by Musetta Joyce © 2013
I had been at a loss as to where men and women might meet and chat in our town, for women never drank in the bars and there were no clubs or social occasions that I knew of, until at last I got my answer: doctors' waiting rooms. That's where people mingle.
Personally I avoid doctors like the plague, but my husband, like most Sicilians, is addicted, and as he likes my moral support at such outings, I reluctantly tag along. Given the circumstances the conversation usually concentrates on bodily dysfunctions, but this time was different.
Sitting awkwardly on green plastic chairs lining the walls of the small room there were only two women, a mother and her middle-aged daughter, sallow-skinned and darkly clad. They spoke with raucous voices in a version of the Sicilian dialect that was almost impossible to understand, commenting on everything discussed rather like a Greek chorus. The men were dressed in jeans and tee shirts in primary colours. They were mainly middle-aged truck drivers and builders, deeply tanned.
'The hunting season is open at last. About bloody time too,' remarked a stocky man in a yellow tee shirt.
'Well it's all the same to me. I stopped paying for my licence and handed over my gun.' A tall thin man in blue opened the small window.
'Ah yes, there's a great scarcity of birds alright, I don't blame you.'
'No, no, it's not the birds that bother me. I was afraid I'd use the gun to kill a guy that cheated me.'
'Why would you want to do that? What did he do to you?'
'Ah it's a long story. Enough to say that he owes me a lot of money for jobs done. A lot of jobs. The bastard!'
'Why don't you take him to court?'
'You must be joking! In this town? I'm nobody. I would never get justice. No, I have to make my own justice.'
'But killing the man with your own gun isn't a good idea. Why not use a lump of iron? Bash him on the head one dark night. Much easier to get away with that.'
'Nonsense,' a third man entered the discussion. 'Far better to knock him down with your car. When he's sauntering around the piazza in the dusk one evening. Bang, crash- finito presto!'
'But you'd risk getting slapped into prison for manslaughter!'
'So? I'd get fed, wouldn't I? My children are all settled, my house is paid for and my wife is tired of me. I might even get time to read. I never get time to do my own thing. I've lived my life well, I'd be nice and cool al fresco and that bastard would be burning in hell. I'd get my revenge and he'd get his come'uppings. Nobody would miss me.'
'What about your grandchildren?' A red-faced man with matching shirt interrupted with a gravelly voice.
'You're on the ball there. The one thing that stops me is the thought of my grandchildren. How could I play with them if I was locked up?'
'But surely your children would miss you. I know my son would if it was me in jail.'
'Oh now, so your son thinks you're special, does he?'
'My son is special, and that's because I made him special. A world champion, several times over he is.'
'World champion? Are you by any chance the father of … ?' This time it was my husband who wanted to hear more.
'Cairoli? Yes. That's my son. World champion at motor-cross five times. When he wins it eleven times we'll be happy.'
All attention turned away from the would-be killer to the father of the world champion of which the whole town is justifiably proud.
'How did he start his career? Everyone is amazed that our small town, with no facilities and no encouragement somebody could make it with such success!'
'I know. I had to make the track myself – down by the old riverbed. Started him on a bike when he was three. Took to it like a fish to water. Sings as he races, he does. You see I always wanted to race myself but my father was cowardly; wouldn't let me. After I die, he said, but then it was too late. So I had to wait for a son of my own to train to succeed where I had no chance. But first a daughter was born, then another and – a third baby girl.'
Sympathetic murmurs came from all around the room, for everyone knew the problems with having daughters: dowries to be saved for, husbands to be sought, unwanted attentions from unsuitable males to be fought off, no brothers to protect the sisters, and nobody to carry on the family name!
'And then, by the grace of God, after nine more years – a baby boy! I travel the world with him now. Lives in Belgium, he does, where he can keep up his training.'
'We had a great town welcome for him, when was it, two years ago? Not last year I think.'
'No, last year my wife died. So, no celebrations. Next year, though. He'll be back.'
Then it was Cairoli's turn to see the doctor, and the waiting patients sat back and basked in the glory of the townsman who made it and the satisfaction of hearing of a dream that came true.
My husband broke the silence to tell us a story about a very rich and successful businessman who owned a factory in the north of Italy.
'He made his money bartering rice for steel. You know how the rice fields in our northern planes are so fertile? Well, he got a great deal. Then, with the steel he started a large valve factory in the mountains near Turin where I worked for a short time and became a multi millionaire. But in spite of all his money he had a desperate fear of growing old and sick. So, when the huge Ragno underwear manufacturers went bust he bought the factory and started building a state of the art health centre on the site, and went about engaging top specialist doctors from Switzerland. Unfortunately, before it was completed, he was driving into the site one day to inspect it when he crashed into a gatepost – and was killed instantly. He was only in his early fifties. The health centre never went ahead and his daughter and his son took over the valve factory. The son had a strange name, what was it now? Oh, yes, I remember. It was Fausto!'
'Ah,' I rose as it was our turn to see the doctor, 'If he was afraid of growing old, of course he would choose Faust.'
'Why, who's Faust?'
'Tell you later. Come on, we mustn't keep the doctor waiting.'