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Eight short stories, often built on dialog, to tell about some aspects of life in today's world, its contradictions and, above all, the difficult search for new values.The tale "The Refusal", which gives the title to this short collection, was written in the aftermath of the fall of the Twin Towers: the episode is present in watermark, it could be any other situation of war and violence to which, unfortunately, we are too accustomed nowadays, but that people cannot accept, because the normality are not death, violence or massacre, that make people lose their reference points, as it is also stated in the tale "War". In an absurd world where the only parameter for the evaluation is the high efficiency in our job (as it is ironically stated in "The Zoo" and "The new Managind Director" ), perhaps all is not lost: there are still stories of love and jealousy ("Annalisa"), the natural instinct arrives yet to prevail on our rationality ("The Jump"), the people try to build new relationships, to find new formulas to love each other and live together: see for example the stories told in "The Foreigner", which presents the difficulties, but also the beauty of a relationship between people of different nationalities and cultures so distant as Italian and Somali, or even "On the edge of the bed", which describes the formation of a family quite different from the pattern we are accustomed to consider, with the common life of a husband, a wife, the husband’s lover and the two children that the man has had with the two women.
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Andrea Benigni, The refusal and other stories
© Andrea Benigni
First published 2012, Edizioni Esordienti E-book
Original title: Il rifiuto e altri racconti
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without the prior written permission of the author.
I was a fool to let them into the house.
Since then I kept cursing myself, and I wondered what it was that pushes people to upset their peaceful daily lives, the delicate equilibrium gained year after year, with so much difficulty.
I looked into the mirror of my pale, sunken face.
My resigned and unkempt appearance made me feel very uncomfortable.
It was because of those two.
The tranquillity, reached with so much difficulty and only in part after the event, has now disappeared.
I wandered around the house, a prey to anxiety, and when dusk arrived I could hear them calling.
“Come on, don’t be afraid, it’s just a jump, a little jump.”
My eyes opened wide as I watched them with horror and anger.
I was the one who had brought them into the house.
Crazy! I was a fool.
I stared at them, shaking like a leaf. They were there, motionless, waiting. I knew only too well that they would wait years for me. The devil twins.
No noise was able to cancel their insistent taunting voice.
“Come on, jump down! Come on, it only takes a moment.”
Then I turned towards them and shouted “leave me alone! I am not going to jump. I can’t. I never will.”
“Go on, sooner or later you’ll jump. Do it now.”
They urged me on, they wanted me.
I pressed my hands over my ears, so as not to hear them. I screwed up my eyes so as not to see them.
I kept screaming no. Their words weakened my resolve. I was confused. What perverse instinct destroys an equilibrium gained after so many sacrifices?
My long suppressed anger surged upwards and made me jump. My arms embraced all the energy of my body and, like two springs, they flung me off my wheelchair. I fell heavily onto the floor.
My two shoes were there, just a few steps away from me. I squirmed along the floor and slid them onto my feet.
Another horrific sleepless night.
I lay staring at the ceiling in the shadows, to make sure that it still exists. That I still exist. Like every morning the first thought that comes to mind is that I’m still alive. I wipe away a few drops of sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand.
I sit on the edge of the bed, my feet resting on the floor. I search of something to support me.
Today I don’t have to go shopping: I don’t have to drive the truck along the uneven roads, praying not to be blown by a mine; I will not have to wear the bullet-proof vest and load the bags of food with my head lowered between my shoulders to protect it from any stray bullets shot by snipers in the area. And it will not be the weight of the food sacks that make my knee, which was still weak after the attack, swell up, it will be the hours standing in front of the operating table. Today I will remain in the hospital all day, and part of the night, depending on the amount of mangled flesh that the grenades of the enemy are able to destroy.
Then I will return home, more or less impregnated with the sickly sweet smell of the corpses, depending on how well the operations on the wounded over the last few days had gone.
Almost like a religious ritual, my hand moves towards the switch and tries to turn the lights on.
The light comes on.
There is still electricity. We will be able to use the hospital equipment and preserve the little medicine that is left.
I walk around the hospital yard limping.
I pause a moment to rest, and I see my assistant gesticulating nervously as he speaks on his phone.
I reach him at the door, leaning on my crutches.
He finishes his phone call and looks at me shaking his head.
“What more good news do we have?”
“They made a right mess, they have attacked by land and by air, have you seen it on television? They also hit the hospital, they’re bringing all the wounded over to us.”
“What are we going to do now?”
“If we accept them all we will not be able to prevent an epidemic.”
“Keep calm.” I stare from the entrance at the insane amount of beds and wounded packed into the corridor to take advantage of every single corner. Images of slaves piled on top of one another in ships of times gone by come to my mind.
The smell is repulsive, like a punch in the stomach.
There is a smell of rotting stores, flesh where flies and bacteria can feast.
“Do we know how many deaths there where in the area they bombed?” I ask, thinking of my relatives who live in the city which was bombed the night before. The enemy has destroyed the mobile phone, landline and Internet antennas.
It’s impossible to contact anyone to find out to how they are.
“Do we know anything? What do you mean do we know anything?”
“The names of the dead, a list, anything like that?”
“The dead? A list of the dead?”
He looks at me as if to say, what the hell are you thinking.
“They won’t even have had time to cool off the debris and pull any of the corpses out yet. How could they have already made a list?”
He covers his face with his hands and rubs his tired eyes.
He goes back to the problem in hand: “And here? What are we going to do here?”
“I don’t have any brilliant ideas. Let’s just do what we can.” I rest both crutches against the wall, light a cigarette and offer him one. “Either we close off the entrance and don’t accept anyone, or just treat them the best we can and pray that an epidemic doesn’t flare up. We’ll just have to disinfect. Disinfect everything. As much as we can.”
“With what? With what, if we are not even going to receive any more medicine?”
“We’ll have to contact the other hospitals, here and in the other cities. We’ll have to ask them if they have any spare beds where they can invent them somehow.”
“There are already on the move. Those wounded last night are already on the road. Or we reroute them, or where do we put them?”
“Somewhere”, I say convinced.
“Let’s reroute them. Trying to do good for everyone will only make things worse.”
“Where else can they go?” I ask impatiently.
“Do you really think that the conditions are any better in the other hospitals? There are no better conditions now. Just more commitment to do one’s best. We can use the houses. The two uninhabited villas next to the hospital. We can take those. We can clean them. We can quickly get the utilities like water, electricity etc. going. And we’ll manage. At least this will increase the amount of space and decrease the risk of an epidemic.”
“It’s an idea. Perhaps a good idea.” He said looking down.
I take hold of my crutches. “We’ll start by operating on the most serious cases.”
I enter the hall. Bony hands emerge from the bloodstained sheets trying to grab me, begging for help. I am forced to shrug them off, in order to care for the most serious cases.
Never in my life had I been obliged to leave someone to suffer, forget his pain, steal all words of comfort which I now need to support myself.
It is already well into the night by the time I arrive home. I shut the door and throw the crutches on the floor. I lean against the wall and sigh deeply.
I turn the light on, and my eyes travel lazily towards my PC. I hobble over to the couch, throw myself onto it and sink my face into the cushions.
I want to forget this world, but it’s impossible. I can’t get rid of the sense of helplessness and I feel it is eating away at my beliefs, and my determination to refuse any explanation that justifies war. I begin to fear I no longer understand the evolution in progress, and am unable to perceive it as being right. That all are suffering is to create a more democratic world.
But all the deaths are the foundations on which to build a better society. I open my eyes with a start, grasping for air, and grope around as I try to stand up. I have slept about half an hour. I’m sweating.
As always. I’m breathless. I take my wrinkled cigarettes out of my jeans pocket, and light one up.
The television reels off the breaking news incessantly. I slump down in front of my desk, and turn my PC on. I connect to the Internet, enter the website: she has moved. She has made her move.
The war is uprooting my soul. Blowing hatred deep inside of me. I fight my war against the war in the hospital every single day. I’m playing chess on the Internet every night. My lifelong passion for the chessboard is able to obscure reality, and relax me. And help me get through the day to come.
Meetings on the Internet are slow, engaging.
With opponents who are often unknown, as in this game. It has been going on over a month now.
Before I started my crusade of democracy.
He had eliminated my tower, I wasn’t expecting that.
I wonder if it’s a man or a woman. I’ve thought about it many a time. I think it’s a woman.
The moves reflect a woman’s intuition. I think.
It’s what I want to believe. They are original, they don’t follow the many schemes described in books.
You are a girl, young, rebellious. With dishevelled hair, and uncombed bob framing a cheeky smiling face. A pretty tomboy face, too bright likely eyes.
And a nice toned body. It gave the body, hidden by loose and non-provocative clothes. She doesn’t want to be ostentatious, although she easily could.
She wants to be obnoxious. Difficult. I gaze at the chessboard. What time did she make her move?
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