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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Julen Gabiria Lara > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2004 | Elkarlanean

Livia's first duty every morning is to load the churns onto the cart. Before that, while it is still dark, another of Di Ruggero's workers has milked the cows and left the churns ready; now as the first rays of light appear, it is Livia's turn. So when she goes out into the street she is barely noticed, one ray of light among the others.

She harnesses the donkey to the cart and off they go.

Di Ruggero made his workers wear a uniform ages ago, when he only had three employees. One for the men and another for the women. They are typical Tuscany clothes, anyway: for the men bright blue baggy trousers tied below the knee, the legs concealed by embroidered socks. Above, a white shirt with small figures and geometric shapes embroidered on it, mainly in red or blue. On their heads a straw hat.

The women wear simple but elegant long, black skirts that practically reach the ground, which long ago would have been Sunday best for the peasant girls of Tuscany. Their blouses are similar to those of the men, white but without any figures, topped with a colourful, silk mantilla that gets in the way when they are distributing the milk, but which are, nevertheless, colourful.

So off she goes with the cart pulled by the donkey. It disappears from sight along the alleys of Ponte a Ema as she fills the containers she finds in the doorways.

She is only too keen to leave milk in the doorway of Gino's house, a little bit more than at the rest, and she is happy when she hears that he has won a race somewhere in the world, thanks to the milk she delivers.

She hears, or rather used to hear such things, because for a long time there has been nothing but war instead of important races, for example, there has been no Tour in Paris or Milan since Maes won in 1939, and the last Giro was the one won by Coppi back in 1940. Goodness knows for how long, muses Livia, perhaps for ever, because you don't know what turn the war could take tomorrow, or into whose hands your future could pass, or whether a person's life will be worth the same or maybe a bit less tomorrow, or whether my life will be worth a bit more or less than yours, or, to put it simply, you don't know whether there will be any more races, even though it is not the cyclists' fault nor your fault, but maybe there won't be any more races or maybe your life will be worth less. Livia does not know and does not want to get involved in such deep questions, but she often hears in the street that all this will soon come to an end, and must come to an end. It is some years since the war began and it is high time it ended. People who listen to far away radio stations at night say the Allies are going to come, the British will arrive by sea and the Americans by air, and that they will destroy everything that has to be destroyed, and the only things they will leave untouched will be the Ponte a Ema square, the bridge, the monastery and all the other good things that exist in Italy, including the sculptures. And Livia starts to daydream and thinks that the Americans will drop films from their planes, large reels into the air for Luca to show, rather than those awful Italian afternoon films. If only it were true.

That is what people are saying, but nobody really knows whether the Allies are on their way, and if they are, they have such wonderful bombs that can distinguish who the enemy is. So, if the bombs cannot distinguish between the fascists, the leftists and a Michelangelo sculpture, then it is impossible to know whether the enemy is at home or coming from outside, or whether both of them are enemies, and neither of them are that bothered about the people who will have to escape the bombs.

They are also saying that Mussolini is not as strong as he was, and that he may be expelled from the party, because he apparently has opponents within it, too. She doesn't know. Livia doesn't know as much as that. What she does know is that Gino cannot win the Tour or the Giro, that he has not had any news of his family for the last few years, that she is working for a powerful fascist who used to be a mountain climber and who has changed her surname, so that she is Livia Scola, and she cannot get it out of her head that she is Livia Bucova and doesn't want to, either, because this little bit of honour is the only thing that is left from her childhood. That and two beautiful, brown eyes.

Livia is thinking:

If I lived in Paris, I would be called Livia Bukovina and I would be a Russian dancer. I would go out for walks dressed in a raincoat that reached down to the floor, and I would paddle in the Seine. That would be on the days that I did not have ballet performances, in other words, four days a week; because I would have to dance every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in front of ladies wearing elegant dresses and expensive jewellery, who would go to watch me. In front of the men, too, but I would not be taking that much notice, because they don't wear such formal clothes. What I most like about the men who go to the ballet is that they send flowers to your dressing room afterwards.

But Livia's daily life is far removed from paddling in the Seine. She knows Paris from the post cards Gino sends her; a post card that has the Eiffel Tower and an ice cream stall in the Trocadero and in front of it is a child gazing at the ice creams with a look of hunger on his face. You could take Livia to Paris with a blindfold and leave her in front of this stall, and remove the blindfold. But if there were no child, she would not recognise the place. And that is Paris for Livia: the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero stall with the child and the city where Gino used to win the Tour.

She had not seen much of the world, apart from that, except in those awful afternoon films of Luca's. But you cannot call everything in those films the world, because they go no further than Aosta or Calabria.

Some tell her to change her way of life. Aggio, for example, Aggio Montano, the baker, told her today:

-Come with me, love! We'll have a wonderful life.

Livia stands with arms akimbo, and answers:

-And what kind of ballet am I supposed to do with you, Aggio? At least if you lived in ParisÓ

-I'd be happy for you to dance all day.

-And what would we do? Make bread for a living? -she has lifted the churn off the cart and filled Aggio's jugs-. You see, another girl would come in the morning to distribute the milk, and you'd fall in love with her, and I don't want anything like that.

-I wouldn't fall in love -Aggio tells her.

-I'm sure you would. Just a little bit.

-Not even a little bit.

-Not even just a tiny little bit?


-And if the girl smiles at you?

Aggio is not sure.

-You see? -says Livia-. You'd fall in love!

-Less than with you -answers Aggio, and gives Livia a small roll.

Livia carefully cuts it in half.

-No cherries today, either? -she asks, resigned.

-But made with all my love -Aggio tells her-, just for you.

-Made for me and no cherries? -Livia pretends to get angry.

-One day I'll get up earlier and make you a roll with three cherries.

-With five.

-With seven.

Livia smiles.

-And that day ask me again about going to live with you -she tells him, as she chews the roll Aggio has given her.

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