It is the moment that I usually spend with my friends at Commercio coffee bar, lingering in front of a spritz and appetizers while the atmosphere becomes more and more stimulating and the conversation flows light. This evening, however, because of a rare planetary juncture, I am left to myself. Franco is expected by his parents for dinner and, everybody knows, elderly people eat early; Elena and Daniele are leaving either for a theatrical show or for a concert in a nearby or distant city, Verona, Piacenza, one of those; Giulio is officially forced to monastic withdrawal because of a flu bronchitis emphysema phlegm.
Therefore, I scratch about the kitchen, hesitating between cooking a frugal dinner of frozen vegetables or setting out calmly towards the cheap but excellent inn of Borgo Sant’Assunta.
The ringing and insistent trill of the doorbell at the front door is almost a relief that interrupts this kind of wreck into melancholy.
The woman, motionless in front of me, remains silent. Lips half closed, eyes like a scanner. Thirty, thirty-five years; dark hair of medium length, a simple cut, even ordinary; a face with harsh features, a little lower than me. Dressed soberly, too much. In spite of everything, on the whole someone could find her a beautiful girl. Or rather, an interesting woman. Not for me, of course. Not anymore.
“You rang the bell” I pointed out looking at her face from the door only half-opened while I keep tightening the door knob.
Finally she seems to rouse herself. She nods. She rummages in her bag that looks like one of a provincial aunt, she hands me a document. “Is this yours?”. I hesitate before grabbing it.
A card that was supposed to be green, at the beginning, years ago. Crumpled and rumpled. Release date: August 2, 1982. Stuck with a rusty metal clip, a black and white passport photo crossed by a fold that cuts the face in half. Yet you can see the face very well. It’s that of a young man, doing his military service, twenty years old or so. Summer uniform, black beret, gunner’s badges, Lozza glasses, short hair and beard.
The name, the date of birth.
My military card.
A vertigo of years.
At that time, Sandro Pertini was President of the Republic, Spadolini was head of government, in America there was Reagan, in England Thatcher, the Soviet Union was indestructible and it seems that the Italian national football team had won the world championships.
And I was twenty years old and I was at naja. ( military service)
Naja meant being owned by the state for a year. The laws of the Republic were not valid for you. “Barracks” was your law. The military hierarchical system. The captain, the marshal, the lieutenant, the corporal, the “grandfather”. During those twelve months a green card replaced the identity card. You used it for the discount at the cinema, the shows, the museums. Even for prostitutes, sometimes; at that time the maturation of my erotic-sexual awareness was still far away.
I had lost it almost immediately, me, that card.
I look up at the woman wondering who she is. An army official? A policewoman, maybe. After all this time? No, impossible.
“Where did you find it?” I ask to her dark eyes.
I had a bad idea.
Pinworms. Small parasites that sometimes infest the human intestine. As a child, that had already happened to me. And in those days at the end of August, in the barracks of the Recruiting Training Centre in Ascoli Piceno, I seemed to see again the unmistakable traces of it. It was right to report it, immediately after the meeting. Also because the pinworms are a nuisance. Itching where you cannot scratch, so to speak. I was expecting a small tablet of intestinal disinfectant and so on. The month of C.A.R. was over, the oath behind me, and I was just longing to get out of there as soon as possible.
By sheer coincidence, two days before even a recruit from the next room had thought to be visited for the same exact reason. Screwed.
“Lieutenant! Here’s another one with worms!”the corporal had shouted when I explained.
Running to in the infirmary.
“Isolation,” the bored sentence of the medical officer.
“Lieutenant, I’m leaving for the destination tomorrow,” I objected.
Thanks to the good handlings of a marshal, my final destination was the provision of the Light Contraer Artillery at the military airport of Ghedi, fifteen kilometres from home.
“I give a damn”, the lieutenant mumbled.
“How long should I stay in isolation?”
“The time of the analysis, then we see. By the way, take this”, he added, handing me a plastic cylindrical container,” shit a piece in here.”
“No, wait. Maybe I was wrong. ”
The medical officer sighed, annoyed. “A fuck. If they are pinworm there is a risk of an epidemic. ”
“Actually, it’s not really an infectious disease …”
“Oh, rookie, do not stretch out! Mutism resignation splint and repentance! ” He had screamed the last sentence while standing up.
Military service was such a dull stuff. Objections, reasoning, comparisons were not contemplated. “Mutism resignation splint and repentance”: the litany, screamed hundreds of times every day, reassumed worthily that crazy world.
The corporal escorted me to the new lodging.
If it were not for the postponement of the approach to my house, I would not feel bad in those two small rooms next to the infirmary: comfortable bed, private bathroom, shower always available, no marches under the sun or fatigue services.
Every day I managed to get the newspapers, so I had something to read. And in the evening I climbed the window on the ground floor to spend a couple of hours at the store, in spite of the isolation.
But I was not happy to sit still and watch the comrades of the Seventh Echelon ’82 leave the rooms with the jute bag on their shoulders to get on the green trucks, each of them towards another eleven months of madness.
After two empty, useless, endless weeks, the response of the analysis for the parasites arrived: it was negative.
So instead of being taken to our destination by crossing half of Italy under the tarp of a rickety and smelly military vehicle along with other recruits, I found myself travelling on my own and without controls.
In a hurry I prepared my things, I put on the drop – the free exit uniform – and, equipped with something that served as a ticket for the State Railways, I left the barracks of the C.A.R. on a September afternoon.
I took a diesel rail car for Porto d’Ascoli, where I waited until late at night for the first useful train.
The convoy was unexpectedly crowded. I walked along almost all the cars until I found a compartment already occupied by five other people. A young woman half-sleeping moved aside to make room for me, side window. She immediately got back to sleep to sleep, like all other travellers. In the yellow and dim light given by the night train, I arranged my things and took my place.
The young lady at my side could have been five or maybe ten years older than me. Nice. But, in those days, they were all pretty. In fact, they were beautiful. She wore a light dress, a skirt of thin fabric. We were tight and it was hot. But, even more hot than the summer air, I felt the warmth of her thigh in contact with mine. It was enough, at that time, to unleash hormones.
The lady crossed her legs, flickered, and I felt it, stiffening. She noticed, opened her eyes and looked at me for a few seconds. Instead of moving aside, I felt her turn her back slightly and press against me.
I tried to evaluate the situation coldly.
Was it true?
Yes, I told myself, it’s true.
What to do?
The other passengers all slept.
The gesture was faster than my thought. I put a hand in the back pocket of my trousers. In that obligatory promiscuity, the back of my hand inevitably brushed the surface of her buttocks.
I moved my wallet from right to left. She breathed harder and moved even closer. She could not be cold, I thought. Testosterone now saturated my bloodstream, and the corpora cavernosa were dilating. I felt I could explode. She smiled oddly, then stared at me right there. She snapped her lips, stood up and opened the sliding door. Before closing, she turned to me, her eyes bright, her nostrils dilated by her strong breath. She nodded with her chin, which could be a “yes” before moving off along the corridor.
I followed her.
I never told anyone. I was ashamed of it: it seemed like an unlikely story, a wanker’s fantasy, the ugly screenplay of a porn movie, the tale of a sborrone. I’ve always preferred to be silent.
That wild and sweaty fuck in the toilet of an old train with an older stranger has been for a long time one of the most poetic memories of my twenties. Something that life had given me without any pledge in return. Unrepeatable moments, impossible to understand if you do not live them. Gratitude towards that nameless woman, of whom I remember the generous body, the voice, the taste of the lips and the shining of the eyes, still lives today. For me she is the good fairy of fairy tales, the beautiful fate, the dream, the memory without regret. It was 1982: in spite of the flowing back, the echoes of the seventies and sexual freedom had not died, while the terror for Aids was not yet among everybody’s fears.
We returned silently to the compartment, exchanging a few more kisses in the corridor before going back to sleep, exhausted, along with the rest of the convoy. I woke up in Parma, and, as the script wanted, she was gone. Lost forever. When I introduced myself to the second battery of the seventeenth group of Artical of Ghedi, I realized that not only my fairy, but also the green card was lost, disappeared, lost somewhere. Perhaps on the seat, when I had removed my wallet from my pocket, or in that narrow toilet where I spent the most beautiful minutes of that muggy summer.
They gave me a duplicate and thirty days of penalty delivery to the barracks, to be subtracted from the naja period.
One more month of military madness to pay for scarcely five minutes of sex and poetry.
“No, don’t worry, I did not come to ask you for money, or to take responsibility. I do not even want to impose myself, believe me. You know, I grew up in a particular family, in which my mother and I were all the world. Today it is different, for me the word “family” has another meaning. When I was young I would have liked children too, then the circumstances changed. They would be your grand-children, guess. In any case, no regrets. In short, I intend to tell you that I live in serenity. So why am I here, you’re asking. My mother died a long time ago, almost ten years now. Are you sorry? Of course, I understand, but that’s not the case … I mean, you did not even know. But, I told you, my mother – by the way, her name was Carla – wanted to unveil the secret before leaving. No trauma for me, I was already grown-up, strong. She put this crumpled card into my hand and told the story. Why didn’t she ever want to look for you? My mother was not of the idea that a woman needed a man … Why am I here, right. You see, I am … I teach. I am a teacher. Not just a teacher, of course. One is never only one thing. Two months ago they have … I moved to this city. Well, a transfer for force majeure. But do not misunderstand me: here I feel good. But I did not ignore that it was also your city. A small city. I thought that sooner or later it would have been inevitable to meet. I’m sure that, crossing on the street any man in his fifties with features similar to the boy of the photography, I would have asked myself the question. After all, I believe that, as a biological daughter, I have the right to know my parent, don’t you think so? That’s all. Now we know each other and we will greet each other by meeting on the street. We are civil. I repeat, you owe me nothing, don’t worry. If you want to see me again, this is my phone number, but do not feel obliged. I do it for you, just in case you want to know something else. By the way, my name is Agata”.
The Cathedral Square is divided into two parts.
On the one hand, the orderly array of demonstrators. Geometrically framed, standing upright, a book in their hands, eyes fixed on the book, silent, motionless, facing the church. Occasionally someone proves to be alive by turning a page. Around the ordered array, barriers and police to contain and watch. To protect.
The other side is invaded by a heterogeneous and anarchic mass of insubordinate counter-demonstrators. They raise placards. They kiss. They wave flags in multicoloured stripes, or purple. Slogans, songs, invectives.
Five friends – four men, one woman – keep a little apart to talk while, without emphasis but with conviction, they participate in the protest against the “Standing Sentinels”, the ultra-conservative movement opposed to the recognition of homosexual couples.
“So,” Franco asks, “did you forget that you had fucked a fairy in the wagon of a sleeping car thirty years ago, and now you find yourself a father?”
“Thirty-three years ago”, Ferruccio points out.
“I do not understand you,” objects Elena, her frowning forehead, “You should be exalted, or frightened, or otherwise feel moved from within to the bowels …
Instead, nothing, it’s as if you were telling us the weather forecast.”
“Are you going to see her again, the fairy’s daughter?” Daniele intervenes.
“Of course not. It is not at all necessary to see each other. She agrees, too. ”
Giulio comments salaciously: “In fact, complete anaffectivity in both. It’s really your daughter. ”
“But come on!”
“Why would she have looked for you, then?” The woman insists. Ferruccio shrugs. “Simple curiosity? Quién sabe. Sometimes the reasons that push people are so insignificant. It is not worth building on theories. ”
“In short, “Franco mocks him,” now you have a family. ”
“No-oh! No family and no daughter. Agatha is the result of an involuntary fertilization of which I have been unaware for decades.
“Ah so. A daughter without your knowledge. ”
“Being a father has nothing to do with genetics. How can I feel a daughter a woman dressed with such slovenliness? No, no. It’s not really my daughter, I tell you.”
“Anyway it’s your fault,” Elena says. “If you had already understood at that time that you were homosexual, it would not have happened to you.”
“Go to hell, hetero. ”
“Our friend Ferruccio is not a real fagot like us,” says Giulio in a sad tone. “Rather, he is a versatile without any erotic homeland. He exercises all forms, especially the most promiscuous ones. »
“Giulio, have you become my biographer? But it’s true, me, I abhor the couple “Why are we here, then?” With a circular gesture, Franco indicates everything around them.
“What does this have to do with it? On one side there are everybody’s rights, on the other individual choices. For me, I am against the couple, the de facto couple, the open couple, the marriage … ”
“They too are against unmarried couples,” Franco interrupts, indicating the Sentinels.”
“Ah no! You offend me. There is a difference! These are homophobes and fascists, they want to impose their obscurantism. I am for freedom: everybody is free to choose to ruin their lives with a sad relationship of eternal fidelity. Not me. For me, whether it is a civil union, engagement or marriage, the steady couple is a repressive institution. Even if gay. ”
“Ah, good,” Daniele says, “Elena and I would then be two repressed persons?” Ferruccio snorts as Elena laughs. «Excluding those present, ça va sans dire. Look at normal couples. Squalor and portraits of unhappiness. All problematic, false destroyed or…….. Don’t you agree? The fact that we say “contracting marriage”, as if it were an illness, should make us think.”
“Fall of style,” Franco intervenes. “I read this on Facebook.”
“Maybe, but it’s true.”
“And what does your partner think about it?” Daniele asks.
“I do not have a partner.”
“Ferrucio does not have a partner, even if many lovers pass through his life,” specifies Giulio.
“They were transiting, dear biographer. Once. ”
“But the story of the fairy’s daughter …” Elena resumes, thoughtful, “I don’t know … it seems so strange to me.”
“It’s easy to say “odd”. The whole world is strange. Actually, it is crazy. There are follies socially accepted, like life in the barracks. Or like many people’s intolerances”.
“The Standing Sentinels ,” specifies Giulio, “increase at each demonstration”.
“But yes, people go where there are people, they are herds. Most of them are oratory boys who, in order not to deny a membership, fall into the basket of the most fundamentalists.”
“Like mature sheep,” says Franco.
“You mean like ripe pears. Or, like sheep, period.
“Giulio is right,”emphasizes Franco,” and that is why you do not have a steady relationship. Not for your philosophies. You should thank us that we bear you, otherwise you would be alone. ”
“Look!”exclaims Giulio in the urgency of changing subject of conversation, “there is also a nun among the sentinels”.
“There, in the second row,” he points out, “behind the fat man.”
He really does not care, but Ferruccio, irritated by Franco’s remarks, moves aside and peers. In the second row, he sees her.
Thirty, thirty-five years old, a face with rough features. Not a bad looking woman. Overall, someone could find her a beautiful girl.
A blaze lights up his face.
“What is it?” Giulio follows Ferruccio’s gaze, fixed on the nun. “Oh God! Is that the fairy’s daughter ?! ”
Ferruccio turns to his friends, bent, as if crushed by an invincible gravity.
” Don’t you see? Genetics does not have anything to do with this”.
Translation by Paola Roveda (edited by Amy Scarlett Holt)