Being patient is a Sicilian characteristic and the most common phrase used when something is not going well is: … e bonu, pacienza (…oh well, never mind). This is the innate resignation of a people used to fighting for what should be theirs by right and used to queuing up in public offices, while the office staff members talk to their friends about personal matters over the phone.
My mother hated having that kind of patience and always tried to rebel against it, but such rebellion is quite pointless in Sicily, when the entire community reasons are in the opposite way from your way of thinking.
«You’re always too indulgent with your children. One day, they’ll get into serious trouble. Just you wait and see.»
We all remained silent. Matteo and I didn’t understand what my mother meant by this. She always said “your children” to my father, when we had done something bad, and “our children” when we had done something good.
My father continued to eat calmly and so did the rest of us.
After the school year, my teacher, Paola, asked to be transferred to the town in which she was born and where her husband worked.
It was better that way, as ours would have been an impossible love.
Twenty years later, I saw her again. She wasn’t as tall as I remembered – it was just I who was small at the time.
I greeted her with a wave and a feeling of melancholy, but she didn’t even recognize me. I was a man now.
To take my mind off that bad experience at nursery school, my grandmother decided to take me to see her uncle and aunt in Acitrezza, the following Sunday.
Her parents were dead, and she was still very close to those good people, who often welcomed her into their home during the festive season. They were Mr. and Mrs. Rodolico, and they owned a small shipyard on the village seafront, near the little church square.
The journey began early in the morning. First, we took a bus to Messina. From there, we took a train to Catania and then a bus to Acitrezza.
My mother was not happy about the trip.
«It’s too far for a five-year old to travel. You’ll see… as soon as he gets tired, he’ll start to whine.» She said, when my grandmother suggested the idea to her.
«No, Mum, I won’t cry. Please let me go.» I begged her.
«I want to go too.» my brother shrieked.
«Be quiet. Go away!» She warned him, kicking out in his direction.
He began to cry and pulled my hair.
«Be quiet, both of you. I said no! Matteo, go to your room.» She shouted, separating us and pushing my brother towards the bedroom.
My mother was kind-hearted. She tried to be strict but was unable to say no and couldn’t bear to see us children crying. That was why she rarely smacked us.
My grandmother calmed her down: «Carmela, don’t worry. I’ll find a way to distract him on the journey and he’ll sleep a little. Won’t you, Tommaso?»
«Yes Grandma, I will. I’ll be good, Mum.»
«Let’s hope you don’t feel sick on the bus. It’s a long trip.» My mother’s words turned out to be prophetic.
When someone says something negative that later comes true, people think that they bring bad luck and they are given the nickname cucca, meaning jinx or bird of ill-omen.
After arriving in Messina, we went to one of the best pastry shops in town, where they had been making their own home-baked cakes since the beginning of the century.
My grandmother adored their Cassata, a traditional cake of Palermo, and she wanted to take one to her uncle and aunt as a gift.
An amazing aroma wafted all around me as we entered … There were glass display cases on long, dark wood counters. In them, there were neat rows of trays containing Sicilian Cannoli, made with ricotta cheese and with chocolate and chopped hazelnuts or pistachio nuts and icing sugar on top. Then there were Canestrelli made of short crust pastry, filled with custard and with a slice of fruit on top, chocolate éclairs, Pignolata pastries and short crust pastry baskets filled with cream and decorated with wild strawberries.
My mouth was watering. My grandmother noticed the look in my eyes: «Shall we get something nice to eat?»
«Yes, let’s have that one, Grandma.» I replied, without waiting to be asked twice and pointing to a pastry filled with custard and decorated with a red glacé cherry. We ordered two and enjoyed them, sitting quietly at a little table.
The young lady who served us looked like a doll: her light blonde hair was neatly combed, and she had blue eyes. She was wearing a burgundy apron over a black skirt and a white blouse.
I watched her, open-mouthed, as she came towards us: she moved gracefully and her manner was polite.
«This is for you, sweety.» She said, giving me a dazzling smile and putting the plate with the cake on it before me on the table: I didn’t know whether to eat or carry-on staring at her. In the end, I wisely decided to watch the young lady while eating my cake.
She spoke in Italian. This was very different from our village bar, where they only spoke in dialect and where you would be served by Concetta, the fat wife of the zoppu, the cripple, with her coffee-stained apron and her sweat-smelling armpits.
We were in the city now. The pastry shop was spotlessly clean, the waitresses smelled of vanilla and the shelves were nice and tidy, showing off packets of cakes and pastries, which they also sent all over the world.
My eyes followed the waitress as she moved away, and my grandmother smiled. «Who knows what the woman you will marry one day will be like. Who knows if I’ll get to meet her?»
«Of course you’ll meet her, Grandma. When I get engaged, you’ll be the first to know.»
«Finish your cake now. We need to get going. It’s getting late. The trains never leave on time, but let’s not tempt fate.»
We bought a nicely decorated Cassata cake and set off towards the station. We arrived just in time to get on board the train for Catania.
My grandmother’s normal walking pace was nimble, but not too rushed. It was as if rapid movements were not natural for her. She floated along in the air, walking as if her feet were treading on the clouds, with a straight neck and her head held high, looking straight ahead. There was never any hesitation, never a nod given to anybody. She kept her hair tied in a bun, wanting to seem older and look like a grandmother. Had she worn it loose, it would have hung down below her waist, long, straight and black with just a few hidden strands of white hair.
She was forty-seven years old and her blue eyes, tinged with violet, still turned men’s heads and attracted the envious glances of other women.
I was born in Messina and raised in a traditional Sicilian family. I am the youngest of three sisters. I worked 10 years at a travel agency and then as a tour guide. Travelling is my passion. My writing career began somewhat by accident when I participated in a literary competition and won first prize. Two years later I tried my hand at the writing competition once again, my entry won first prize again! My first novel, "Her name was Aprile" was born after chronicling stories from a boy’s youth and the disappointments of lost love. In writing about these events, the characters came to life and the story wrote itself.