Checkpoint Childhood

In my grandparents’ garden there was and still is, now diminished in size by my fiftyfive-year-old glance, an artificial hill called La montagnola. Towering trees patrol the surrounding gardens while thick bushes keep secret the path that spirals up along minimal flanks and leads to a clearing the size of a rocking horses carousel. Up there would we lay down in lazy summertime afternoons, bird singing and insect humming in our ears. Cast beyond the tree crowns, our glances could meet clouds playing hide & seek with sun or get stranded. An exercise I most liked was keeping my eyes wide shut and imagining myself dead. Wasn’t falling asleep a daily exercise in dying?

La montagnola had existed long before us kids as well as our grandparents. It is part of the estate they had bought in the early Thirties, together with a garden – its monumental weeping mulberry, orderly and colourful flower beds, neat gravel sidewalks, round goldfish tank whose wrought iron fence would later try to protect its dwellers from our raids.

My grandparents were country people. They both sprang from small landowner families, mostly uneducated farmers. Their catholic imprinting shaped their life vision, developing in them a keen sense of resilience and self-denial. My grandpa Gino, the eldest of five siblings, was the only one who receive higher education to obtain an agronomist diploma. It did not take long before he got hired as administrator by landed gentry residing in Rome and Milan and possessing estates in the Marches. Farm production cycles established my grandparents’ family agenda. Their life rhythms soon tuned in with rural cycles: wheat harvesting, threshing, plowing, wine harvesting along with the silkworm breeding activity she had inherited. In time land ownership and proper education would become a priority in their family project, assuring their two girls – my aunt and my mother – economic ease and cultural equipment for a better life. Harvest after harvest, savings had been put aside till opportunity had arisen and investments made both in land and higher education, because “money makes us rich but education makes us noble”, read a ceramic plate hanging on my grandmother’s dining room, for anyone to know.

Nonna Augusta had attended formal education till somewhere near to a middle school diploma. Since a very young age she had loved reading and writing poetry. After a lifetime spent jotting down verses, at seventy-five she indulged in having a selection of her poems self-published. How many times visiting them already as an old couple, would we see nonno Gino in his snow-white apron meticulously setting the table while smiling to us “hush… the poetess is composing”. To this day, her poems collected in I silenzi del cuore (Silences of the heart) keep their healing power. Nonno Gino‘s memory also stays with me. As his employers grew older, new generations stepped in but many of them lacked sense of commitment and ethics. Those were la dolce vita days. My grandfather’s advice became more and more crucial for most of his younger employers. In retrospect, I can see him as a typical representative of the emerging middle class: purposeful and vigilant, with his mixture of popular wisdom and professionalism, he had made his small contribution to the so-called Italian economic miracle.

Back in the Seventies we were just kids busy in their clandestine fishing at the goldfish pond, creating our complicated parallel worlds beneath the mulberry cathedral or just playing hide & seek across all nooks and corners of the big garden.  A suspicion that things did prove more complicated than we assumed must have flashed on us the day our grand-grandma Olimpia passed away. We sensed that an action was needed and we came up with the idea of an impromptu funeral to be held in the big room on the ground floor of the old house. Keeping a central corridor in the middle, chairs were arranged like pews facing the altar/ dining table. There, Lillo solemny bestowed on us a funeral service in memory of nonna Pimpa, with my brother – older than Livio but less ambitious – playing the altar boy. Curiously enough did we later learned that the very room we had staged our religious rite in, had actually served as an official temporary place of worship after the big earthquake in 1930 had hit the nearby parish church: a white stone plaque sporting the Holy See coat of arms placed onto the house external wall keeps memory to these days.

We were not living in the same house. Our three cousins stayed with our grandparents in the old house. The three of us – our youngest brother would arrive many years later – spent their holidays in the new building, a three-storey house built on an adjoining plot of land. La Montagnola marked a no-man’s land between the two gardens. In fact, the place that we most valued was la grotta. To us the dark and damp grotto at the very foundations of the hill proved the most mysterious and thrilling part of the whole garden. That silent barrel vault space that in very old days had served as cellar and storage room, was kept off limits from us all – adults and children – by a heavy rusted padlock tightened to iron gratings. In fact, once did we venture inside there in candlelight accompanied by our cousins’ father.

Zio Elvio had a limp lag and curiosity for anything local and historical, no wonder he was a history teacher. He spent long hours collecting old keys, stamps and any kind of exotic items. He was also very creative and loved experimenting with sculpture but even more with drawing. He created series of countryside o seaside landscapes especially with crayons. The last time I saw him in his studio he was ninety-two. He was still as curious as ever and his ritual of allowing you to pick up and take away one or two pieces amid his miniature landscapes was still in place. I reckon now the magic of those moments, with him so silently proud of sharing fragments of his imaginary world. Since we were very little he had been entertaining us all with stories he would make up or read, or playing us songs on his mangiadischi – a portable 45 rpm record player -, like Enzo Jannacci’s Vengo anchio! or Cochi e Renato’s  La vita l’è bella.

The grotto had left in our nostrils a sniff of humidity and a sense of sweet gratefulness for our adult guide. Meantime, our father had always been up in the sky if not in heaven. As hard as I try to find him at any point in those long summertime days spent in my granparents’ garden, I just cannot: he would always be somewhere else – flying in the sky, travelling abroad on a mission, sailing to Croatia with friends, riding his flamboyant motorbike. Summer days would pile up with sunny mornings spent mostly at the beach which was located just five minutes’ walk across the street, and afternoons spent playing around the two neighbouring gardens. We would move back and forth between the old house and the new one via il cancelletto, a small green iron gateway marking the border between two sovereignties as much as educational visions. It was a checkpoint of sorts where universal family rules applied: it kept closed during siesta time, with each family expecting their kids either to take a nap or read Topolino or books, or just get bored for the sake of it. Truth is many breaches daily occurred at the cancelletto, with boys often venturing across each other’s zones, and us girls preferring idle chatting by the gate. 

At official playtime a number of different games kept us busy – we most liked to play the grand hotel, the bar, organise theatre shows, arrange bazars. In fact, set aside the before-mentioned totally self-run funeral service, all such games required a degree of planning and an active contribution from adults: in a way or another, sooner or later, all of them – except for our flying father – had contributed or at least showed up. Adults’ life was indeed a major source of inspiration for most of our creative games. Like the time we created a performance using the grotto gate as a backdrop, with us wearing our parents’ apparel. My born-actress sister Lalla co-starred with born-actor cousin Lillo whose nickname up today is Bruce Willis. And here comes the memo to write about lingerie, because not only was I the playwright but also the prop master and from my mom’s drawer I had the chance to pick up one of her fanciest transparent babydoll ever, for my sister to wear in the opening scene.

The production process had kept us busy for a whole weekend, also due to the continuous hysterical scenes from my cousin Giovanna who could not get along with the idea that she – despite her being the cutest of us three – was not fit for the role. We had to work quite hard with my eldest brother, the best ever problem solver for all technical aspects, but the small crew finally made it. I cannot tell for sure how many years have passed by since that Sunday afternoon but I can still flavour the thrill and the sense of gratefulness we had when our spectators finally began to flock in, sharp on time, complying with the advertising poster Lorenzo, the youngest and the most intellectual of us all, had drawn.  After having duly paid their tickets, spectators silently took their seats on the heavy and uncomfortable iron garden chairs. In fact, they turned out to be only three of them – nonna Augusta, nonno Gino and zio Elvio but their final applause convinced us that everything had been worth while.


Pelle d’asino

L’ombelico ormai non esiste più, la pelle del pancione è tesa al massimo. Lì sotto c’è lui che sta costruendo sè stesso, accumulando grammi di identità e nuotando le acque dense di una piscina primordiale. Gambine che scalciano o puntano senza complimenti contro pareti già troppo tolleranti. Ed è tutto vero: nulla delle immaginarie sbirciate di profilo davanti allo specchio con la pancia all’infuori per vedere come appari quando sei incinta; ora lo sei davvero e lui sta crescendo di te e presto da te uscirà per iniziare la sua corsa. Le ore più belle del giorno sono quelle trascorse a leggere , la mano spalmata sulla pancia per non perdere il contatto – starà sognando, starà giocando, terrà il pollice in bocca, riderà? Nel ripiano superiore dell’armadio c’è una grossa scatola di cartone blu dove campeggia la scritta bianca GAP. Dentro, avvolti in fogli di velina bianca, hai messo i primi costumi di scena con cui presentarlo al mondo – tutine a righe verdi, braghette di cotone blu, un cappellino bianco di lino.

Diciotto anni fa ho rischiato di perderti per sempre. Colpa di un istinto materno difettoso o di una lenta reazione al cambiamento. Quante manovre sbagliate ho accumulato prima di capire che concepire un figlio non equivale a ospitare qualcuno in un recesso del proprio corpo mentre fuori indossi il costume di sempre. No, la geografia del corpo cambia e i confini si espandono: la vecchia pelle non basta più a coprirlo tutto e in alcuni punti l’anima rimane nuda. Tu, cocciuto sin da subito, me lo hai fatto capire nel modo più spietato. 

Ho perso sangue come un animale ferito. Era la prima gravidanza e non sapevo che questo succede quando c’è una minaccia d’aborto; ho lasciato passare parecchi minuti prima di riconoscere che avevo bisogno d’aiuto. Presto è subentrato il senso di responsabilità che subito ha istruito il processo alle azioni sbagliate, trovandomi colpevole di molti reati. Avevo continuato a lavorare, prendere treni, aerei e un auto fino nel Nord della Germania. Il colpo di grazia però te l’avevo dato a Natale in montagna, quando non ho saputo dire di no a quella lunga camminata nella neve fresca alta fino alle ginocchia. Conficcavo un piede dopo l’altro nella coltre immacolata bevendo quell’aria profumata anche per te, convinta di fartene il primo grande dono di tanti altri a venire. E che a scricchiolare fossero soltanto i passi e non anche qualcosa nei caldi tessuti del ventre, il laboratorio dove il tuo essere era in costruzione.

“Ora devi stare ferma”: al telefono il tono perentorio del ginecologo ha trafitto la mia coscienza, “rimani in riposo assoluto e prendi queste pasticche ogni giorno.” Per due mesi sono rimasta acquattata a letto.

Quando ti abbiamo visto nell’ecografia, come eri già potente nella tua minuscola fragilità, al centro di una scena da cinema muto: un cuoricino pulsante in bianco e nero e in assenza di audio. Il tempo anestetizza i ricordi e per ritrovare il papà e me, giovane coppia, devo scavare più sotto: eccoci là, spettatori paralizzati di fronte al mistero di una vita che sta lottando per divenire.

Subito dopo la nascita ti hanno avvolto in una copertina termica e ti hanno sistemato su di un fasciatoio arancione. Non ricordo alcun suono né il tuo primo vagito, soltanto il modo prodigioso e malinconico in cui hai cominciato a occupare il tuo spazio nel mondo. E, il giorno successivo, il nostro primo appuntamento. 

Nell’istante in cui l’infermiera ti ha estratto dal carrello pullulante di neonati disperati, il tuo pianto è giunto dritto a me, ben staccato da tutti gli altri: la tua voce, per sempre. Con cauta incredulità ho incominciato ad attaccarti al seno e a passarti il mio pochissimo latte. Bambina che gioca alla mamma, ti ho posto al centro del letto per osservarti: dormivi placido, avvolto nella tua tutina di ciniglia azzurra. “Ora chiudo gli occhi, li riapro e avrai già diciott’anni. Come sarai? Ho fretta di conoscerti.”

La risposta ora è qui: tu e io parliamo, sei un adolescente e quando i tuoi occhi si accendono in un sorriso, è  l’ennesimo segno di vittoria. Come allora però ti vedo in bilico. Crescendo sei divenuto uno splendido asino. A scuola vai senza curarti di studiare e non ti lasci convincere dalle parole dei professori. Ti tieni a distanza da qualsiasi libro che mi ostini a proporti. Sei convinto di sapere già tutto oppure che nulla valga la pena scoprire. Ora sei tu il cantiere di te stesso, questo hai cominciato a sospettare e anche a temere. Fabbricare sogni è il mestiere di un adolescente: vuoi diventare un campione di basket ma è soltanto un sogno e tu lo sai. Chissà quali pensieri ti attraversano mentre digiti fulmineo i tasti dello smartphone, quali paure, e come non vederti ancora come quel pesciolino palpitante sospeso tra la vita e il buio anecogeno. Hai un fisico armonioso e un profilo da filosofo, sebbene forse non sai nemmeno chi fossero questi filosofi dell’antica Grecia. A volte i tuoi pensieri mi colpiscono come i calci di un asino, dolorosi ma vitali: è la tua energia interiore che cerca una via, una vocazione. O un sorriso di incoraggiamento che non so donarti.

Un mattino hai cambiato pelle e tutto è stato diverso. Hai scritto una lettera al preside e a noi genitori. Ci hai fatto sentire piccoli, meschini. Con lucidità e passione hai dato forma a pensieri covati nei giorni, negli anni. Nel modo più deciso ci hai comunicato le tue intenzioni: rinunciare al basket perché capisci di non avere sufficiente talento e impegnarti nello studio. Aggiungi anche riflessioni che farebbero la gioia di un educatore appassionato. Un giorno poi quella pelle è caduta e un’altra si è formata, poi un’altra ancora. Ti vedo correre ed è bello vederti cercare il tuo cammino. Intanto la pelle che mi ricopre non basta, qualcosa rimane sempre esposto. 

Arrivederci, Professor Colombo

Gli occhi gonfi di Clara fissano senza vedere una gamba del tavolo inglese, sono sul punto di tracimare e forse per impedirlo preme due dita sulle labbra serrate. La combinazione di capelli biondo stopposo e pelle cotta dal sole la trasformano in un elemento esotico da salotto borghese, maschera tribale simile a quelle che da bambina Anna aveva contemplato con timido orrore al museo Pigorini. Anche i ragazzi hanno perso le parole. Custodi di pensieri remoti, osservano la madre turbinare da una stanza all’altra di una scenografia domestica che presto resterà senza attori. Per sempre? Anna non ha tempo di pensarci né di incoraggiare emozioni superflue, si ripromette di indulgervi in un momento più opportuno. Il fatto è che nell’ultima manciata di giorni le ore le si sono affastellate. A pochi minuti dalla partenza è ancora lì a vagliare le ultime mille questioni pendenti – scartoffie, oggetti -, compresa la gestione del cibo: quello da eliminare, da lasciare o da portar via. Difficile uscire di scena.

“E queste sacche dove le vuoi mettere? Quanto tempo ti serve ancora? Stiamo facendo tardi e soprattutto l’auto è già stracolma!” La carica di ansia che non le è stata trasmessa dalla madre del compagno, troppo devastata dalla notizia fresca fresca del decesso per complicanze post-operatorie dell’amata gatta, le giunge da lui. Infine, è il momento dei saluti.

“Ciao Papà, mi mancherai, guida piano, ti voglio tanto bene.” C’è calore più che mestizia nello sguardo del loro grande dodicenne. Come se ormai avesse mutato pelle: non più il bambino smarrito che in un’alba gelida di dicembre aveva abbracciato il padre che partiva con una grossa valigia. Allora qualcosa dentro di lui deve essersi infranto per sempre, secondo il padre, un trauma irreversibile, secondo la madre, un necessario rito di passaggio, il primo di tanti che la vita gli avrebbe riservato. Il turno di abbracciare i ragazzi arriva anche per Anna e a tutti – a eccezione di Clara – scappa un sorriso complice: questo è un momento epico per la famiglia, qualcosa che non cambierà la grande storia ma di certo il corso dei loro destini. “Siate bravi con la nonna. Lele, rispetta e aiuta sempre tuo fratello. Vedrete come passano in fretta due giorni, vi aspettiamo agli arrivi, buon volo, ragazzi!” Per monelli di nove e dodici anni, nati e cresciuti a Milano, cambiare città, scuola, amici – ma soprattutto squadra di basket – equivale a un trasferimento su Marte. Addio compagni, addio coach, addio Lambrate. I trolley che li assisteranno nel delicato passaggio, sono già predisposti in un angolo della loro stanza e basterà completarli con qualche reliquia dell’ultimo momento. All’aeroporto, dopo un abbraccio infinito e un commosso arrivederci, la laconica nonna consegnerà nipoti e bagagli all’assistente di volo.

Sette piani più sotto, la strada li attende: sono pronti per partire. È una calda e tranquilla mattina di inizio settembre, il momento giusto per migrare, a lui il volante, ad Anna la scelta del percorso – un nastro d’asfalto lungo 1860 chilometri. Un segno della croce, un Padre Nostro, un sorriso e si va.

“Arrivederci, Professor Colombo!” – la sente esclamare all’angolo di piazzale Leonardo e le lancia uno sguardo interrogativo. “Ogni mattino coi bambini salutavamo la statua mentre tagliavamo il piazzale verso la scuola.” Anna prova un dolce sollievo nel vedere che il collo del pensoso primo rettore del politecnico è stato liberato dall’hula hoop arancione che un goliarda era riuscito a lanciare fin lassù, “è stato un onore conoscerla, buona giornata, ci mancherà! Addio, Milano, Bucarest stiamo arrivando!”

A Trieste arrivano in un baleno e lì si concedono un selfie solenne. Col tempo riusciranno a decifrare i pensieri nascosti dietro quei due sorrisi. Così diversi da quelli da turisti per caso, abbronzati e ingenui, catturati nel photo boot del Meeting di Rimini l’estate precedente. La foto di oggi sembra scattata in testa a un trampolino, in bilico sull’ignoto. Sguardi simili si trovano in loro foto del passato, quando, finiti gli studi, avevano fatto il loro ingresso nella vita adulta. Con una differenza: ora sono responsabili dei destini di due bambini. Anna si volge indietro: i loro sedili sono stati abbattuti e ora c’è un’unica distesa di borse e valigie ricoperta da un lenzuolo bianco, sudario del passato e copertina per un futuro che sta per nascere. Con soddisfazione osserva che è riuscita a trovare spazio anche per la bella chitarra spagnola, forse un giorno Lele riprenderà a suonarla. No, alle spalle non si sono lasciati nulla, in anticipo di due giorni sull’arrivo dei due, soltanto per predisporre il nuovo nido.

Migranti come innumerevoli altri in questo mondo instabile, fanno parte della privilegiata schiera degli expat, che possono permettersi di lasciare la propria terra alla ricerca di una vita più piena. Anna lo sa e ne sente la responsabilità: hanno fame di nuove occasioni di crescita, nuovi paesaggi, nuovi incontri. Il lago Balaton sfila via nitido e ventoso alla loro sinistra: sono giunti a metà strada e un filo sempre più tenue li lega alla loro vita precedente.

Quando varcano il confine romeno di Arad, Anna osserva per la prima volta i grossi nidi di cicogna su dei tralicci o sui tetti delle piccole case. Una nuova stagione sta per cominciare.

Inconspicuous Mother

I can see her slim figure tilting on a spade in the early morning sun digging in the orchard. Her high-pitched “Buongiorno!” together with her encouraging smile as she watches me reaching her, definitely wakes me up. We are deep in summertime of my eighteen. She has always loved gardening but to grow her own vegetables has been a recent conquest, the glowing result of settling down after years of a gypsy life: finally able to stamp feet on her own ground, a call of her peasant DNA, maybe.

Seasons have been piling up till the five of us sons and daughters have grown adults. Then one day she realised something new. Her bones had grown too stiff to take personal care of her tender crops. She put on her reading glasses and looked up for Gino’s number. Soon that little old peasant, a peer of my dad’s from elementary school days, started to become a regular amid our tomato, cucumber and green bean plant rows.

It was in preparation of glorious Summer that she would be keeping on investing her money and all of her time. In fact, not only would the garden and the big house draw her energies, but also special care would be paid on her outer and inner selves. Reading, regular walking, visiting church next door, everything would contribute to make her fit for our arrival. In that season her offsprings and nephews would show up, with the declared intention to spend at least part of their holidays “back home”; the nest and its guardian would be indeed ready to receive them all.

The long convent table under the lodge is the altar for family rites. Along with always al dente succulent pasta, colourful appetising dishes prepared with her zucchini, tomatoes, aubergines and green beans are being served there. They are passed back and forth along the table, from hands to hands, smile to smile, most of the time.

Like any Italian mother she has articulated her own food language and by that family code she has always been able to reach those she loves. Her husband, our father, would benefit much from all that too. He would sit at the head of the table facing the church (our right-hand side neighbour), bestowing his mockingly serious bliss on the food we were on the point of sharing. That too was part of our family rites which she accepted and even longed for.

She also well tolerated his very personal gardening style. First thing, she could never tell when he would be available for help, then he would unpredictably choose his tasks, like, he would climb up the poplar tree with the excuse to prune some of its stupid branches, sometimes indulging in some clownish scene, like his screaming aloud voglio una donna! (I want a woman), just like lo Zio Teo, the crazy character in Fellini’s Amarcord. He would do it to draw the attention of our left-hand side neighbour’s bimbo wife, mainly, though, for the sheer fun of us all.

My mum would look on from a distance with her mild smile, possibly reminding herself that that was one of the reasons why she had chosen to marry him instead of the other and indeed he was an unconventional, lively, free spirit. That probably explains also why – among all other things – he loved fire and the brave act of taming it, making him a tribal priest of kind. He would dutifully assemble dry leaves, pick up any piece of paper or wooden material around, to pile all up in a corner of her orchard, to be finally and unexpectedly ignited on a whim. In fact, she did not like that at all, actually she hated it. Sharp on time, with a dramatic intonation in her voice, she would warn everybody around to shut down all windows and doors, to keep that hellish smell away from inside her house.

For thirteen years now she has been leaving alone in her three- storey house, finally able to decide when to keep doors and windows wide open at zero risk of smoke smell getting inside, windows that my still childish imagination resembles to human eyes open onto outer worlds. It was an Easter Eve. My father was supposed to bring back home ravioli for our Easter supper. Before that, he had many plans for the day, first of all an exciting transfer. Something went wrong, though, and the left wing of the ultralight plane which he had just bought somewhere North and was taking home on its inauguration flight, cracked down leaving him no escape; the sea below swallowed it along with him.

The accident made her angry rather than sorrowful. His sudden disappearance triggered in her a deep sense of frustration, as if victim of a major form of betrayal. How many years had she been patiently expecting that he, just turned elderly enough the week before, realised the moment had come for him to stop flying and start a new more mindful phase? She had always been confident that they had still time ahead to share, despite different personalities. She strongly felt she deserved it and now it was his fault that everything wound up this way.

Since then, every following summer she has been keeping her usual seat on the right corner of the long table under the lodge, while her husband’s head seat has stayed vacant, strictly if informally assigned to one of us five in turn, never ever conceded to any of our annexed partners, if not under very very special circumstances.

Indeed, something in the alchemy of her dinners had changed for good. Her cooking turned more lukewarm, less piquant and spicy. We still enjoy her flavoured pasta and rich vegetable dishes – whatever their origin -, but everything just tastes different now.

When a new summer ends, all of us visitors leave. From inside her fortress home she looks up in all possible directions, with the five of us living in scattered parallel worlds. Apparently that does not affect her much. Despite she is shortsighted and wears thick lenses all the time, she succeeds in reaching out on us wherever we are. Technology is her strategic ally: her social media accounts keep her busy and watchful.

At times she surprises us sending pictures she has just taken on her morning walk along the seaside. She never takes selfies, though. She is rather a natural reporter of minimal events, which may materialise in a seagull hovering on a sunny solitary beach, the vivid meeting up of skyline and sea along the horizon, located somewhere beyond the very point where he entered the waters, or the glimmering floating ashore of a wooden piece after undergoing artistic sea change.

She harkens sea changes also inside herself, continuously recalculating her priorities. That is what she must have done when she elaborated a new plan: enough with her orchard and home-grown veggies and ahead with a space where her youngest one could put foundations for his new family house.

Teo is the youngest of all and the only one still living in town. Their umbilical cord was formally cut forty years ago, when she was already forty-one and mother of four pre-adolescents. It was a late unplanned pregnancy, complicated with the risk of exposition to chicken pox viruses in the air of a Christmas family reunion.

Back then, prenatal diagnosis offered quite limited options and she just chose not to hear all those who wisely advised her not to venture on a too risky pregnancy, those including her partner. Defiantly and just like a patient peasant, she chose to nurture her inner soil till harvest time. I remember we spent a whole month or so separated from her within our small flat in Milano; we would communicate via a board placed the buffer zone of our long corridor. Soon her belly started to blossom. We were all thrilled.

Yet, going back to those strange days I cannot detect any sense of trauma, rather excitement and even bliss. We were elementary school kids and to catch our attention she would sketch funny drawings assigning us tasks and telling us how she/they two were doing. With hindsight, I have no idea whether such logistic measures actually prevented hideous chicken pox viruses from hitting our yet in-progress brother. I do know for sure that she taught us what resilience means: no matter what, never give up and never feel alone nor let down. Even better if you keep smiling.

Her approach proved successful: her harvest was stunning. Few months later, in a late-July full-moon night, our brother “Gift from God” made his epiphany. A new family chapter was to begin. I walked to the hospital to see him for the first time. I squeezed my nose onto the nursery glass panel to scan all the cots in search of his name, till I spotted MATTEO: there he was, so gorgeously regal, amid all other newborns. A six-grader, I kept on contemplating my brand-new brother with mixed feelings: what was looming ahead for me? Would it be just like playing dolls or, rather, a new threat and source of family extra tasks? Either ways, I suddenly realised I had become a grown-up.

“Look at this wonderful baby here! Can you believe that his mum is the very one that married the aviator?! He is such a handsome man but she is so inconspicuous!” Three women were commenting my brother’s genes just beside me.

An the trick was made: my wonder mum turned into an inconspicuous middle-aged woman. For the first time I could see her under external eyes. True, you could not define her as a stunning beauty, still she has always looked pleasant, as charming as any smiling woman wearing glasses and not pretending to stay blonde while her hair has gradually whitened… I also observe that she has always had nice-shaped legs, if not vertiginously long to make a major impact.

Admittedly, to sync the three women’s vision of her with my own magnificent one, took me a while, finally proving a punch in my stomach. Truth is that I was not vaccinated yet against local gossiping, or rather, the real world. We had never really settled down for long enough to go local. We used to live in a realm of our own, with parents its absolute monarchs. Every three years or so we would relocate somewhere else, according to my dad’s new assignments as an Air Force officer. Till that day of recognition, the quiet sea-town and its simple people had only represented a background if friendly scene in our holiday seasons. Now we were there to stay, at least for a while longer.

When the women’s comments were reported home, it actually took us very short to digest them into a family joke as the myth of the inconspicuous mother. So it was that to celebrate our new family member and dispel any past misgiving, my dad sparkled a major bonfire. Many neighbours complained that night, not she who was still in hospital breastfeeding the newcomer.