In the entrance hall of the middle school that I attended, there was a large clock hanging in one of the walls, keeping time.
Mr. Panarello, who had been the school caretaker for more than twenty years, kept an eye on it and every hour, on the dot, he would ring a little bell by hand.
When we had religion, art or physical education lesson, Serafino, one of my classmates, and I would slink off into the entrance hall.
Serafino Musumeci already looked like a man. He was tall with a stocky build… to tell the truth, he was fat. He always wore tracksuits and trainers, because his mother couldn’t find any clothes in his size. The skin on my face was smooth like that of a child but, unlike me, Serafino already had traces of a beard.
Taking advantage of the caretaker’s absence, when he was out in the school courtyard chatting with a friend, I would get up onto Serafino’s shoulders and move the hands of the clock back ten minutes, so that the lesson would last longer.
We never needed to put it back to the correct time, as Mr. Panarello would do it when some pupil or other from a math’s lesson complained because the bell had been rung late.
The Christmas holidays officially started on the 22nd of December. This was also the birthday of my friend Nino Cocchiara and, every year, he invited all his classmates to his house.
His parties were unforgettable, thanks also to his mother’s impeccable organizational skills.
The elegant living room at the Cocchiara family home, with its powder blue carpet, was the party battleground. In one corner, there was a record player and a sound mixer, where the unluckiest of our school friends, Ignazio Caputo, also known as the stortu (lopsided) because one of his arms was deformed from polio, tried his hand at being a disc-jockey. Apart from the handicap in his arm, his overall appearance didn’t help him much. He was not what you would call good-looking: he was short and thin, wore thick glasses, had a slightly crooked eye and a waxen face that always had a sad expression on it.
He consoled himself by saying “I don’t like dancing. I like choosing the music for the others to dance to.”
No girl would have accepted his invitation to dance and being the disc-jockey was the only chance he had to speak to any of them.
Ignazio later became a successful university professor and researcher who discovered a new drug for the treatment of HIV. He became rich and had girls queuing up to go out with him.
Sometimes women are able to look beyond a physical impairment and their sensitivity can lead them to discover things that you keep hidden from other people: like your bank account.
The fact that I hadn’t been trying to make a girl like me at all costs, as well as not wanting to be something I was not and not feeling the need to prove anything to anybody, had brought me peace of mind.
I only remember ever being involved with the feelings of a young girl once, when I was thirteen.
One morning at school, before the bell rang to call us inside, she came up to me and stood so close that I could smell her scent of cherries.
«I’ve fallen in love.» She said, awkwardly.
Wow! She likes me. I thought. I began to hope.
«I’ve seen you around with that friend of yours. You’re always together.» She continued, referring to Ruggero.
I suddenly had a premonition.
«I wanted to ask you something, but I’m ashamed to.» She said, looking down and blushing.
A new ray of hope appeared.
«Could you tell your friend that I like him?»
My hopes were suddenly crushed and I buried them immediately.
I felt a fondness towards her and would have liked to hug her and tell her that if my friend were to reject her, I would gladly console her.
When I told her that Ruggero was not interested in her, she didn’t seem shaken. A week later, I saw her kissing a boy in front of the school gate.
At school, preparations were being made for the school trip to Siracusa, an ancient city built on a rock and surrounded by the sea.
«How is it possible chi annu a pattiri iddi p’a gita e m’e gghisari iò e cinqu i matina?» (that they’re going on a trip and I have to get up at five o’clock in the morning?) My father said, pretending to be annoyed. He was trying to make my mother angry, just for the fun of it.
«Do you want them to go to the coach on their own? If you don’t accompany them, people will think we don’t care about our sons.» She answered while filling a sandwich with ham. She had already been up for a while.
In reality, the school was so close to our house that my brother and I went there on our own every day, while my grandmother watched us from the balcony.
Whenever there was a trip, though, parents always accompanied their children to the meeting point in the little square with the fountain, opposite the school.
It was a little smaller than the square where the bar of the zoppu was located and it had a sixteenth-century fountain in the middle with a little angel holding a jug, from which drinking water gushed.
«Did you make mine with ham and cheese, Mum?» I asked.
«Don’t be picky. You’ll eat what you get. There are children dying of hunger in the world.» She answered as she went wake Matteo up for the second time, as he had fallen asleep again. «Matteo, if you don’t get up right now, I’m not going to wake you again and Tommaso will go on the trip without you.»
Judging by her words, my mother seemed strict, but she really wasn’t. Because she worked, she didn’t have much time to spend with us and had to be very practical, without any soppiness, but this didn’t make her less loving or caring.
«What’s inside the sandwiches?» I asked my grandmother.
She answered me sweetly: «Your mum has made some with ham, cheese and aubergines in olive oil and others with tomato, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and oregano. There are two with dried tomatoes and salami and two with meat cutlets. In this container, there are four pieces of potato omelette and in this one there’s some aubergine caponata. I’ve put the flasks of water and the sandwiches in here.»
She pointed at a backpack that seemed like that of a soldier ready to leave for war – but that was not all.
«In this other backpack, I’ve put a few slices of cherry tart and chocolate biscuits. There are also some bananas, two apples and some apricots.»
«Am I taking lunch for the whole school?»
- Her Name Was Aprile - April 18, 2021