By Basilio Scalas
Was early morning.
I have enjoyed the journey to Cagliari, made unique by the fact that at the age of eight, I did it for the first time by car, in the Doctor’s “1100 Fiat” Car. The vehicle, like the television, was a luxury out of reach in our family at the time.
Going to the city was a rare and exciting thing. The buildings in “Via Roma” look tall as the bell tower in my town.
I was so close to the sea that the ships seemed to be on land—the coming and going of people, carts, cars and buses with antennas, insolent pigeons.
But what struck me most of all were the climbs, which in certain roads seemed to climb a mountain. Furthermore, I began to think that on the way back, I would have been able to fly if only I had freed myself from my mother’s hand.
That morning, we got to the entrance of the paediatric clinic like the gentlemen in the car. The evening before, like the others, after dinner, we had the last chat with the family around the brazier, before giving in to sleep.
In the quiet of the penumbra, the heart began to knock loudly, from the chest it reached the brain until it hurt me. The air drew iron, the mouth opened by a scream without sound, then nothing took the place of people and things.
Fate wanted the face not to end on hot coals.
Later, on waking up, with hands and faces too close to mine and where my mother’s desperate crying covered the other sounds, it was the arrival of the Doctor who reassured me.
Sleep aided by sedatives replaced the hustle and bustle.
Waiting to be received by the director of the hospital, I was sitting in the corner of the atrium. I suddenly recognized the place where I was, which has always been in my mind in some way.
I was in my mother’s arms, in a place with many windows, she in trouble and confused, she did not understand where it was possible to get out. I did, I realized it, but I didn’t speak. Then she finally turned to a passing stranger who pointed her in the right direction, confirming what I already knew, but I persisted in not revealing.
Until that day, the origin of those memories has never been clear to me. If they were such, or if those images had impressed my dreams. While waiting for the Doctor to receive us, I asked my mother if we had already been to that place. Was at the point that she said that I was a year and a half old when they treated me with bronchial pneumonia. Regardless of the tears that that memory had aroused, I enjoyed with secret boldness the certainty that that footprint in mind had left us childhood. The face of Professor Cao darkened until it became grim as he listened to my heart. With a peremptory order, he ordered emergency hospitalization, which the Nurse took charge of it, with a confident attitude.
Everything happened at such a speed that I didn’t even have time to be afraid. I got used to my mother’s tears, and there were a lot of things around that I had to learn.
In the afternoon, my first pyjamas were delivered to me. Brand new, like slippers, along with some rolls of toilet paper, also a novelty that replaced the most reassuring, in size and consistency, typically used newspaper rectangles.
I quickly adapted to the inmate life. This provided that I could only get up for meals and for physiological needs. I had to say aloud the morning and evening prayers and that, for no reason, I could have avoided the three daily bites of penicillin. That has never stopped drilling internally, like a hot iron.
I had no escape from that torture, without running a significant risk, I don’t know if for the sick heart, or at the hands of the Nurse. Adults were allowed access twice a week, plus children under the age of fourteen on Sunday were not allowed. So, to hug my father, I had to wait for Sunday, for my Sister, I would have to wait to go home. Taking note that the heart was not working very well, I felt well enough to consider the professor’s concerns exaggerated. As the weeks went by, the bites also seemed less painful.
I discovered by chance the effect that talcum powder can produce on a smooth floor. After a careful study of the passages of the hospital staff, we managed to organize the clandestine long slide competitions.
One day, the professor appeared in the large room, our laughter, in a moment, froze like bones. When the Sister Superior, returning from a reprimand that reverberated throughout the department, informed us that we were responsible for the greatest humiliation of her life.
I, in particular, not only because, with little camaraderie, I was indicated as the creator of the game, because I was the one with the most severe pathology. For the first time, someone, in the arch-form of the superior, spoke to me of death, speaking of me. Two tough weeks of marking the baby began by the nun. The worst was yet to come. It was a doubt I had been carrying since the first day. I knew two prayers by heart, the Hail Mary and our Father, an ode to “Our Lady of the Sick” had to be recited in the hospital.
With difficulty, I followed the others for the rest. Still, on that word (sick), with a thousand doubts, I did my own thing, yes because as everyone said it, for me, it was an inexplicable collective error. Undaunted, since I did not know the word infirm, I recited my ode to Our Lady of Hell. The accusation of blasphemy fell on me like a sentence, since I didn’t dare to confess my ignorance. I avoided the incrimination of Satanism for a young age, the slaps of my mother because of the heart. Two months passed, and things started to get better, the cures seemed to work, and even the superior had improved her attitude for a few days. Indeed she had radically changed it.
Her attention had come to the moment of adding a dessert hidden in the report tray. As well as some embarrassing caresses.
Since I was feeling quite well, I dismissed the hypothesis that a secret diagnosis that included my imminent departure had pushed the torturer to compassion. During the last visit, my mother had undoubtedly been a bit strange and talked a lot with the nun, but this did not offer me a solution.
The desire to go home was also gone. So when after two and a half months in prison on Friday, the ward manager informed me that the following week I would be able to leave the hospital. External happiness far exceeded internal satisfaction, now it was the outside world that scared me. A society from which I felt alienated, and I had become used to this isolation.
That Sunday, my father, for the first time, came to visit me alone. He told me that Mum had to go to the nearby hospital where I was. She had to go there to visit her brother, Uncle Natale (yes, which literally translates to “Uncle Christmas” but is a name in Italy), who had a heart condition.
I loved “Uncle Natale” very much. Still, I did not give too much importance to the news, comforted by the experience, I knew that the heart heals, as was happening to me. The Sister Superior broke into the room, barely holding back the breath and tears, asked me if that gentleman by my side was a relative. When I replied that he was my father, for a moment, I feared for his and for my life. “Your father is dead!”
Judgment confused and ran away, screaming something against my mother.
My father hugged me to protect me from the confusion around, without being able to hold back my sobs. Uncle Natale is dead, we wanted to tell you when you came home. The tears took the place of everything, for the pain and the chasm of insecurity that the news left me. I felt that the healed word, hitherto definitive, became temporary and fragile.
I left the hospital with advice from the Doctor for my recovery. The greeting from the Nurse, perhaps convinced, as I was, that my destiny would not last longer than forty years of Uncle Natale.
In the great hall, my mother had an uncertainty, I took her by the hand and said, “come, I know” and at the slow pace of the heart patients, I guided her to the exit.
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