents were thus obliged to consent to a reparatory wedding.
It was 1967, but the sexual revolution hadn’t arrived in my village and never did.
My father found job as a hospital porter but studied to become a nurse – a qualification that he obtained after two years.
Later on, he helped my mother to get a job in the accounts office.
After the dinner, we would kiss our mum and dad goodnight and go to bed. Our grandmother accompanied us to our bedroom, and she would always stay for a while to tell us a story or a Sicilian legend.
Sundays were always cheerful, thanks to Matteo’s pranks, which often led to him getting a clout from my father.
Unlike him, I was quite a fearful, timid child. As an adolescent I was awkward with the girls, perhaps because of that episode with my nursery school teacher: being betrayed at the age of five can mark you for life.
The nursery school I attended was the only one in the village and there was only one elementary school too. Both were inside a building with a large courtyard where the mothers, who were waiting for their children to come out of school, would gather to chat with each other, except for my mother: she didn’t have time for that.
After the tragic discovery that my teacher was married and would not become the woman of my life, I was determined not to go to nursery school anymore. I may have been timid and bungling, but I was already quite stubborn.
The following morning, when my mother left me in front of the classroom door, instead of going in and sitting down with the other children, I decided to back to the car, without letting anyone see me, and hide on the back seat.
I succeeded in catching her up, with some difficulty, but I didn’t manage to open the back door of the car and my little hand got stuck in the door handle.
Luckily, my mother always drove very slowly, as she had only had her driving license for a few months and also for fear that some child might suddenly pop out in front of her from an alleyway.
Unfortunately, however, she was fiddling with the car radio and had the volume turned up high, which prevented her from hearing my cries.
The entrance to the nursery school was on a hill that led to a large square. The only bar in the village was in this square and was that of don Santo u zoppu, the cripple. Someone had shot him in the leg many years before. They said that it was because he did not want to pay the pizzo, an offering made to the local mafia in exchange for protection.
Don Santo was a big man. He was one metre ninety tall and weighed 150 kilos. He had also had to succumb to the pizzo, just like every other poor soul who had a shop.
The elderly pensioners would sit at the little tables in the square, which he carefully set up at seven o’clock every morning, where they would play cards and watch the people going by.
They would discuss about politics and gossip, about the inhabitants of the village, ordering a gelato or a cup of coffee from time to time.
When the old men saw my mother’s car go by that morning, they waved at her to say hello. She replied with a light beep of her horn and drove on.
Shortly afterwards, however, at the sight of me running along screaming wildly with my hand stuck in the car door handle, the old men stood up, waving their arms, taking off their coppole, flat caps, and brandishing them in the air, gesticulating and shouting furiously.
«Si fimmassi signora Caruso, si sta tirannu un picciriddu» (Mrs. Caruso, stop! You’re pulling a child along), yelled Carmelo u ghiancheri, the butcher, who hadn’t opened his shop yet.
Alarmed by the cries, don Santo came out of his bar and, despite his impaired leg, tried to run. He caught up with the car and slumped down onto the bonnet with his enormous belly. Terrified, my mother stood on the brakes to avoid running him over.
For years after, people still talked about that episode at the bar and many inhabitants of the village thought that my quiet disposition was a result of the trauma I had sustained that day.
My mother punished me accordingly, perhaps more because she was angry with herself than because I was really to blame. She then left me at home with my grandmother and went to work, her face still rigid with fear about what might have happened.
Fortunately, my grandmother’s warm embrace consoled and reassured me, allowing me to forget the beating and my mother’s angry words.
My grandmother didn’t talk very much and communicated her emotions mainly through gestures.
She realized that I had had a scare and that I needed to be comforted more than punished.
I can’t remember my mother’s words while she was hitting me, but I do remember those of my grandmother while she cuddled me.
«You’ve had quite a scare, haven’t you? But you’re safe now, here with your grandma.» Looking right at me, she caressed my little wet face and, as she wiped away my tears, she said: «Do you know what we’re going to do now? We are going to make a cake, so that your mum will forgive you. She’ll be so happy. Just you wait and see.»
«Your son is a danger to himself and to others», my mother exclaimed, informing my father of what had happened. She wasn’t even all that happy about the cake.
My brother sniggered because, for once, it wasn’t him being scolded. My grandmother, straight-faced, held my hand under the table. My father looked at me sternly, while he decided what the right punishment would be for me.
«Cammiliiina,» followed by a two-second pause «c’am’a’ffari? Non fu cuppa i nuddu. (what can we do? It wasn’t anyone’s fault) It was an accident. Luckily, it all ended well.»
Trusting in a glimmer of mercy from my mother, my father had delivered the verdict and I had been forgiven.
When he called her Carmelina, in a certain drawled tone of voice, as if he were tired, in his infinite patience, of always repeating the same thing, it meant that he wanted to calm her down, asking her to be patient and bringing the argument to an end.
- Her Name Was Aprile - April 18, 2021