TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN BY DANILA CANNAMELA AND JOHANNA HARDING.
In the evening, Rome wept. This was the first impression that I had of the city when I arrived, three years prior, fleeing from a little village in Calabria.
In the beginning it was winter and the sky in the evening was tinged with red. A bright red. I had already heard of the famous sunsets in Rome, but I thought it was a story to attract tourists. But it’s not: at night, every night, Rome, at sunset, is tinged with red. At times even when it’s raining. The roofs, the streets, the buildings, the TV antennas (so many antennas!), everything reflects the red of the suddenly bloody sky.
When I arrived, I had a very hard time finding a job. I used to sell tissues and air fresheners for cars at the traffic lights, and this was just enough to pay rent and buy food at some crappy restaurant in Trastevere. Then, suddenly, even crappy restaurants came into fashion, and I realized that prices were rising and the customers were looking better and better. One day, the immigrant waiter brought the menu: pasta with beans, 20 Euros. That’s when I realized that Trastevere wasn’t the place for me and I moved to Termini. My first impression was that the central train station of Rome was a big spider that swallowed everything. I started to frequent a soup kitchen neighboring Termini and to live with them, the homeless. Nobody would have realized how many there were, all crowded into the station. They stood in front of the bookstore, opposite to the pharmacy, and bothered people. They knew all the store owners and convinced the employees of the candy store to give them free ice cream. Nobody spoke against it. But this, and I would learn this later, is a characteristic of the city.
At least, it was until I arrived.
At the beginning, the gatekeepers would let me in without a ticket. Then they started to create problems. However, I could stay in the entryway as long as I wanted.
One day an old man approached me. I was around, selling lighters.
“Are you Italian?” He asked me.
“I’m from Polistena, in Calabria.” Even though this wasn’t really true, because I used to live in Rosarno.
“Don’t you find this corruption disgusting?” He continued.
“But what corruption? … Come on, Grandpa, leave me the hell alone.”
“Don’t you need money? Don’t you wish to sleep in a decent hotel?”
That old man was really pissing me off. He just wants a cheap fuck, he’s a fag masquerading as a gentleman, I thought.
“Yes I do want money, but I don’t suck cock.”
“Come with me.” He took me to eat at a fast food chain. The hamburger smelled like shit, which might have been because I had a terrible cold and all smells bothered me. But I didn’t complain, because I was starting to like the old man.
“Have you ever thought of becoming a street cleaner?” He asked me while I finished my food.
You would think he was crazy. There are so many street cleaners around. You need to pay in order to become a street cleaner of the City. And you have to expose yourself too much, I answered.
“No, another type of street cleaner,” he explained. And as he spoke, he pulled a wad of cash from his pocket.
Believe me when I tell you, that day my life changed.
Marsala Street, Giolitti Street, Cinquecento Piazza, the Baths of Diocletian, all around the station. And then Amendola Street, and up to the Opera Theatre, but not going beyond the Theatre. Nazionale Street and Esedra Piazza. This was my kingdom.
The old man told me that he had a lot of money, but no time to spend it, as he caught a cancer of the lungs, even though he had never smoked a cigarette in his life, and hanging in his office was a “no smoking” sign, the one with the skull underneath the words.
“I am tired of the people who clean my windows at the stoplight, and those that try to sell me lighters. The negros, the gypsies, including the one who stole my wallet,” he told me.
While he was continuing to tell his story his eyes lit up, “well, a gypsy girl pointed at me while I was in a car on the Metropolitan B line, the one that goes to Bologna Piazza, where I live, in front of the Post Office: she punched me in the face and stole my wallet from the pocket of my jacket. What would you have done?” I shrugged. I haven’t owned a wallet in who knows how long.
“I’ll tell you what I did. I grabbed her by her shirt while she was exiting the car and dragged her with me. And nobody, I say nobody, looked or said anything. What do you think, I am impotent because I am old?” He asked me while I shrugged again, but I think he was asking just to make conversation, not out of a desire for an answer. As for me, I have always though old people fuck more than kids.
And then he continued, “so I brought her to a public restroom at the exit of the subway station, and I locked myself in with her. I used one hand to cover her mouth and I fucked her, from the front and the back, and you should have heard how she moaned. Then, I snapped her neck like a hen, just like my grandfather, may he rest in peace, used to do with the chickens.
I wasn’t surprised by the story of that old asshole, not even a little bit. But at the end of the story he didn’t even remember what the fuck it was that he wanted to tell me.
“Oh yes.” He had regained his memory. “I bet you know all these parasitic, cock-sucking, assholes. I am rich, I’ve already mentioned that, and I want to give charity to people like you. I can’t stand to see them on the street anymore. I still have a year to live, more or less, and I don’t want to see them sleeping on the sidewalks. And you owe me a favor.”
And what do you think? That he wanted to make everyone rich? But no. If you are shrewd you will have already guessed what he wanted.
I have my territory around Termini Station. And the old man had paid many other people like me in the city, I’m sure. I don’t know if, in the end, he left happy, but I don’t give a fuck about it.
The old man, anyways, after all those pep talks gave me an appointment for the following night and was continuing to wave a wad of cash right under my nose. “Let’s meet at Ferrovie Laziali, platform 23, tomorrow night at eleven thirty. I’ll see if you’re good for the job.” He told me.
If I’m good for the job?
He didn’t know but I was a celebrity in my hometown. I had killed people almost every day, contributing to the increasing number of deaths, as much as I could. I was paid to do that. I was working for some gentlemen who could get very easily offended. So it was my job to make things right. I had never seen so much money in my entire life.
Then everything ended. One day my best friend, Mimmo, was killed. A rifle shot peeled the skin from his neck, I was told, because he was shot precisely in the face. And my… let’s call him boss, blamed me for this. Only because everybody knew that I had a thing for Mimmo’s wife. I liked her a lot, I did. But I’m sure that somebody wanted my job, and this person killed Mimmo. Lucky me, my friends told me in time, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you this story. I left immediately, not even grabbing my belongings. And this is why I ended up selling tissues.
But I hadn’t told this story to the old man, you can’t trust anybody, especially those who pay you.
That night I went to the meeting at platform 23 at Laziali Station. As soon as he saw me the old man pointed at a pile of rags, on the ground. He told me: “Okay, this is the first one.” And he hid near a column to observe my behavior. I approached the pile of rags and started to shake it. The man, as if he wasn’t even sleeping, sat up abruptly and started to shout, “Stop, stop, stop it now, asshole!”
At that point I yanked him up by his neck, breathing on his face, “Asshole to whom?”
While he was kicking to try to get up, I picked him up. He was more or less in his 30s with a beard reaching his chest. In the meanwhile, I was continuing to squeeze his neck, and he kept kicking wildly while he was suffocating. I was squeezing him even more and he started to wheeze, opening his eyes wide, and pissed himself. Suddenly I felt him collapse, but even when I was absolutely certain that he was dead, just in case, I continued to squeeze for a little while longer.
Do you think I was disgusted? I’m not so easily shocked.
So, while I was holding him tightly, I quickly looked back and I noticed that the old man was approaching to have a better view of what I was doing.
‘You wanted to see how I work, right? Here you go, enjoy!’ I thought while I shoved my fingers into the eyes of the homeless man, pulling them out of the sockets, the bloody, bloody sockets, like peanuts out of the shell. I threw them on the ground, as if they were real balls, near the feet of the old man. I pulled the pants off the corpse, then, once I took the knife from my pocket, I made an incision in the scrotum and I pulled out his balls. It was easy, not even a drop of blood exited. Meanwhile, I was hearing the panting, excited breath of the old asshole next to me. There was only a kind of white pip that was keeping the balls attached to the body. A snap and I got them. “Fresh meat,” I uttered arrogantly, offering them to the old man. He shook his head.
‘If he doesn’t want them I’m going to eat them,’ I thought while shoving them into my mouth. Not only did they not have any taste, but they were spongy and soft like snails. And suddenly they disgusted me too as I have always found snails repulsive. Anger was starting to bubble up in me, because it seems to me I was wasting my time for nothing. Anger also for that useless thing laying on the ground, with the pants off and the cock on display. Now I’m going to show you, stupid cock-sucker, and I cut his cock off with a very fast gesture, full of anger. And now it was bleeding even though he was dead of course. And I shoved the cock in its mouth, in that disgusting mouth which opened on nothingness.
Since that night my job had really started. And I’m sorry if this is not enough and if I’m telling you in a brutal way. You will think I made this up, but no. If you don’t believe me, when you end up in Rome, possibly at night, you will be able to verify that around Termini station there is like a pulsing and bleeding heart, and all the birds, starlings, fly over the trees around there. Walk to Esedra Piazza, the one with the fountain that some Romans call “Piazza della Repubblica”, because there is the metro stop Repubblica and it often happens that people say ‘let’s meet in Piazza della Repubblica’ and every time they fail to meet. However, try to take a stroll in the area, possibly while the sun is going down.
Try it yourself. I did my best. At the platforms 20 and 21 I slit the throats of thirty homeless with a razor. I cut the throats of all of them for ten nights in a row and nobody said anything, as if they hadn’t even noticed or maybe it’s ok like this. Not even the newspapers mentioned it, only a few short articles in the Chronicles of Rome. I shoved the syringe in the eyes of the HIV positive people who sleep under the ground of the station or hidden behind the ventilation shafts.
And don’t think that I bought all of those syringes: just to make a joke, I took some of them, robbing those machines for syringe disposal and distribution on the sidewalks outside the station. Think only this, that the city placed them there on purpose for the addicts, in order to ‘contain the AIDS problem’. In the charity shelter instead, I used the knife, considering that, when and if I can I like to give a symbolic meaning to the things that I do. I planted the knife in the stomach and in the pussy of the young women (there are some very young ones), or in the tired heart of the elders. I always got doused with the blood that was spraying from the bodies, writhing in their death spasms, because in the south, in Calabria, some people say that to bathe in blood can extend your life and bring good luck. With the little gypsy girls of Metro A and B, I did it the way the old man told me to. I need to fuck, too. The transvestites, at night, I brought them to hotels in that area of the station. Some of them, I cut their throat with a razor, while I was fucking them and I discovered it was beautiful, feeling them dying and shaking while they see their blood draining from them and there is nothing they can do about it, because my hands are squeezing their back, holding them tight, and my cock nails them to my body without any hope of escape. Then they gradually calm down, and the sphincter has a very last spasm, the one that always makes me come when they succumb.
“A sudden wave of violence, unacceptable,” you’ll say.
Ah, when you come to Rome to see the sunset, you will really hear the city crying, but remember it was me who made her weep.
On the other hand, you won’t see a homeless, a gypsy, a vagabond, at the station of Termini, because I’m good at my job. And nobody, in that place, will try to wash the windows of your car at traffic lights. Like the old man said, there are gas station attendants for that.