Leaving Home: Tiudo
Tiu`do left home right after his birthday, his father’s coat barely missing the ground, carrying a cardboard box full of bread and hot sausages his sisters assembled for the long trip. They told him to return if things didn’t work out. They didn’t mention that hunger and loneliness would be papering every new place he slept in. They knew that life was better elsewhere, even if elsewhere proved worst than home.
He was following in the footsteps of every other boy from Venosa whose father didn’t have an extra room for him, or a trade to pass on. He was making his way wherever people hired, be it ten kilometers away, or at the top of the Italian boot.
Anywhere was bound to be better, he thought.
It happened earlier than he had anticipated. Before his father died, Tiu`do had been promised a shiny new bike, like the one that the winner of the Giro d’Italia had. Tiudo saw a similar one at the local hardware store and showed it off to his friends every time they passed the place.
On the morning of his birthday, when he mentioned the bike at breakfast, his sister Dolora' reminded him that things were tough. She scolded him for having such thoughts.
Tiu`do became angry, and decided to skip school, and convinced his cousin Luciano to join him on a scouting adventure, like the one they both had at that summer camp that Mussolini had built for the youth of the land. Luciano followed him, and they ventured past the usual swimming hole, deciding to squander this early summer day by pushing their skinny bodies as far as they could in the wild river that ran at the bottom of the knoll, challenging each other to go further than they had gone the previous time they came here to fish. They were sure nobody had worried about the boys having missed school. Teachers were used to children going off with their relatives on family reunions this time of the year when families left for days at a time.
Luciano stopped first, to catch his breath. Tiu`do teased him and continued for another minute until he too felt the burn of his lungs, and went ashore, planning to hide, making Luciano panic. On a path that snaked into a ravine, he saw a shining object, a glint in the brambles, and his plan to hide changed. He yelled for Luciano to catch up with him.
The boys hid the newfound bike planning to return for it another day. The two cousins were just a few months apart, raised in each other’s houses, knowing every secret there is to know about the other.
Their combined family, six in Luciano's house, and four in Tiu`do's house went on the customary Little Easter picnic, to the Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie, an old musty church opened only for this day's picnic and pilgrimage. The boys would have played soccer with their friends.
Their teacher stopped at both houses after school, on the day they went swimming and inquired about the absent boys. The sisters had been embarrassed and angry. Everybody knew that the boys had ditched school; and everybody blamed the sisters for not offering better supervision. From now on, both boys were under house supervision. They were allowed to go with the family to the Pasquetta, the picnic and pilgrimage up the hill to the Church of St Mary of the Graces, the same Madonna for whom Tiudo's deceased sister had been named after.
The trail to the church was treacherous:bugs and stickers lodged in socks and underwear, sore feet and hungry stomachs were the only sensations until a thunderstorm changed their concentration. Now everybody's attention went to the weather. God of weather must be the same God that took his mother, his father and his sister, Tiu`do's thought. Everyone prayed out-loud, except the boys. They were sore about all this supervision, all this fuss about missing one day of school. Even God took a day off. Besides. God was not paying attention to anybody's prayer right now.
Before they could even set their things down, they were all scrambling for cover. A storm began dumping huge hail stones on the mountain top. These storms bumped into mountains, with thunder and lightening sparking speculations. Will the harvest be ruined? God of weather decided everything in your life. Only the Madonna, especially this Madonna, could intercede on your behalf.
Boys learned to be men working alongside their fathers from the time they could walk the distance to the fields without being carried. Luciano’s older brothers pushed him away every time he followed them out of the house. “Go play with your cousin, go keep Tiu`do company. Go to school! When we were your age we were already working in the fields. You have it good, my little one. Stay in school!” The boys had been enrolled in secondary school with the Salesian Brothers, among the lucky boys whose family could afford tuition.
A boy like Luciano could wait before he broke his back on the farm. Tiu`do future was in the vineyards working for his brother in law any day now. His sisters had insisted that he finish school, that he continue his studies as his father had planned for him.
He had always wanted to run away and join the circus around harvest time when it came to town with the big tent and merry-go-round, setting up right behind their house. For three weeks, loud music and the roar of the crowd kept everybody awake past their usual bed time. He helped with the set up, and was rewarded with a free ticket to opening night when contortionists and fire eaters hushed the place.
The smell of saw dust and motor oil lingered for weeks after the circus left, way into December when rain and snow erased all footprints of fun and excitement. The high wire artists, suspended in the shadows of the big tent, lived in a blurry world. The boy, his heart suspended up there with those artists, became “Tiu`do il Magnifico”, king of the high wire, cotton candy stuck on his fingers and peanut shells crackling by his feet. He sat in admiration sucking nougat into thin strings, lick after lick, savoring every daring act with sweet joy until the final trapeze drop sucked his breath away. The boy managed to be at the show every night. He spent afternoons earning his ticket. His horse stalls were neglected, but circus horses and their stalls were well cared for.
He fixed the found bike, and kept it at the old barn connected to his old house, a few kilometers out of town. Every Sunday, after church, he sneaked out after lunch and returned to the Loggia, the family home they had to abandon. He lingered around the vineyards that had belonged to his father, slipped through broken boards in the barn to collect his drawings from all the hidden places, feeling he belonged there; he was home. Nobody was guarding the place; the past blurred with the present.
He did not understand how they lost the house, why they had to live in town with the ranch hand that became his brother in law, in a small house, sharing a bedroom with his sisters, taking care of the horses and the barn that had never before been his job.
Something was not right.
At the end of this school year, his future lay before him. He could follow his brother in law and work in the vineyyards, or go apprentice with some local artisan. He was actually too old to apprentice, having spent three additional years in school, wasting his time, but he had not complained about it. His father's death had numbed him. He had a couple of months to decide what to do. Meanwhile, he cleaned the horse stalls, and managed to disappear most days before his sisters piled chores for him to do. There was always wood to chop or carry, water to fetch, bread to transport back and forth to the community ovens. His sisters were still in mourning, all dressed in black, leaving only to go to church.
They all looked like Mingu's Mother, Donna Maria Rosaria who had moved in to look after them until Dolora ' got married. She had been there a year already, and was really the one telling everyone what to do. Even Mingu' listened to her.
One morning, his little sister Lina caught him sneaking out before breakfast.
“Tiu`do, what’s gotten into you? You are never around.”
“I hate it here. I want things like before. I don’t want to live with that man.”
“Min`gu is taking care of us all.”
“I don’t care.”
“Don’t let him hear you talk like that.” She feared her brother was bringing tension in the family.
“ He can’t boss me. He is not my father.” Tiu`do was annoyed at her for delaying him.
“ Dolo`ra made pizza, your favorite, anchovies and onions. Come.”
He followed his sister to the kitchen, grabbed a pizza slice and a clean brown shirt from the pile of things to be ironed and ran off before any body else saw him. At Luciano's every one noticed the wrinkled shirt.
“You are no son of the Lupa” Luciano told him, adding, “Sons of the Lupa clean up before they put the uniform on!”
Their job was to grow up to be leaders, Sister Teresa, their fifth grade teacher had told them when the scout leader had shown up to sign them up for summer camp. Every student had memorized the motto of the Sons of the Lupa: “The destiny of Italy is in your hands, young sons of the Lupa. Make her proud. Be the Cesars of tomorrow. Be disciplined, be clean and upright. Be ambitious and you will conquer the world.”
Turning to Luciano Tiu`do snapped:
“Don’t tell me what to do! If I don’t want to wash, I don’t wash. So, can you come and play, or do you have to ask for permission?”
He wanted to be far away before they came looking for him again. Besides, his house was spooked, Donna Maria Rosaria, Min`gu mother, was hiding everywhere, a black shawl over her head hiding the red hair that made her look fake. Nobody else in town had red hair. She put a spell on his family, even on his cat.
He moved his bed covers to the barn where he could draw as long as the moon was bright, and reappear in the day time to eat and to keep his sisters from crying. If they insisted, he would wash. But they had to catch him first. He took a few early morning eggs which he sold for pocket money, and tried to stay out of everybody's way. Only the cat knew if he returned at night.
He was leaving town, money or no money, and he would become a great artist, or a great bike rider. His name would be changed too. He would be called by his baptismal name as soon he reached the big city.
Min`gu had way too much to do to worry about a boy who had to sleep with his cat. He himself was still numb from all that had happened. His job, he told himself, was to keep going, take a piece of hard bread, a piece of cheese and a jug of wine to last him all day in the hot sun and go work in the vineyards. Everybody was relying on him to keep the rest together.
The girls could help, but then, they were needed at home, for the cooking and the washing.
“Take the boy!" His Mother barked her orders to everyone, " He needs exercise and discipline. He can help you. ” She was insisting and demanding.
She made the rules of the house, including how long was going to be the period of mourning for the girls..
Min`gu preferred that the boy joined him willingly, obediently. He couldn’t really force all these children to follow in line. Besides, what about how he felt? Didn’t he lose the love of his life when Graziella died? How could he go on like nothing had happened? Everyone has had time to mourn. What about him? When does he mourn?
He left every morning praying for a miracle. Not a specific miracle. A total life-changing, make everything go back to what it used to be miracle. And he knew these sorts of miracles didn’t exist. And if they did, they didn’t happen in poor Italy. How could God take his young wife right after her father died? How could a twenty-seven year old man take all this responsibility on his shoulders? What did he do to deserve this?
Tiu`do stayed out at night too, visiting with his friends and relatives who began to sympathize with him, probed him for gossip, offered him food and lodging. Soon, the town began to talk.
“Hey, Min`gu, how come you kicked your wife’s little brother out of the house? He has been telling everybody that he has no place to call home.” Min`gu heard this type of gossip everywhere he went.
“What? Who told you that? The boy likes sleeping in the barn with his cat. He comes in to wash and eat, the women tell me. He needs time to settle in. He had it tough with all those tragedies. Poor soul.”
“Min`gu, the boy is talking about you, how cruel you are to his sisters and to him. He says you act like the ‘padrone’ bossing everybody around. He calls you ‘sfruttatore’, someone who’s taking advantage of them; he tells everyone that you stole his inheritance.”
Min`gu was growing angry with each conversation, night after night, as he walked on his daily passegiata. He tried to stay calm and positive. How could he explain himself? Didn’t he marry the girl to help the children, to keep them from an orphanage? Wasn’t it evident?
“The boy is still young and misses his dad. Why, I understand it. I would do the same thing, and say the same things. He has to mind me, that’s all. He is not used to that. His blind father was hardly able to discipline him. He ran wild. Those girls had their hands full with that blind man. My own sweet departed wife, God rest her soul, I don’t want to think about this, felt awful leaving her household to her younger siblings and a blind man. Tiu’do will come around.”
Min`gu might be invited to take a drink, to continue the conversation in somebody's house. Everyone wanted to know more. On night, as he was finishing his wine and trying to maintain a friendly composure, he bid his companions goodnight and made up his mind.
Tonight, he and the boy were going to settle things. Tonight, the boy will know who the boss is, he thought, getting angrier and angrier with each step toward home.
The news that Min`gu was on the way home reached the boy in seconds. Without saying goodbye, he grabbed his things and left that house for good. On the way to his relatives’ he passed the Pineta where somebody bigger than him kicked him and left him bruised and bloody to find his way around.
The cousins took him in.“Madonna mia. Che bestia, quello (My goodness, what a beast, that one). Beatrice, Luciano's mother, was constructing the scene without listening. Min`gu must have beaten this poor frightened boy.
“Come in. Go wash up and borrow some clothes.” She said.
“That Min`gu is taking advantage of you children. Your poor mom and dad must be turning in their graves. Tomorrow, we are going down to the tile factory and see if we can’t straighten out your future. You can sleep with Luciano.”
Min`gu was looking to hit something when he arrived home and confronted the sisters.
“Do you know what he's been up to? Know what he’s saying about me?”
The girls hesitated.
“I break my back to put food on this table, and the bastard badmouths me? You think that’s fair, eh?”
“Min`gu, he’s just a child, that’s all. Doesn’t know better. People just talk. He’ll find out where he belongs.”
Min`gu pulled his belt off and hit a chair nearby. Lina began sobbing, wishing that she too had run away like her brother. Dolo`ra, looking straight at him, stood up unflinchingly and addressed him:
“What do you want from us? We all need time to adjust.”
“Who is providing for you? Since when does a man take this garbage in his house?” He responded,
pounding the table and moving around to keep from hitting someone. He saw food being set in front of him, and he sat down.
That night Dolo`ra heard the cat wail and her sister sob.
She got up and crept silently in bed next to her husband for the first time. She lay her coverlet on the foot of the bed and clutched her crucifix.
Tiu`do went to bed exhausted. He dreamed himself tall and strong, with enough stamina, skill and endurance to beat anybody. His teacher kept telling him to stare his future in the face.
The next morning, Tiu`do sisters came calling at Luciano's house, with a cardboard box of bread and sausages, and cash for a rail ticket. Luciano wished he too could leave home.
“I’ll send for you, Luciano. I’ll send for you the minute I win the Giro!” Tiu`do said, looking bigger and taller.