I raised my hand. 'I do the forfeit.'
Salvatore put up his hand. 'Michele does it.'
Barbara fastened her belt and sobbed. 'He does it. It's only fair.'
Skull was caught by surprise, he stared at Remo with his mad eyes. 'What do you say?'
Remo sighed: 'Barbara does it.'
'What shall I do?' asked Maria.
I nodded to her.
'My brother does it.'
And Salvatore said: 'Four-two. Michele's won. He does it.'
Getting up to the first floor of the house wasn't easy.
The stairway no longer existed. The steps had been reduced to a heap of stone blocks. I was working my way up by holding onto the branches of the fig tree. The brambles scratched my arms and legs. One thorn had grazed my right cheek.
Walking up the parapet was out of the question. If it had given way I would have fallen into a mass of nettles and briars.
This was the forfeit I had landed myself with by playing the hero.
'You've got to climb up to the first floor. Get in. Go right across the house, jump out of the end window onto the tree and climb down.'
I had been afraid Skull would make me show my dick or poke a stick up my arse, but instead he had chosen to make me do something dangerous, where the worst that could happen was that I might get hurt.
That was something, anyway.
I gritted my teeth and went on without complaining. The others were sitting under an oak enjoying the spectacle of Michele Amitrano risking his neck.
Every now and then a bit of advice arrived: 'Go that way.' 'You've got to keep straight on, it's full of brambles round there.' 'Eat a blackberry, it'll do you good.'
I took no notice.
I was up on the balcony. There was a narrow space between the brambles and the wall. I squeezed through and got to the doorway. It was fastened with a chain but the padlock was eaten away by rust and had come open. I pushed one flap and with a metallic groan the doors gave way.
A great fluttering of wings. Feathers. A flock of pigeons took off and flew out through a hole in the roof.
'What's it like? What's it like inside?' I heard Skull ask.
I didn't bother to reply. I went in, watching where I put my feet.
I was in a big room. A lot of roof tiles had fallen off and a beam was hanging down in the middle. In one corner there was a fireplace with a pyramid-shaped hood that was blackened by smoke. In another corner some furniture was piled up. An overturned rusty cooker. Bottles. Bits of crockery. Roof tiles. A broken bedspring. Everything was covered in pigeon shit. And there was a strong smell, an acrid stench that got right into your nose and throat. A forest of wild plants and weeds had sprung up through the tiled floor. At the other end of the room was a closed red door which no doubt led to the other rooms of the house.
That was the way I had to go.
I put one foot down, under my soles the beams creaked and the floor lurched. At the time I weighed about thirty-five kilos. About as much as a tank of water. I wondered if a tank of water, placed in the middle of that room, would bring the floor down. I didn't think I'd try it.
To reach the next door it was more prudent to keep right against the walls. Holding my breath, on tiptoe like a ballerina, I followed the perimeter of the room. If the floor gave way I would fall into the cowshed, after a drop of at least four metres. I could easily break a few bones.
But it didn't happen.
In the next room, which was about the same size as the kitchen, the floor had completely gone. At the sides it had collapsed and only a sort of bridge now connected my door to the one on the other side. Of the six beams that had supported the floor only the two middle ones were sound. The others were worm-eaten stumps.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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