'Let's vote on it, then! He can't decide everything.'
Even after twenty-two years I still don't understand how she put up with us. It must have been the fear of being left on her own.
'All right. Let's vote on it,' Skull conceded. 'I say it's you.'
'So do I,' I said.
'So do I,' parroted Maria.
We looked at Salvatore. No one could abstain when there was a vote. That was the rule.
'So do I,' said Salvatore, almost in a whisper.
'See? Five-one. You've lost. You do it,' Skull concluded.
Barbara tightened her lips and her fists. I saw her swallow a lump the size of a tennis ball. She dropped her head, but she didn't cry.
I respected her.
'What . . . do I have to do?' she stammered.
Skull rubbed his throat. His sadistic mind got to work.
He wavered for a moment. 'You've got to . . . show it to us . . . You've got to show it to all of us.'
Barbara swayed. 'What have I got to show to you?'
'Last time you showed us your tits.' And turning to us: 'This time you're going to show us your slit. Your hairy slit. You pull down your knickers and you show it to us.' He burst into raucous laughter, expecting that we would do the same, but we didn't. We froze, as if a wind from the north pole had suddenly blown into the valley.
The forfeit was too harsh. None of us wanted to see Barbara's slit. It was a punishment for us as well. My stomach tightened. I wished I was far away. There was something dirty, something . . . I don't know. Something nasty, that's all. And I didn't like my sister being there.
'Forget it,' said Barbara shaking her head. 'I don't care if you hit me.'
Skull got up and strolled towards her with his hands in his pockets. Between his teeth he had an ear of wheat.
He stood in front of her. He craned his neck. He wasn't all that much taller than Barbara. Or stronger. I wasn't so sure he would beat her all that easily if they had a fight. If Barbara threw him on the ground and jumped on him she might even smother him.
'You lost. Now pull down your trousers. That'll teach you to fuck me around.'
Skull slapped her across the face.
Barbara opened her mouth like a trout and rubbed her cheek. She still wasn't crying. She turned towards us.
'Haven't you lot got anything to say?' she whimpered. 'You're just as bad as him!'
We remained silent.
'All right then. But you'll never see me again. I swear it on my mother's head.'
'What's the matter, are you crying?' Skull was revelling in it.
'No, I'm not,' she managed to say, suppressing her sobs.
She was wearing green cotton trousers with brown patches on the knees, the sort you could buy at the flea market. They were too tight for her and her flab bulged out over the belt. She opened the buckle and started to undo her buttons.
I caught a glimpse of white knickers with little yellow flowers. 'Wait! I came last,' I heard my voice saying.
'Yes,' I gulped. 'I want to do it.'
'What?' Remo asked me.
'No. She's got to,' Skull snapped at me. 'It's nothing to do with you. Shut up.'
'Yes it is. I came last. I've got to do it.'
'No. I decide.' Skull came towards me. My legs were shaking, but I hoped nobody would notice.
'Let's have another vote.'
Salvatore got between me and Skull. 'Second votes are allowed.'
We had certain rules and one of them was that second votes were allowed.
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.
Translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt.
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No Man's Land
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