Some time, after the start of the school year, Ginevra arrived. Her father had been transferred to the village Town Hall for work and her family rented the house that belonged to Serafina Bonazinga, the cuntissa (Countess), so called because of her noble origins. The woman had died and her son, a doctor in Rome, had rented her house out.
«Her name is Ginevra. She’s the woman of my life.» I announced that afternoon, as I sat doing my homework with my brother and my grandmother.
«Yes, just like the last time you said that, and Giovanna almost sent her brothers to beat you up.» Laughed Matteo.
Giovanna was one of his school friends and I had dared to tell a few of my friends that I liked her. When she found out, she threatened me: «You’d better not say such things around here, otherwise I’ll tell my brothers.»
I still wonder what they would have done if they had found out: was it dishonourable to be liked by a young boy? What sin had I committed?
«Don’t be in such a hurry to find the woman of your life. She’ll turn up when you’re least expecting it.» Said my grandmother, playfully pulling Matteo’s ear for making fun of me.
Ginevra looked like Snow White. She was very thin and small in stature. She had big dark eyes and long black hair. She spoke Italian, unlike the other children in the village, who spoke in dialect.
The day she arrived, I tried to win her over by offering her my soft panino, but she politely refused.
The next day, in the playground, during recreation, I tried to catch her eye, showing off my athletic physique and challenging my classmates to a race, but they were playing at ciuscia (puff), and they didn’t even glance at me: I certainly wasn’t the leader of our recreation time.
Giuseppe Di Gregorio was the one everyone followed and tried to imitate. He was a mini-leader. He was neither tall nor handsome, but he had a lot of charisma. Being his friend meant being a bit special in the eyes of the young girls. I was not a friend of his, but he did at least say hello to me, and he also allowed me to play with him.
«Come on Giuseppe, let’s take Turi’s bag.»
His friends began to throw Turi’s backpack to each other. Turi was a quiet boy and was a genius at school. He was able to do calculations in his head that, in my opinion, not even a mathematician would have been able to do.
My mother said that he would become a scientist. Sure enough! He ended up at the age of twenty in a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts.
«Give me my bag back!» Turi shouted, running around the playground as he tried to retrieve it.
«Here, catch it.» His schoolmates yelled, taunting him.
That morning his schoolbag welcomed Ginevra to our school, ending its flight on top of the poor newcomer’s head. The clasp on its strap got stuck in her hair and she began to cry with pain. The other girls rushed to rescue her, crowding around her, while the boys kept their distance, as they were worried that a possible punishment might soon be coming their way.
Too many hands on Ginevra’s head and in her long locks just made the tangle around the clasp even worse.
After some initial shyness, I decided that if I played my cards right this could be the time to win her over: I would approach her, pushing my way through the crowd and I would untangle my beloved’s hair; she would give me a kiss and stay with me, her hero, forever.
«Let me try.» I said, confidently.
Ginevra turned her back to me and I held her soft hair in my hands. A scent of talcum powder wafted over me, making me dream of what it would be like to hold her in my arms.
«Hurry up! It’s time to go back inside.» Turi urged me, more eager to get his bag back than to free my princess.
To achieve my goal as quickly as possible and also because my patience had already run out, I decided to give a big tug, with the clasp in one hand and the lock of hair, which had no intention freeing itself, in the other.
Ginevra felt no pain, but a bunch of her hair remained stuck to the clasp, which was now free from her head.
The girls and boys around us were dumbstruck. Ginevra turned round to see what I had in my hand and, when she saw her hair knotted around the clasp, she burst into tears.
That was the last time the woman of my life ever looked at me.
«Bonu va’, giucamu a ciuscia.» (Come on, let’s play at ciuscia.) Giuseppe had decided that the drama was over and that a new game would begin, and I was grateful to him for this.
After losing face with Ginevra, I temporarily suspended my search for the woman of my life. I didn’t approach any other little girls, nor did any of them approach me.
Relationships between girls and boys at the age of twelve were sometimes hostile. When we liked a girl, but this girl ignored us, our revenge would be to speak ill of her and let the malicious rumours spread throughout the village: that girl is half-stupid, or that one is really stuck-up, and so on, to the point of making very unflattering remarks about the victim.
While my mother and my grandmother were hanging out the clothes on the balcony, Matteo and I watched the village people doing their chores, like characters in a living nativity scene.
I noticed a little girl called Marta strolling along with her mother and I said: «That one there has been to bed with a load of boys much older than she is.»
I used the grown-up words that I had heard in the square, without even knowing their true meaning.
Hearing this, my mother shouted at me angrily: «Chi si cretinu? Ma cu ti ‘nzigna sti cosi, vaia!» (Are you a cretin? Who teaches you these things? Just listen to him!)
Then my grandmother started rattling on: «Tommaso, remember that gossip is like feathers in a cushion. Once you open it up, the wind carries them away and however much you want to put them back inside the cushion, you will never be able to do so. One day that little girl might become a doctor and save your life. Wouldn’t you feel bad for saying such things about her then?»
«You’re right, Grandma. I’m sorry.» I mumbled, mortified.
«Yes, she’ll probably become Queen of England.» Matteo joked. He had been silent until then.
Marta never got to be Queen, nor did she become a doctor: she got pregnant at the age of fifteen and had to marry Nuccio the lattuneri (the car bodywork mechanic), who was later arrested for car theft. She got divorced at nineteen and had another four children from two different men, who never married her. She spent her whole life trying to make a living by doing odd jobs.
Nevertheless, my grandmother’s warning made me think and, after that, I always tried to be more careful about what I said.
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.