Holiday - Stefano Pastor - ebook
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Returning home for his mother's funeral, Jerry, a hydraulic engineer who has been traveling around the world all the time, brings his son Choi with him. The child is curious, wants to know the places where he grew up and meet his family. Jerry is not enthusiastic about the family he fled. The abyss that divides him from his father is unbridgeable. But he promised those seven days are for Choi's Holiday. While strengthening old friendships and making new ones, relations with his father crumble even more. At the expense of Choi, who was not accepted. During a surprise lunch organized by his Aunt in an attempt to make peace between them, Jerry is attacked by his father, who accuses him of a defamatory crime. The time is ripe, and Choi needs it, the truth must come to light, it can no longer be postponed. But Jerry can't do it; he would like to go away, flee once more. The reading of his mother's will, however, escalates the situation, breaking the wall of hypocrisy that has always separated them. Now the showdown is inevitable. And this time Jerry does not only have to deal with it, but there's also Choi with him.

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Illusion Novel # 13

Original title: Holiday

Translated by James Arwell

© 2018 Illusion

© 2017 Stefano Pastor

Graphics: Angela M.

All rights reserved

Friday

“Are we about to get there?” He asked me once again.

This time, however, his expectation was rewarded.

“Yes, it’s the next.”

Choi got up and walked to the window. There were houses around the railroad, but this was not indicative, now of how he was used to it. In this area, the separation between one city and the other was established only by a road sign.

It looked just like a great, immense metropolis that ran along the entire coastline. Sometimes the houses thinned out a bit, but there was never a clear distinction between one city and the other. It was not easy for him; the place he came from spread out.

“This is it! It’s written there on that wall! VENTIMIGLIA! We have arrived!”

I was not as enthusiastic as him, and Choi knew it. He also knew that I was making an effort to look normal.

“Don’t you want to get up? We need to take our luggage.”

With my hand on his shoulder, I instinctively arranged his shirt, all wrinkled after the train journey. Choi let me do, without even noticing it, his eyes fixed on the landscape that surrounded him.

I remembered it all too well, on one side the mountain, on the other an expanse of roofs, all the same. But there was the sea far away and the horizon. Perhaps that’s what he was looking at adoringly.

“There is still time,” I said. “So much so this is the terminus, the train stops here. Beyond is France.”

Choi turned and smiled at me.

“You must take me there too! You promised me, remember?”

I smiled back at him.

“How could I forget that? You think and remind me of it every minute.”

He returned to stick his face to the window glass. I stood up and stretched my legs, and then I leaned over Choi and adjusted his hair, all ruffled. He had black helmet hair, which almost reached his shoulders. They usually said that they were too long, I knew like those of a female, but I didn’t care, I liked it like that.

“Jerry, will someone be waiting for us?”

I shook my head. “Nobody knows we’re coming.”

“But you told him you were coming to the funeral!”

“The funeral is tomorrow. I didn’t say what train we were arriving in.”

He went back to look outside.

“I still think they are waiting for us.”

No, nobody would come, Choi was only deluded. And it was better this way; it would have been easier to meet them the following day; I needed to stay just a few more hours to get ready. Only with Choi.

I pulled my luggage down while the train slowed down more and more. I checked Choi one last time because I had to introduce him to my family.

I found him perfect, the best kid in the world. His dark, golden skin, the Asian traits of his face, the way he smiled, showing off his teeth.

“What is it?” he asked me, worried by my examination.

I smiled and squeezed his shoulder affectionately.

It would have been hard, very hard, but fortunately, I was not alone, he was here.

Choi, my son.

“You won’t believe how many tracks I have seen! I didn’t think it was such a big city!”

“It is not,” I explained, as we crossed the underpass. “Once there was a border here and customs. Many freight trains were showing up. Now, most of the tracks were unused.”

He was always at my side, a sensible child, he was not comfortable venturing alone in places he did not know. We climbed the ladder and entered the station. I was hoping not to meet an old acquaintance.

“Where are we going?” He asked me.

The lobby of the station was large, full of people, tourists queuing up at the ticket offices, railway workers, janitors on break. I looked at the hanging clock. 9:36 pm, we were late, but not by much.

“To the Hotel,” I replied, nonchalantly.

“Don’t you want to go home, first?”

He knew I told him; I repeated it a hundred times. That we would not be going to that house, which was not our home that we would be staying in the hotel all the time. But he was still a child and was dying from the desire to meet his grandfather, despite everything I had told him.

“Tomorrow morning,” I reminded him. “Tonight we will rest, it was a long journey.”

And it was true. We had taken a plane to Amsterdam which was still in the morning. From Genoa on we had traveled by train.

Choi looked at me in all seriousness.

“You are afraid, aren’t you?”

Then he shook my hand. “You don’t have to be; I’m here.”

I smiled: “You are not afraid?”

Choi looked around with an excited look: “It’s beautiful here.”

I did not see any beauty, but I was not a child, I understood that he was eager to know and ready to get excited about anything.

I pushed him towards the exit.

“Let’s get out of here; there is too much confusion.”

The situation outside the station was terrible; the sun had just begun to set. The steps were littered with tourists loitering, waiting for the time to move. Many were seated with their backpacks beside them. I recalled that it was late August, the worst time to travel.

Choi was lured by the queue of waiting cabs and looked at me hopefully.

“Take a cab, Jerry? Take a taxi?”

I shook my head. “There is a hotel right around here,” and I pointed to the direction.

“There is no more,” someone said next to me. “It has been closed for several years.”

I realized that it was a taxi driver, sitting on the steps smoking a cigarette. A burly man in his fifties.

“There are others,” I murmured. But I had no idea: I had never needed to look for a hotel in my city.

“I will accompany you to a good hotel if you want.”

I was not very convinced, and I made a salient point quite clear: “I am from here.”

So he shouldn’t get deluded thinking you are dealing with some clueless tourist. If he was thinking of taking me to make optional city tours just to increase the taximeter, he was now alerted.

He stood up, looking bored, not at all impressed by my pointing this out: “Are we going?”

Choi looked at me smiling: “Yes!”

The driver opened the rear door; then he stared thoughtfully at my size: “Do you think you will get in?”

“But is there always this much traffic? It’s worse than in Holland!”

He was not able to sit comfortably, hopping from one side to the other in the passenger compartment, gazing out of the windows.

“There are few roads,” I explained. “And it is a city of passage. A stop for those who want to enter Italy”.

“Where is the hotel?” He asked me.

I had no idea; I didn’t even ask what hotel it was. The only one I knew was on the main street, and I use to often pass in front of it, but if it had now closed its doors, I could not trust this stranger.

“Is there a television in the room? Air conditioning?”

What importance did it have? We had lived in worse conditions, and he knew it well. We weren’t there to have fun, not me at least. For Choi it was different, this was his vacation, holiday, as he called it. I had promised him.

“Yes,” replied the driver. “It has all the comforts.”

I was somewhat skeptical, but I let it go.

He almost took us to the suburbs, on the other side of the road there was a gasoline pump and a McDonald’s. I noticed the inscription MOTEL. The parking lot at the entrance was full of cars.

I didn’t judge it because I was too tired and felt the need to freshen up. When it was time to get off the car, Choi had to help me get out. The driver also came to give me a hand, in the fear that I would stay stuck. The usual question hung in the air, but he did not dare to ask it.

But how much do you weigh?

The driver surprised me because he took our suitcases from the luggage rack and escorted us to the entrance, on his initiative.

It was likely that he only wanted to point out to the concierge that he had brought us there, but I still felt obliged to give him a tip.

The night concierge was an old man. He did not even get up from his seat, and there was no other staff to welcome us. I noticed a bar, at the bottom of the lounge, but all the lights were off. It was a standard room, with a television, turned on, was on the right, out of my sight. I had no doubt, however, that the hotel was full; it could not have been otherwise at this time of year.

“A double room, please.”

“For how many nights?”

I did not look at Choi. “A couple, for now, but we could stay more.”

Choi was unable to restrain himself. “You promised me!”

It was hard to hold his gaze and not give him a reason.

“Seven nights, then. Seven nights”.

Choi shook my hand. “We’ll have fun, you’ll see.”

He didn’t understand, or maybe he was just pretending. It was a holiday; we were here to have fun. But I had come for a funeral, my mother’s funeral, which I hadn’t seen for fifteen years.

“Choi…,” I started, but he interrupted me: “Shall we go? I’m tired.”

Even the concierge also looked at my size and coughed.

“There are a few rooms available. Two doubles and one single.”

I didn’t even consider the possibility of me and Choi separating. “A double will be fine.”

There was a moment of embarrassment, which we had already encountered many times when they would have liked to ask who Choi was but did not know how to do it. I solved it by giving him our passports because by now I had some experience with hotels.

He was grateful, opening them secretly and was pleased to find the same surname on both.

“I will get the key immediately.”

I smiled at Choi. “Now let’s go.”

“You should take a shower.”

Choi was lying on the bed and pretending to be swimming, while I put the clothes in the closet. Deep down, we could not complain: the bed was spacious, the whole room more than acceptable. Maybe this was even a concession due to my size.

“I don’t want to. Do I have to?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I will do it tomorrow.”

“Let’s go to your father now?”

I could not understand why he still insisted; he knew well that I had no intention of doing so.

“We’re going to eat instead. I saw a Mac right here at the front.”

Choi must have missed it.

“A Mac here? Really?”

“It’s all right with you, I guess.”

He smiled.

There were fewer people than I expected. It was almost eleven o’clock evening. We were served right away. I let Choi choose and also make the order. He was proud of his perfect Italian, but he had never been able to put it on display, except with me.

“Did I do okay?” He asked me, however, when he returned to his place.

I nodded. I waited until he sat before addressing the subject.

“He is going to hate you. He already hates me and will hate you even more. I want you to understand it before you deal with it.”

He was not upset at all.

“Even if he knows nothing about me?”

“He already knows too much and what he doesn’t know he imagines. My father has always been like that; he does not look for evidence. He believes he is infallible when he has an idea, and there is no way to make him change it.”

“Even if he is wrong?”

“Especially when that is the case. There’s nothing to do.”

He mulled over it for a few seconds.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“He will insult you. He will do so even if you are a child. He will tell you horrible things.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It has already happened. It doesn’t matter.”

I sighed.

“You don’t have to come to the funeral; you could stay in the hotel. This would not change anything; we would do the same thing for our holiday.”

“Let you go alone?” It seemed incredulous that I had even proposed it. “No, no, I would never do that. You know.”

Yes, I knew that. Choi would never leave me, whatever happened.

He stretched out a hand, trying to squeeze mine. His was small, yet he was able to convey much strength.

“It doesn’t matter, Jerry. Whatever they say is not important.”

I knew he was stronger than me; he showed me every day.

“I want you to remember it all the time, Choi, whatever happens. You are my son, and they cannot hurt you in any way.”

He smiled, showing off his teeth.

“Maybe they will find him sympathetic!”

My heart sank. He wanted to; he was always trying to be kind to everyone. But he didn’t know my relatives; he didn’t know my father.

“Maybe,” I murmured.

Later we went for a walk together, along with the sea.

A man and a child. And what a man! I knew it was impossible to go unnoticed, not with my size. Choi almost disappeared by my side.

The sidewalk was wide but crowded. I was amazed to see many people, but it was a sweltering evening. The noise of the waves crashing on the shore accompanied us.

I held him by the hand, and Choi looked at everything around him with avidity. I was nervous because I was afraid to meet someone who would recognize me. Someone who could ask questions, tell my father, he had seen me.

“What was grandmother like?”

I looked at him in amazement. “I’ve told you, don’t you remember?”

He snorted. “You never told me anything. Nothing important, at least. I told you everything about me. I have not concealed anything.”

He was right. I forgot about the people around and put an arm around his shoulders. I walked him to a bench. The sea was right in front of us, immersed in the dark. We could hear it roar.

“What do you want to know?”

“Everything. You didn’t tell me anything about her. You talked only about your father.”

I tried to find the words to start. “I don’t remember her.”

He stared at me incredulously. “But…”

“I mean, I don’t remember her character. She… was non-existent. No matter how hard I tried, I saw her in front of me repeating the same phrase: listen to your father, don’t make him angry. That’s what’s left of her, just those words. He said no more.”

I was expecting one of his reactions, whatever. “Was grandfather bad?”

“He is convinced that he is not. To be a righteous, honest person, never to blame. He was unlucky; he had three children who let him down, who only made him suffer. Now Michele and Sonia are dead, and I am the only one left, the worst.”

“Why do you say that? It’s not true that you’re… the worst. You’re… the best!”

I could only smile, in the face of his enthusiasm.

“Michele and Sonia are dead, and that is an advantage they have. They can no longer cause any scandals; ruin his reputation, now he has… revalued them. He idealized them. He has forgotten all the bad things that they did to each other.”

“But why do you think you’re the worst?”

“Because I’m still alive, I guess.”

There was another prolonged silence. “Does he know that I exist?”

“There’s a good chance. My father always knows everything.”

“And…”

I interrupted him. “Choi, I haven’t seen my father for fifteen years. I have no idea what he knows or doesn’t know. It was Aunt Franca, who informed me that my mother was dead, he wouldn’t even call me.”

“Fifteen years… but have you were talking to each other? Have you been calling?”

“Last time was thirteen years ago when I was still at the university. He called me to tell me that Michele was dead. He expected me to come back for the funeral.”

“And you did not go?”

“You know very well. When Sonia died four years ago, it was Mom who called me. He didn’t even ask me to come back.”

“So have you been hearing from your mother?”

“Yes, I do now and then. But never personal phone calls. It was very… telegraphic. She didn’t love the phone, or maybe she didn’t love me.” Abruptly forgetting about me, as if all the memories were wiped away. “I have not heard from them since then.”

“Then they do not know that I exist!”

Instead, I had feared that it was just the opposite that they had not called me because they had discovered what I was doing.

I took a deep breath and suddenly felt like an old man.

“Choi, they are nothing to you, neither of them.”

“But they are my grandparents!”

I shook my head. “They are not your family. I am. It’s just the two of us, you and me.”

He held my gaze earnestly, and then nodded.

“Yes,” he said and held out his hand. I squeezed it, sealing our covenant.

Alone against the world.

Saturday

“Stand still; you’re still wet!”

It was not easy to keep him. Still, Choi was moving continuously, even though I was drying his hair. He turned to look at me.

“Do you think he will like him?”

He still insisted, as if I hadn’t told him anything. They would hate him, Dad and everyone else. They would hate him even more than they already hated me. I wondered why I was doing all this because I was taking Choi into that tiger cage. But I knew that Choi was healthy, he would also have to endure this too.

“Holiday!” he yelled, making me wince. “I’ve never had a holiday, you know?”

It made me laugh. “Choi, you are always on vacation! Don’t you like Holland?”

He snorted, as usual. “But you work! You always have to work!”

“We stay together all the same, though. I never leave you alone.”

“Yes, but that’s not a holiday! It’s not a vacation!”

“What do you think is a holiday?”

“Be free, do what you want.”

“And what do you want to do?”

“Know all about you! You have to show me everything! Tell me about your past, who you are! Just like I did!”

“And this would be a holiday?”

“For me, yes. Will you do it? You promised me!”

Of course, I would, Choi had the right to know everything. I had nothing to hide, not with him, at least.

I did tickle him, and he burst into laughter.

“Let me talk. You think you can? Whatever happens, don’t intervene.”

This time he understood my words too well, even what they implied. “Are you afraid that they will send away you?”

Maybe it would have been more comfortable if they did. But I doubted it would happen: Aunt Franca wouldn’t call me if there was a danger of that happening. Dad knew that she had called me. However, I had sent a telegram to announce my arrival and all of them would have been aware of it by now.

“It’s stunning,” Choi said.

He was talking about the house. I was seeing it for the first time like him. All the time I had been here, we had lived in a little cottage near the railroad, nothing special. Then I learned that my father’s company had expanded again and they had bought a villa.

It wasn’t so big but graceful to look at. The garden was lush with flowers, and I suddenly remembered that my mother loved them, treating the plants was her passion.

I held Choi’s hand firmly as we crossed the path. The gate was wide open and even the front door of the house. There were wreaths of flowers, resting at the entrance. Mom had died in the house, she wasn’t in the hospital: a sudden heart attack, so Aunt Franca said. The coffin was supposed to be in there. I wish it was already close: I had no desire to see her.

There was no one in sight; I drew the last breath, almost like I was diving and we went in.

I immediately found the atmosphere oppressive. The smell of flowers, menthol cigarettes, oranges. Voices came from the left. A door was open; recognized a living room and saw people moving around.

“Gerardo! I almost didn’t recognize you!”

I could not jump. The man who had come out of the room was a couple of years older than me, and I recognized him immediately, although he was very old: Giulio, the son of Aunt Franca. He always expansively dressed in a sporty way, even at a funeral, with a loose tie and a two-day beard. He tried to embrace me aggressively and kissed me on my cheeks.

“Damn you have become fat! But how much do you weigh?”

Fortunately, he did not give me the time to answer and went on: “How old are you now? Thirty-Four?”

I managed to nod, and then he grabbed my hand with both of his own and shook me.

“My condolences. Deepest condolences. Your mother was an exceptional person; it is a great loss.”

I tried to answer, even though my throat was palsied.

“Thank you.”

Then I asked, “My father?”

He took me by the arm, confidently, separating me from Choi. “He’s a strong man, He’ll make it. The blow was hard, but he has kept on fighting.”

He dragged me into the hall. I glanced over my shoulders and saw that Choi was following us.

“Look who’s here!”

I did not recognize many of the faces; it had to be friends of my father or distant relatives that I hadn’t seen in a while. I looked at some familiar faces and immediately noticed a woman detaching herself from others and coming towards us. I struggled to recognize her as Aunt Franca, Daddy’s sister: She had changed her hair color and had put on about thirty pounds.

“You’re here, finally. I was afraid you wouldn’t make it you risked getting too late.”

She also contemplated my size and did not manage to hold back a grimace. Then she grabbed me by the other arm. “Come and give your mother a last farewell before they close the coffin.”

I couldn’t oppose. I still threw a look at Choi, and he nodded at me smiling. I didn’t want to leave him there alone with them; everybody was already looking at him with curiosity.

“Your son has arrived, Roberto,” I heard Aunt Franca say.

I turned around jerky. My father was there, sunk in an armchair, a little out of sight. Next to him, his other sister, the eldest, the one who had never gotten married: Aunt Ines.

Old age was beneficial to my father; now he had to be in his late Seventies. His hair was almost white, a square face and always wearing a grim expression. He did not greet me, instead, he said to Aunt Franca. “I have seen.”

It was not the time to be scared. They couldn’t do anything to me anymore, and they couldn’t even make it to Choi. We were strong; we were invincible together.

Taking advantage of the distraction created by Aunt Franca, who was slipping away. I turned and grabbed Choi by the arm and pushed him in front of me and then hanging behind him, like a tiger that is defending his cub.

“This is Choi, Dad. My son.”

My father did not move a muscle, while I heard the comments increase behind my back. A son? Gerardo has a son?, Roberto is a Grandfather?, did you see that he is a foreigner, he is probably adopted?, I didn’t know you were married. And then others, more malignant, just whispered. But I heard them equally, in my heart.

Choi obeyed my directives and did not say a word. I did not dare think about how my father would react being called Grandpa.

He didn’t look at me anyway. He grimaced in contempt and repeated the word son; as if it was an insult.

Aunt Franca was embarrassed.

“You will talk later, you two. Now come greet your mother, we have waited too long.”

She considered Choi with a look. “He better not come.”

Then, after a moment of uncertainty: “Do you understand our language?”

“He’s my son,” I replied as if that would explain everything.

She grabbed me by the arm and turned to the youngest of her children, Andrea. He was only a child the last time I saw him.

“Take care of him, introduce him to the family.”

Then she pulled me like I was a pack.

My father stood up, in all his impressive size. Nearly two feet tall, with a stout and muscular body like a boxer, despite his age.

“I don’t want him here.”

I replied because I was ready for such an objection: “Do you want me to leave?”

He pointed to Choi: “I want him to go away! I don’t want him in this house!”

Poor Choi, who until now was sure he would win all of them over. I was not surprised at all; Dad was as I remembered.

I freed myself from the embrace of Aunt Franca: “We are leaving, do not worry.”

She exploded, leaving me astonished: “But what are these stories!”

And she turned to her brother, “I thought we understood each other. It’s his mother’s funeral, Roberto, if you ever forgot!”

How much they had to have discussed before we arrived! Aunt Franca was distraught. My father returned to sit in the chair, without saying anything.

She grabbed me again by the arm: “Come, Gerardo. Your mother is waiting for you. Come and say goodbye.”

I turned and grabbed Choi by the hand. This time, Aunt Franca did not object.

Yes, he was a child, but he was strong. It wouldn’t have been a corpse which would scare him, and I didn’t intend to leave him alone for an instant.

Aunt Franca preceded us along a corridor, at the end of which we could see the pedestal, on which the coffin was mounted, beyond a door wide open. There were candles around and many vases of flowers. It was a room, the bed remade and tidy, with a dark bedspread.

“What’s his name?”

“Choi.”

Aunt Franca snorted: “You could have at least giving him an Italian name!”

“It is his name.”

I approached the coffin, very slowly, holding Choi by the hand. He also stretched his head, driven by curiosity. Children are always fascinated by death.

“Your father is old; there are some things he can’t understand. According to him, you would have to marry a local girl, not go that far.”

I was so surprised that I practically betrayed myself. Aunt Franca knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about Choi and me. Dad, though, was aware of something, he had looked well informed. She was convinced that Dad hated Choi just because his skin had another color.

The woman in the coffin was a stranger in my eyes. I found no resemblance to the figure in my memories.

“It hasn’t been any good lately. It… wasn’t her first heart attack, unfortunately. She had suffered heart problems for more than three years. She was physically down.”

Skinny, skeletal, she seemed older than her sixty-seven years. Dry, wrinkled skin. I couldn’t feel anything for her, almost like an object.

“She loved you so much, she spoke only about you.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was more than sure that my name had not even been mentioned in that house, not after my departure for Thailand at least.

“Won’t you give her a kiss?”

I felt repulsive and disgusted at the idea of doing it.

Why kiss a dead person?

“You too, if you want. It was your grandmother, after all.”

I held Choi on the shoulder, preventing him from moving. I wouldn’t tolerate the idea of him approaching that corpse.

“He has already seen far too much; we will go out now.”

“No greetings?”

“I have already said goodbye.”

I did, fifteen years ago, when I escaped.

“What have you made of your life? I know you’ve become an engineer.”

They were sealing the coffin. Dad had been the first to start, assisted by his sisters. He didn’t even look at us.

Giulio and Andrea were curious. They probably knew nothing about me; I had heard they had both moved to larger cities.

“What kind of engineer? Do you build bridges? Schools, homes?”

“Dams,” I pointed out. “Hydraulic engineering.”

They seemed impressed.

“Gosh, you’re an important guy, then. Your father will be proud that at least you have been successful.”

Yes, they didn’t know anything about me. They had only come for the funeral and would be leaving soon after. And it was better this way.

“You are always around the world,” Andrea interrupted. “I’ve been told.”

“Yes, I do a lot. I work for a multinational company which has little interest everywhere.”

“Where do you live now?”

“Amsterdam. But it’s only for work, until the end of the year.”

“And after?”

I shrugged my shoulders. I have no idea; anywhere they would have sent me, work is probably not lacking.

“Why didn’t your wife come too?”

“We are divorced.”

He didn’t seem surprised at all.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Has it been for long?”

“Six months, pretty much.”

Giulio was pensive for a moment; then he pointed to Choi: “He is her son, right?”

He did not speak clearly, but I had understood him equally. For, Giulio it was evident that Choi could not be my son.

“He is my son,” I pointed out once more.

I noticed both of them were a bit embarrassed: “Yes, but… does he live with you or he is here only on vacation?”

“He is my son,” I repeated curtly.

I considered the subject closed and even if they tried to talk about something else, but it was only worse.

“I would never have believed that you would also get married,” Giulio muttered.

Even his brother looked at him embarrassed.

When he noticed that he was offensive, he didn’t let it show.

“How much do you weigh now?”

I could not tell him I had not climbed up a scale for fifteen years and it would be the absolute truth. But it had already occurred that the person would respond back, why? Are you afraid to break it? And burst out laughing, considering it a brilliant joke?

“You’re more than one hundred, aren’t you? One hundred and fifty? Even more?”

“It is possible,” I replied.

“Damn it,” Giulio commented with little elegance.

Andrea tried to be more diplomatic: “It’s some disease, isn’t it? My mother told me.”

I had spent years visiting the doctors when I was younger because dad couldn’t resign himself to having a son like me. Glandular dysfunction, so they had called it.

“I feel great,” I replied, with a smile.

The cemetery was located close to a hill: Rows and rows of burial cells spread increasingly at the top, with stairs and elevators to reach them. The tomb of the Saviola family was fortunately next to the entrance, a small crypt with eight places. Four had already been occupied: From mother’s parents to Michele and Sonia. Now it was about to be filled by the fifth.

No one spoke to us in the church. Choi and I didn’t sit in the first desks next to our closest relatives. Many people did not have to recognize me; after all, I had always been the silent type.

The ceremony had been incredibly fast. Before laying the coffin, one last kiss to the image of Jesus nailed on the lid. Aunt Franca, Aunt Ines, and then both my cousins. Dad shook his head. Aunt Franca questioned us with a gaze.

I took a flower and gave it to Choi; I sent him to lay it on the coffin. He did not stoop to kiss the image.

Then, when everything was over, relatives and friends split up, forming groups and greeting each other. Many of them had seen themselves for years, and this was an opportunity to ask how they were faring, strengthen old ties, and merely chat. Mom had been a bit like me, dodgy and invisible, there wasn’t much to say about her.

Aunt Franca felt obliged to keep us company. She pointed to Choi: “He is so well behaved, How old is he?”

She seemed surprised that he did not behave like a monkey.

“Twelve,” I replied.

“Oh! He looks much younger. Already twelve years!”

And again the gears in her brain went into action; two points sufficed to make her realize that Choi could not be my son, although she suspected it from the first moment.

She said it, without any regard: “You are too young to have such a big son.”

It wasn’t true. Dad at the age of twenty-two had already had Michele, and mom was only nineteen. But they were different times, those.

“Are you sure you understand our language?”

I felt proud: “Choi speaks Italian and English perfectly. And is already pretty good with Dutch.”

“In addition to his language, I imagine.”

“Yeah,” I admitted.

“But he does not speak.”

“There is nothing to say,” I replied.

“Do you want a ride? You will leave immediately, I guess. I have to go back to Milan before nightfall if you need…”