Then there was me, Michele. Michele Amitrano. And I was third that time, yet again. I had been going well, but now, thanks to my sister, I was at a standstill.
I was debating whether to turn back or leave her there, when I found myself in fourth place. On the other side of the ridge that duffer Remo Marzano had overtaken me. And if I didn't start climbing again straight away Barbara Mura would overtake me too.
That would be awful. Overtaken by a girl. And a fat one too.
Barbara Mura was scrambling up on all fours like a demented sow. All sweaty and covered in earth.
'Hey, aren't you going back for your little sister? Didn't you hear her? She's hurt herself, poor little thing,' she grunted happily. For once it wasn't going to be her who paid the forfeit.
'I'm going, I'm going . . . And I'll beat you too.' I couldn't admit defeat to her just like that.
I turned and started back down, waving my arms and whooping like a Sioux. My leather sandals slipped on the wheat. I fell down on my backside a couple of times.
I couldn't see her. 'Maria! Maria! Where are you?'
'Michele . . .'
There she was. Small and unhappy. Sitting on a ring of broken stalks. Rubbing her ankle with one hand and holding her glasses in the other. Her hair was stuck to her forehead and her eyes were moist. When she saw me she twisted her mouth and swelled up like a turkey.
'Maria, you've made me lose the race! I told you not to come, damn you.' I sat down. 'What have you done?'
'I tripped up. I hurt my foot and . . .' She threw her mouth wide open, screwed up her eyes, shook her head and exploded into a wail: 'My glasses! My glasses are broken!'
I could have thumped her. It was the third time she had broken her glasses since school had finished. And every time, who did mama blame?
'You've got to look after your sister, you're her big brother.'
'Mama, I . . .'
'I don't want to hear any of your excuses. It hasn't sunk into your head yet, but I don't find money in the vegetable garden. The next time you break those glasses I'll give you such a hiding . . .'
They had snapped in the middle, where they had already been stuck together once before. They were a write-off.
Meanwhile my sister kept on crying.
'Mama . . . She'll be cross . . . What are we going to do?'
'What else can we do? Stick them together with Scotch tape. Up you get, come on.'
'They look horrible with Scotch tape. Really horrible. I don't like them.'
I put the glasses in my pocket. Without them my sister couldn't see a thing, she had a squint and the doctor had said she would have to have an operation before she grew up. 'Never mind. Up you get.'
She stopped crying and started sniffing. 'My foot hurts.'
'Where?' I kept thinking of the others, they must have reached the top of the hill ages ago. I was last. I only hoped Skull wouldn't make me do too tough a forfeit. Once when I had lost a bike race he had made me run through nettles.
'Where does it hurt?'
'Here.' She showed me her ankle.
'You've twisted it. It's nothing. It'll soon stop hurting.'
I unlaced her trainer and took it off very carefully. As a doctor would have done. 'Is that better?'
'A bit. Shall we go home? I'm terribly thirsty. And mama . . .'
She was right. We had come too far. And we had been out too long. It was way past lunchtime and mama would be on the lookout at the window.
I wasn't looking forward to our return home.
But who would have thought it a few hours earlier.
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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