The Secret is to Tell All!

Part One: VI

They disinfected me from head to toe, but I couldn’t manage to resist more than several seconds before moaning loudly because of the burning sensation in my healing wounds. Nevertheless, I understood that I was in the process of getting better and, although I was still solidly attached to my bed, I got a little better every day. The continual coming and going of the personnel and those who were curious about me wasn’t displeasing; at bottom, the isolation that had been reserved for me as a dangerous lunatic materialized into the advantage of being exempt from the daily activities of the wing and permitted me to progressively reestablish contact with reality. The personnel even had a certain respect for their sole European patient. I must also say that my prior Italian experience had seemed much more terrifying and that the crazy people of Senegal certainly enjoyed a much greater respect than those of our very civilized country.

From the day that I was cleaned up and partially restored (I thank God or whatever holds his place for having given me a robust nature), the doctors, the infirmary workers and the various other authorities noted that the monster who came from the high seas was not as terrible as they had been told. I was finally detached and, walking about, my injuries began to heal rapidly. Words and gestures created a human connection between me and people who lived a very different life from mine. I must also say that, in Dakar, all the people shake hands about everything and that this amused me a great deal. This sort of behavior penetrates into the mind and contributes to the creation of a certain optimism, no doubt irrational but no less profound for that. I must also say that the Blacks of the Atlantic coast are, perhaps, primitive and savage, but to me they were truly adorable, and the inhabitants of the industrialized suburbs (places certainly less desirable for defenseless people than Northeast Africa) would do well to acquire some of their character traits and thus improve the quality, if not of their lives, then at least their sense of community. I confess that, up to that period, I had solidly rooted racist prejudices (for example, I categorically refused to have sex with women of color, believing that they stank), but this adventure ended with me recovering from those stupidities, of which I am ashamed today.

Despite the pleasant climate, the joy of my first strolls through the gardens and the warmth of the people, I remained apathetic. Professor Xavier Bonghor did not think that this was right. This clinician – about 50 years old, ironic, an evolved native and a skeptical supporter of National Socialism – had sympathy for me, spoke to me at length and wanted to see me forget the atrocities to which I had been subjected. I explained to him my terror at the idea of returning home; it didn’t make any sense to reestablish myself, only to then find myself back in prison or, after so many years, on trial for attempted murder. And even if they didn’t put me on trial, I could always expect the vengeance of some sailor, and I would also remain at the mercy of the torturers in white shirts.

The unending patience of my protector allowed me to discover that, in the final analysis, I was lucky (everything is relative, of course). The “incident” had in fact taken place in international waters, onboard a Liberian ship. The government of this caricature of the United States would have no interest in pursuing a poor fellow such as myself, and thus risking, among other things, the acquisition of one more mouth to feed in one of its rare prisons; and, in any event, it truly wasn’t part of my plans to remain in that distant location, which was totally lacking in appeal for me. Moreover, since everyone thought that they had inflicted on me a sufficient punishment (they weren’t mistaken!), I once again found myself unexpectedly freed from any obligation and master of my own destiny. Thus I accepted being released and repatriated, in good spirits and with high hopes. For the first time in my life, I prepared myself, among other things, to take a plane, which was paid for by the Italian embassy, which was headquartered in that ramshackle.

My departure was marked by a small ceremony. I bade farewell to a large number of people and, in particular, the doctor with black skin who had saved my life twice. I believe I owe him a great deal, and I have never forgotten his wry look or his bursts of laughter every time I recounted the episode of the beating of the ship’s commander, which he always accompanied with unequivocal hand gestures.

I returned to Liguria seeking a new embarkation and I again saw Marcella – my failed bride-to-be – with her husband and small daughter. She appeared so beautiful and available to me that I ran like hell before I committed adultery, and, instead of wreaking new havoc, I choose to work again. After eleven months spent on the gigantic Butterfly[1] (it had an Apulian crew and sailed under the Panamanian flag), your narrator, who was no longer young, went to Naples, enticed by the high pay offered by a Greek freighter. Once aboard the deck, I immediately realized that it was the Cayenne, a ship fit for deportees only (the crew was in fact forced to be there). Every single sailor onboard was missing something: a finger, an ear, teeth or hair.

After a few seconds of reflection, I skillfully began to show symptoms of the mumps (which elicited ill-concealed terror when I touched my balls), thus succeeding in obtaining my discharge plus a small compensatory sum. I understood that my maritime career ended there; my mind and body could no longer tolerate that extravagant life. But the demon of vengeance kept watch over me. Using my funds, I committed the imprudence of going to Stockholm for what seemed to me to be my last duty before leaving the high seas. I did not have too much difficulty finding three accomplices to help execute my plan concerning the torturers aboard the Kirta. After having rented a car, we descended upon the enemy’s base in Finland and caused serious damages by ingenuously setting fire to its stores. Alas, that same night, as I was feasting in a tavern, I was denounced to the ship’s commander by one of my rotten accomplices, and I was immediately arrested.

At my trial, all the judges were convinced that they were dealing with a lunatic, and my behavior did not do anything to make them change their minds. Not knowing the language of the country, I had no idea what my defense attorney was saying, nor did I know the applicable penal code. And so it falls to the well-informed reader of these pages to decide if the penalty of seven months in prison was light or not. Whatever it was, I served it without great difficulty and thus did not regret my actions.

Perhaps I really became crazy in the locker chains. Could I have remained unaffected after being subjected to that torture? Could I keep my self-esteem without proving to my torturers that I was still capable of struggling?

I understand nothing of politics, but what hurt me the most was being betrayed by a fellow sailor who had been happy to strike against the ship-owner. My mind might falter, but I am certain that I will never be able to sell out a friend, no matter what he did. If you learn otherwise, wring my neck: I will have deserved it!

[1] English in original.

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