Two houses on one side, two on the other. And a road, rough and full of holes, in the middle. There was no piazza. There were no lanes. But there were two benches under a pergola of strawberry vines and a drinking fountain which had a tap so that water wouldn't be wasted. All around, the wheatfields.
The only thing of note in that place forgotten by God and man was a nice blue road sign which displayed in capital letters the words ACQUA TRAVERSE.
'Papa's home!' my sister shouted. She threw down her bike and ran up the steps.
Parked in front of our house was his truck, a Fiat Lupetto with a green tarpaulin.
At that time papa was working as a truck driver and would be away for weeks at a time. He collected the goods and carried them to the North.
He had promised he would take me with him to the North one day. I couldn't imagine this North very clearly. I knew the North was rich and the South was poor. And we were poor. Mama said that if papa kept working so hard, soon we wouldn't be poor any longer, we would be well off. So we mustn't complain if papa wasn't there. He was doing it for us.
I went into the house still out of breath.
Papa was sitting at the table in his vest and pants. He had a bottle of red wine in front of him and a cigarette in its holder between his lips and my sister perched on one thigh.
Mama, with her back to us, was cooking. There was a smell of onions and tomato sauce. The television, a big boxlike black-and-white Grundig, which papa had brought home a few months earlier, was on. The ventilator fan was humming.
'Michele, where've you been all day? Your mother was at her wits' end. Haven't you got any consideration for the poor woman? She's always having to wait for her husband, she shouldn't have to wait for you too. And what happened to your sister's glasses?'
He wasn't really angry. When he was really angry his eyes bulged like a toad's. He was happy to be home.
My sister looked at me.
'We built a hut by the stream.' I took the glasses out of my pocket. 'And they got broken.'
He spat out a cloud of smoke. 'Come over here. Let's see.'
Papa was a small man, thin and restless. When he sat in the driving seat of his truck he almost vanished behind the wheel. He had black hair, smoothed down with brilliantine. A rough white beard on his chin. He smelt of Nazionali and eau de cologne.
I gave him the glasses.
'They're a write-off.' He put them on the table and said: 'That's it. No more glasses.'
My sister and I looked at each other.
'What am I going to do?' she asked anxiously.
'Go without. That'll teach you.'
My sister was speechless.
'She can't. She can't see,' I interposed.
'But . . .'
'No buts.' And he said to mama: 'Teresa, give me that parcel on the kitchen cabinet.'
Mama brought it over. Papa unwrapped it and took out a hard velvety blue case. 'Here you are.'
Maria opened it and inside was a pair of glasses with brown plastic frames.
'Try them on.'
Maria put them on, but kept stroking the case.
Mama asked her: 'Do you like them?'
'Yes. They're lovely. The box is beautiful.' And she went to look at herself in the mirror.
Papa poured himself another glass of wine.
'If you break these, next time you'll go without, do you understand?' Then he took me by the arm. 'Let me feel that muscle.'
I bent my arm and stiffened it.
He squeezed my biceps. 'I don't think you've improved. Are you doing your press-ups?
I hated doing press-ups. Papa wanted me to do them because he said I was puny.
Excerpted from I'm Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti. Copyright Niccolò Ammaniti 2002 all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Canongate Publishing. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.
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