Kay Clay

Sicilian Life Sentence


Sicilian Life Sentence c.1946

There he is getting off the bus. " Giovanni ! Giovanni !" No, I am mistaken, though it looked just like him – brown hat, fawn suit, black hair and a determined way of walking.

I hope he will not be late. This is where he told me to wait: four o'clock at the bus terminus at the foot of Monte Pellegrino. It is not quite four o'clock yet. I could not help arriving early. If I had waited any longer I would not have been able to slip away, since Mamma wakes up from her siesta at half past three.

The note will not be found for another three hours. Mamma never expects Maria and her brother to bring me home before seven. I hope Maria does not get into trouble for pretending that I was going to tea with her. She has been so kind. It is a pity I could not say goodbye to her. I am afraid she won't understand how happy we are now that we have made up our minds. But Giovanni was right to insist on secrecy. How I longed to tell her, though, about our plans when she talked to me about some difficulty that she and Guido were having over their own!

Difficulty? She has no difficulties. Her life is easy. Guido is young and rich and handsome, and Maria`s parents like him; but he is not clever. If only Papa and Mamma could have understood how clever Giovanni is! They could not see how unimportant his poverty was. Once he had finished his studies he would soon have made a name

for himself. -

Poor Mamma: How old-fashioned she is, never wanting to let me out of her sight! It was different when she was young. Girls of eighteen nowadays go out by themselves, at any rate e until supper-time.

Here is another bus. he must be on this one! I cannot bear to wait alone any l0nger – and besides, someone might recognise me. Dear God, please let Giovanni be on this bus! I am not going to ask your help much longer. There is a man getting now. He is looking round. He is walking towards me. Yes, yes, it is Giovanni at last! How, serious he looks! " Giovanni, Giovanni, I am here!"

It is silly of me to cry. I thought I could be brave. It is such a comfort to feel his hand in mine and to know we have not much longer to wait. I could not have waited even one more day.


Once we are beyond the houses there is nothing to fear. There are few people on the mountain at this time of year. How different it is from the last time we were here! It was a lovely spring day and we were happy and. confident about the future. I felt sure that Mamma would understand when she met Giovanni. Giovanni says she can never have loved Papa. He cannot be right. How could she have lived all these years with someone she does not love? She cannot have known what it is like to be told to love someone you hate and not to love the only man you will ever care for.

It is a pity Giovanni will never be a lawyer. He would have made a good one. He is reliable . He does not decide in a hurry but once his mind is made up he never changes his decision. He does not get excited, as I do, He is not as calm now, though, as he seems. Usually, he holds me firmly by the hand. Today he keeps taking his hand away and running his fingers through his hair.

I am glad we have chosen the way up the mountain. Dear Monte Pellegrino! It is almost as though we had stayed up on you the last time we were here and had never gone down into the troubles and loneliness in Palermo. It is a nightmare that is already beginning to fade: Mamma always wanting to be with me, the fear of being discovered whenever we snatched a few moments together, the dreadful temptation to fling myself into Papa's arms and tell him everything, whenever I had to lie to him. I think I could have persuaded Papa, though Giovanni was right to te11 me not to try. If I had failed, I would have been locked in and would not have been able to get away today. Giovanni did not mind leaving his parents . He is stronger than I am – and for them it will mean one mouth less to feed.

Last time we were here the mountain slopes were covered with rose-bay. The bunch Giovanni picked for me wilted before we could put it in water, We met no one. We must not meet anyone to-day. If we are seen we may be discovered too soon. The bends in this path are so sharp that if there is someone ahead of us we will not have time to hide. The way will be rougher but we will be safer if we climb where there is no track.

I feel very strong now that we are so nearly free. I was afraid when I could eat none of my spaghetti at lunch that I would feel weak, but it is not so. Love gives you strength I would not mind if Monte Pellegrino was twice its height, I will pick some of these golden leaves to put on Santa Rosalia's shrine. How beautiful they look. I hope Santa Rosalia will like them. I want to show her how grateful I am to her for letting me meet Giovanni. If it had not been for her we would never have met. Giovanni does not agree. He does not believe that Saints can help us. He says it is Fate and because Papa missed his holiday.

In a sense he is right. We would not have met if Papa, had taken us over to Siracuse at Easter, as he had promised. We should almost say thank you to Papa's business friend for spending his Easter holiday in Palermo and so making Papa give up his own holiday to entertain him, for if we had spent Easter at Grandma's, Papa would not have taken a day off to go picnicking with us.

Yet I do not believe in Fate. I am sure Santa Rosalia helped me. It was so peaceful in the shrine. Outside it was warm and noisy. There were several other car-loads of picnickers, all talking and playing dance music on the gramophone. Papa and Mamma had both stretched themselves out on the rug for a siesta, and were fast asleep. And I slipped away to the shrine. It was cool, it was peaceful, and I felt so happy to be alone. Then suddenly I was not alone: beside me stood a strange young man, staring and staring at me. At first I was frightened and then he spoke and I knew that I was safe.

His voice was serious and kind. He told me that he had noticed me sitting with my parents, and had fo11owed me into the shrine to talk to me. I remember it all so clearly and yet it is a whole year and a, half ago."Today is a festa", Giovanni said, and you must enjoy yourself. That is what holidays are for. Do not be solemn and sad. Come for a walk with me. " I am glad .I did not go for a walk. If Papa and Mamma had found out about us so soon, they would have prevented our ever knowing each other.

We are near the top now. Giovanni looks pale. There are beads of sweat on his forehead, and his hand feels hot against mine. How strong he is! He pulls me up over the difficult bits as though I weighed nothing. Perhaps he looks pale because he is tired. He hes had to arrange everything. It was not possible for me to help. I do

not yet know exactly what he means to do but I trust him completely. And afterwards? I will not think of afterwards. Nothing matters so long as we are together for ever.

It is beautiful up here. I want to take a last look at mv favourite view, the sea, the mountains in the distance, Mondello in its little bay where I have bathed so often, the lovely thick dark trees below, us in La Favorita, the Stadium where Papa, took me with him to football matches and where I hoped to catch a glimpse of Giovanni`s face amongst the thousands of others.

There's a steamer coming in across the bay and an aeroplane circling readv to land. The lights of Palermo are beginning to show. I wonder if I can see ours from here? Mamma will. be expecting me back soon. Poor Mamma! She did not understand.

Giovanni is right. We must not stand here. I will go up to the shrine and place my leaves there while he keeps watch outside.

Thank you, Santa Rosalia, for bringing us together. Thank you and good-bye.

It is almost dark outside now but I do not feel frightened. I am frightened of nothing with Giovanni beside me. But we must hurry. We must go to the place we have chosen.

There are trees all around us. Some of their leaves have dropped and made a cushion on the ground. They rustle as we step on them.

There will not be time to talk. It is better so, for talking would make me weaken.

Even when Giovanni is frowning and looking stern, I love him. We have had so little time together and each moment was spoilt by the fear of being separated. We wi11 never be separated again; that is why I am not afraid.

One final kiss, dearest Giovanni! How happy you have made me. There is a tear at the corner of his eye. He must not weep. . At the worst we will have to bear a. few moments separation.

I will not flinch. he will help me to go first, and then he will follow me. But he must not cry. If he cries his vision will be blurred, and he may miss his aim.

Do not tremble, my love. See, I am strong. I am not afraid. Aim straight and do not hesitate. Remember what we believe. An eternity in hell sooner than separation here.

Shoot now, shoot quickly, shoot and get it over! Let me die quickly!

Oh, you have hurt me! Giovanni, you have hurt me!' I am not dead! Giovanni, shoot again. See, I suffer and .1 am not dead.

Why does he not shoot? Where is he? I ha,ve blood on my hand! Oh, Giovanni help me , help me, do! I am frightened. I want you. Don't leave me!

Where is he? I cannot see him. He has gone! He has left me! I am alone! Help! Help! Help!


Where am I ? Why am I in this room? I am frightened. Mamma, 1 want you. Where are you? Oh, I am glad she is here. Her hand is cool on my forehead. My heed aches so. What has happened to me? Why am I here? I will not be well to go away with Giovanni. Giovanni? Oh, now I remember. It is all over. He shot me and ran away. He left me alone to die. Had he really loved me , he would have stayed with me. Dear Santa Rosalia: It was she who protected me. She knew that he did not love me. She saved me from dying alone.

Darling Mamma, forgive me. I was mad. I did not know what I was doing. You would not let me see him and I thought you were cruel. I loved him so much and you did not seem to understand. Now I see you were right, He did not love

me. You were right to keep me from him.

Mamma is speaking. Her lips move and I do not hear her properly. She looks sad. Poor Mamma, how I have worried her! I am so glad to be alive and to feel her hand in mine. I shall not die. I wi11 stay with Mamma.

There is something in Mamma's eyes I do not understand. She does not look glad to have me back. Mamma, darling Mamma, do not look sad. I love vou and will obey you always. Punish me how you will for hurting you, only let me live with you and papa, and show you what an obedient daughter i now am. She does not believe me. She is shaking her head. Perhaps she thinks I wi11 slip away to Giovanni again. But I promise you I will not, Mamma, I swear to you I will never see Giovanni again. I hate him, I hate him for leaving me to die alone.

I must try to understand what Mamma is saying. She is repeating it slowly as though it was very important. Giovanni is a scoundrel, Giovanni deceived me - yes, yes, that is true. They are sorry for me, they love me and will not abandon-me and they will see we are comfortably off when we are married. When we are married? But I do not want to marry him!


Oh, do not make me marry him! I could not bear it. Punish me in some other way, but do not make me do that . Don't you see I do not love him any longer? Do not tie me to him for ever!

There is no hope. 1 can see from Mamma's face that her mind is made up. She looks as she used to look when I would not eat my meat. She will make me marry him. To stop the neighbours talking, she says. but why should they talk? We did nothing wrong together. The neighbours will talk because they will not believe us? But I swear to you, Mamma, we did nothing wrong! Why should we marry to satisfy the neighbours? It i,s our life not theirs. We will not be happy.

Appearances must be kept up and my happiness is not important. Young girls do not spend the evening on the mountainside alone with young men: no one else will marry me now. But I cannot marry Giovanni! How can I marry someone I neither trust nor love?`

Yet there is no escape. I see it in Mamma's eyes. I have sinned and my punishment is a sentence for life.