Among all his friends though, there was one special friend, a girl: Unfortunately, destiny made this friendship hard for the boy, for Angela lived in Rome and only during the summer, and sometimes during some holidays, she would vacation with her parents where Markus lived and where her parents owned a small house inherited from an elderly aunt. Angela was a year younger than Markus and they had become friends before he left New York, since both families had chosen the same place to vacation at.
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It was because of his great friendship with Angela that Markus learned to speak Italian quickly. For a couple of years, Markus and Angela had been enjoying more freedom with the permission of their parents. As a result, they would spend their days on the hills, biking along the wooded paths, looking for small animals and climbing trees, looking for hideouts. Angela was a lively, blond girl, always ready for any adventure Markus would suggest.
She was slim and agile like a gazelle in the fields and a squirrel on the trees. He never thought about the difference of the sexes too much, nor was this bothering him in any way. All this, up to that year when — in summer — Angela went back to the village again. Like Markus, she was growing and physically changing and Markus was aware of all these changes.
The once-bold little girl had gotten taller, her hair was styled differently and had a different shine, and her clothes did no longer disguise the flat and dry figure of years past. Her look had also changed and become so piercing it went right through you like a dagger.
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Markus was thinking about this, while hesitating for quite a few minutes in front of the mirror… Suddenly he heard someone knocking at the bathroom door. I will be back tonight. Your father is up in his den, writing. She would leave early in the morning with all her photo equipment and spend the whole day traveling through the hills and bordering villages. At night, she would come back with a good number of pictures, which, through the night, she would examine and make changes to.
Hidden in his den, he would write all-day long and send his work to editors by e-mail. After breakfast, Markus went into the garden, making his way towards the back of the garage, where Josh had set up a basketball court for him, using one of the garage walls. The boy would spend a lot of time bouncing the ball on the pavement, then throwing the ball into the basket. All this physical activity calmed him down.
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As he was slowly swirling around, dragging behind him the ball bouncing on the pavement, that morning he thought of his friend Ughino, with all the problems his image would conjure up. So intent was his thought, that Markus stopped the ball with his hands and stood for a moment looking at the climbing roses that were decorating the garage door. Markus turned around and his face lit up.
She threw it on the ground and they hugged happily, transported by the spontaneity of a gesture they were accustomed to since they were five. Markus though realized he had perhaps been too spontaneous. He pulled away immediately, blushing. His face beamed with delight. Cheerful, playful and full of life.
He was greeting everybody loudly But his mother has gotten worse. He told me himself and I actually saw it for myself. He said there is very little that could be done since she is mentally sick. They suddenly heard a loud noise of metal, stones and wheels coming from the access road to the village house. The two got up and moved towards the lane that led to the main entrance. When they got to the corner of the garage, they had to move back to make room for a boy who was riding a strange three-wheel vehicle with great speed.
Then he addressed both of them: I am very happy. Ughino started to get off the bike and then hesitated.
Would you like some juice? He looked at Markus and said: I have to continue my deliveries I just wanted to say hello. He looked at Angela, trying to let her know. She understood immediately and said: I have to go help my parents get set up. Then Ughino got off his bike, stopped pretending he was happy and hugged Markus. Then Markus pulled his bicycle out of the garage and pointing to the road said: He was ten years old, but because of the emotions and the grief that life had reserved for him, he could teach good judgment and maturity to his fifteen-year-old friends.
The engineers of the municipality had tried various times to have the two legally evicted, as the dwelling was considered not desirable for health reasons, but every time, independent groups of people had dissuaded them and convinced them to defer action. Paola, the mother, was still young, but she looked like an elderly woman.
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She was afflicted by many ailments and when she was able to rustle up a little alms money, she would always go home with a bottle of wine in her hands. Paola was an orphan and she had never known her parents. She grew up in a convent and when she was twenty she had gone to work as an attendant at a summer camp for children on the Emilia Romagna coast, where she had met her first and last love.
Salvatore, a tourist traveling in that area, invited her to dinner and they stayed together until morning, when Paola had to go back to work. The following days she waited for him in vain on the beach where they had met. She looked for him in a futile search throughout the whole city, only to realize the only thing she knew about him was his first name.
Salvatore had left her, much like her mother had done. At the end of the season, she returned to the village pregnant with Ughino, her mind totally empty. As the baby was getting bigger, the mother was withering away. Her body slowly sagged like a bamboo whipped by the wind and only alcohol could make her bear the eternal grief of life. Ughino understood immediately, since he was very small, that he had to take care of himself, as well as his mother. So he would go to school and after school he would take care of the house, helping Paola as if she were a little girl.
Despite his sad destiny, Ughino smiled all the time and he would play with his friends, who loved him a lot, any chance he got. The boy did not want his friends to pity him because of his condition, so often he would tell innocent lies to mask his meager truth. Sometimes, he was invited to lunch by families of friends, and was served with wonderful dishes of Umbrian tradition. He would then thank the hostess by saying: Just the way my mom fixes it!
Things were different with him. He spent a lot of time with him and thought of him as an older brother. Once, when school let out, a couple of older boys arrogantly stopped Ughino. It was Giovanni Montaldi and Piero De Lisis, sons of two wealthy businesspeople from Orvieto, dressed from top to bottom in fashionable clothes. They did not have many friends at school, but their private alliance seemed to satisfy them and they did not feel they had to be friendly to other people.
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Always bold and arrogant, they had several times shown lack of courage in their actions. Therefore, they usually would bother the younger and the weaker kids. Ughino was one of them. One time, Giovanni and Piero started making fun of him because of his older shoes with holes, shoving him around as they spoke, while he was trying to resolve the situation with a smile.
Suddenly Piero kicked him and his backpack filled with his school notebooks fell in the sand. Then Ughino turned and saw the boy turning red, because an arm, behind him, was grabbing him by the neck. With a yank, Piero fell on the ground and immediately Markus was on top of him, beating him up, while a couple of friends were holding Giovanni back.
During the summer, Ughino helped Mario, the manager of the only food store in the village, with deliveries to clients.
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Since during the summer holidays the number of people increased because of the arrival of all the people who owned a country cottage, the need for deliveries increased, as the store was getting bigger and acquired more clients. So, Mario had given Ughino a bicycle he had modified for small deliveries: Little Ugo felt mighty proud when he was riding this unique vehicle and often he would come back from his deliveries full speed, doing acrobatics on two wheels.
But when he went home, he left his cheerfulness outside the door, like a coat hanging from the door. The boy would put his love and patience clothes on and cross the door bravely. His mother would usually sit by the window, crossing her legs, with her foot constantly moving up and down. Her gaze was lost in empty infinity and nearly always she did not even know her son had come back. Ughino thought his mother was the most beautiful woman in the world and he hoped every day that she would heal quickly.
His continuous care and attention was not enough, he thought. Maybe he should take her to the hospital. But how could he love her more? He loved her more than himself! Every day he tried to be more affectionate.