Sicily And Other Worlds
Sicily And Other Worlds
I watched the violent waves grumble, the moss and algae shimmered on the washed charcoal boulders. Far in the narrowing space, little boats buoyed in the ocean like rootless weeds.
The sky was wisps of many ribbons of burnt-orange, purple and ochre. The wind smelt of ripe peaches and blueberries, mixed with the giggles of snails and turtles.
The freshly baked bread was neatly kept on the handcrafted oak coffee table under the patio. A homemade jar of fruit jam had its lineage to my Mesopotamian ancestry.
I was an arrested audience to the bohemian waxwing’s ballet which was as excellent in its craft as the Pied Piper in the town of Hamlin. My trance was broken when a corked wine bottle crashed softly against my left foot.
My face had crumpled into incomprehension when raw papyrus pages tied with a thin jute rope blushed inside the empty bottle. I bent to pick it up, perplexed. My eyes caught sight of the copy of ‘Message in a Bottle’ lying flatly like a bright maple leaf on the coffee table.
I chuckled deeply, my lips twitched in strange angles of the Pythagoras theorem. Maybe, just maybe, today was a fairytale.
A part of me protested, conjuring ghastly consequences of picking up a foreign commodity, while my heart twisted into somersaults, thrilled by the miracles of our strange habitat.
The cinnamon cork was dirty with black fingerprints. The wine bottle was cheap, inexpensive. It was Italian. Was it a love letter? Or a sailor's map to the hidden treasure? My heartbeats fluttered like that of a humming bird’s.
I uncorked the bottle, it smelt stale. After a few gentle pats, the letter tumbled out—
17th September 1923
I'm Leoluca Montedoro. I'm a seventeen-year-old boy from Sicily Island. I'm writing you this letter from the classroom of my High school in the slums of corrugated-metal huts in Messina. Walls of sour creams, donations, and Shakespeare’s head. Graffiti of naked women, and cigar pipes of the Mafias.
I make portraits of the ocean on rags with coal, and throw them in the ocean, hoping they would reach someone someday. But they always sink. I'm afraid no one will ever know that I existed. This island doesn't even appear on the world map. Do you know about Sicily? It's in the Mediterranean sea. Our geography teacher had taught us in elementary school. To the south of the Italian peninsula, separated by the narrow strait of Messina— exactly.
Here, lemon trees bloom four times a year. I found a torn diary in my great grandfather's truck three years ago. It had pictures of Arab arts, Byzantine frescoes, and Michelin stars. We have waterfalls in Sicily.
But I feel trapped. I sleep with a map under my pillow in the cart every night and dream about many cities and countries. I wish to see cactus and smell Indian spices. I want to touch polar bears and watch penguins catch fish. The map is pretty soiled but I have memorized it now.
Sicily has hillsides dotted with wildflowers, ancient farmsteads, and baronial mansions.
My great great grandfather was a white-haired old gentleman whose garden descended steeply towards Homer's wine-dark sea. He had liveried servants who would offer you pistachio biscuits, candied kumquats, and almond milk. He was a descendant of Normans who conquered the Island in the eleventh century. Further inland, he was rumored to have courted a Princess whose rambling mansion hid behind iron gates; she had created her garden on a lake which had been drained.
I'm an orphan. My father was killed in the war. My mother had eloped with her lover deserting my four-year-old sister and I. I lost my paper-thin sister to hunger and poverty.
If you're reading this letter, you should know that you're the first friend I have. Don't you think that the map is a bad idea? It offers you the world while you'll still live in the narrow streets under the lead sky, and squirm in your hay cart.
I don't know my birthday but do you blow candles?”
The hair on my arms were raised, my face flushed. A teardrop fell in a tiny circle, mingling with the tale of Leoluca. I was continually telling myself that I was awake, it was not a midsummer’s night dream.
I gulped as I held the letter close to my chest, wiping off my cascading tears.
Isn't it magical carrying the tales of someone in the pockets of your summer dress, knowing someone in ways the rest of the world never shall?