We were all there.
I don’t remember the name of the last boy who arrived; his temples were beaded with sweat due to the run from the church to Michelino’s basement. I remember the beads of sweat and his sticky skin but not his name.
Michelino benefitted of an unusual freedom for a 12 year-old boy and we didn’t really know why. Not that it mattered, when you are little, the motivation and the implied meaning of events doesn’t count as much; we just needed a place to take refuge in from the silent greyness of the village and the basement was perfect.As soon as the sweaty boy came in, Michelino got up to check from the door that none of the old people in the square outside were looking in our direction. He was the oldest and for this reason he was animated by a strange sense of responsibility. After closing the creaking wooden door he turned, took a deep breath and put on a worried expression; maybe we didn’t look exactly like a valiant and strong company; the last one to arrive still panting, skinny with unsteady legs was standing next to him, Albi was sitting on the rotten trunk holding his father’s wire cutters in his tiny hands and then, there was me, the last one to be subjected to his gaze, holding the explosive remedy inside the paper bag that Michelino told me to grab.Michelino didn’t say anything, he already told us what to do and it wasn’t necessary to say it again; time is a bastard when cut short, an arrogant in excess. He nodded and we all stood up, we quickly walked outside using the upstairs door, as we wanted to avoid passing through the square. Once outside I looked behind Michelino’s house, I could glimpse the church, a fishing crane in one of the boats and the statue, which dominated the tiny square. Albi pushed me from behind, as Michelino and The Sweaty were already way ahead of us in the empty, tiny road.Empty and quiet, as always.The three littlest of us didn’t have much independence and soon our parents would begin to worry, Michelino knew this and kept a fast walking pace through the rarely visited alleys until he stopped in front of a metallic net; the fence of the lighthouse. Albi quickly did his job using the wire cutters to create a passage and while Michelino kept it open so that we could pass, The Sweaty stayed outside to be the lookout. After about ten metres we found ourselves at the entrance of the old lighthouse, which by then hadn’t had a guard for a long time. As we walked in our anxiety became quite impelling like the muffled absence of sounds; we couldn’t say a word. The silence dominated our village, its citizens felt a visceral hate for any kind of sound or noise; the oldest people said that noise scared the fish away, but most of them were simply not used to any sound that wasn’t from boats, homilies or fishing nets. They couldn’t stand us screaming as we played and they romped about as if hearing the voices of young people having fun would open a gash in their life, the kind of gash that would lead to a different existence without greyness, without that oppressive, steady regularity.As we reached the top of the building, Michelino opened the tiny door of the main room of the lighthouse, which was as dark as the other parts of it but with some light filtering from one of the windows that opened on to the external balustrade. It was broken, Michelino looked at me and said: “Now”. I nodded and went outside with the feeling of being a hero from one of those ancient poems, facing an epic endeavour.Once outside, I sat on my legs; in front of me the grey seaway, floating as an eternal warning, at my feet the village. Everything grey. Everything quiet.Then, suddenly, I heard The Sweaty screaming: “They are coming!” which excited and roused me; I grabbed the paper bag, the wind confused and destabilised me, but besides everything I outdrew the cardboard cylinder, thick and heavy as it was due to its dusty and compact inside. I quickly took the tiny box full of matches. The first one failed and broke and I saw The Sweaty down at the net being taken from the scruff of the neck by one of the adults. The second match didn’t fail as the wind went down in that instant. I brought the weak flame to the long fuse that came out from the cylinder and suddenly sparks started to sizzle all over. I put the cylinder on the baluster, I quickly went back in and Michelino, Albi and I witnessed the most spectacular and stunning event of our childhood: once the fuse was burnt beams f light started to come out of the big cylinder, each one followed by the sound of an explosion… after the first one there were more, two, five, ten beams and ten explosions. There had never been that level of noise, never that much. It was surreal and different, forbidden and stunning.
One hour later we were at the centre of the square under the deviously harsh gaze of the statue, surrounded by old people beating us as punishment. It was so humiliating; I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I did that day.
Today, 25 years later, under that same old grey statue, I observe its deviously harsh expression and I smile. I smile and laugh as if I were a child again because it doesn’t look as harsh as in the past; it almost smiles as if it had been cheered up by the colours and by the noise.