Written by Silvia Pellegrino, Illustrated by Simona De Leo
A mother born a boy, a boy who finds a mother
A yellow toy car is surrounded by dust and stones. Despite missing a wheel, it manages to attract the attention of a curious gaze. Two huge, dull-green eyes are reflected on the surface of its small plastic windows, scanning its interior. The void of the seats immediately ignites the imagination of Golan, who now pictures himself in the car, with the wind in his hair and the heat of a blinding sun. As he passes, the heaps of rubble gather under the tyres, the road becomes smooth and flowing, without dangers. There are many people along the sides, dispersed families reunited and smiling greet Golan, the great driver on three wheels.
Slowly the clamour of those voices fades into a buzz. Golan gets out of the car, which resumes the appearance of an abandoned toy when his eyelids open. In front of him, an expanse of tents fills the refugee camp, which would like to welcome and host more and more people, if only it could expand towards the sky.
It’s lunchtime, and once again there’s some meat wrapped in jelly. Golan’s joy in savouring the first bite is irrepressible, he smiles and chews with his mouth open, not realising that Max, the man who had rescued him, is sitting next to him.
Max had moved from Scotland to Skala years ago, when he lost his family in an accident, and he volunteered for a small NGO. He is a big man, with eyes as kind as a dog’s, and communicates with Golan with gestures. They had in fact developed a language of their own in only a few weeks, borrowing the funny mimicry of Franca, another Italian volunteer and retired nurse.
One night in the camp, while everyone was trying to carve out their own space, Golan was tossing and turning and couldn’t get to sleep. So he stood up, unzipped the tent, and slipped away undisturbed. When he reached the beach he stretched out on the sand, letting himself sink among the grains, and began to watch the lights on the water go on and off in front of him. Suddenly he saw a shadow that seemed to dance in the sea: it moved slowly and lightly, the wind gently lifted its dress. Golan jumped up, convinced that that floating body belonged to a magical creature or perhaps to a star that had descended directly from the stairway of the firmament to taste the salt water of the sea. As he ran at breakneck speed towards it Max’s shouts made him turn in the direction of the camp, and at that very moment the creature dissolved. Golan knelt and felt the wet sand, grabbing something that was not a stone or a shell. He brought it close to his face, uncovering a comb clip decorated with many small roses.
Meanwhile, Max’s voice became more and more broken while calling his name, and halfway along the path the two reunited in an embrace. Max hoisted Golan onto his shoulders and stayed with him until he was sure of a deep and peaceful sleep.
The following morning, Golan found that a few metres from the tent Max had built a swing made of wood and old rags. He smiled and went to play, lending himself to the joy of that moment, but his mind remained fixed on that mysterious creature.
He waited patiently till the night to go back to the beach. Along the way he held the comb clip in his hands, repeatedly counting the roses glued to the surface, ten in all. He had had time to observe them well and, trapped between the interstices of two flowers, he had found a shimmering silver hair, bright as a treasure.
He then came to the same spot where the creature had appeared, and sat up and ran his fingers over the teeth of the comb, which made a strange and unfinished sound. After a few moments the creature appeared. Golan approached her and handed her the clasp. The creature grabbed him gently and, without letting out a breath, the two took each other by the hand, walking along a path that led them to the top of a hill, where a house all twisted and folded in on itself was trying to resist the passage of the wind.
The creature opened the door and motioned to enter. The light from the candles inside the room illuminated the walls covered with a multitude of sacred images in bright colours. Golan felt his legs give out and slumped on the sofa, never taking his eyes off the creature. What struck him most was her slender and supple body, which had maintained the same grace under the glare of the light. The creature wore a shiny red dress, long just above the knees, the neckline of which showed the white, curly chest hair. Her forehead was wide and had little hair, which thickened at the nape of his neck going down to the shoulders, embellishing them with the same silver that Golan had found stuck between the teeth of the comb clip. The creature was called Kyros and had been born a boy. At twelve she told her parents that she was a girl and that she had always wanted to grow her hair long like a lady’s.
Every Sunday she would go with her mother to church to hear mass, and one day in particular she was struck by the words of the priest, who quoted Esther speaking to her king Ahasuerus during the banquet: “If I have found favour in your eyes, oh king, and if this is what the king likes, my request is that my life be granted and my wish is that my people be spared [...]"
That same day she found her father waiting for her outside the church, with the engine of the old car running. She climbed aboard and saw the trees writhing on either side of the road until they took on the guise of horror.
She spent the rest of her adolescence locked up in an asylum, where she lived in her eight-metre-long devir. When she came out she was a tough and immaculate woman. She wandered for a long time through the streets of Athens, where she found refuge only within the bare walls of churches, which eased her painful thoughts. Then one afternoon she learnt of her parents’ death and offered them a dignified ritual. She took all of her despair and swept it out of the house, finally returning.
Kyros lived without modern means of communication and she listened to the news of the world through the voices of a radio that she kept next to her bed. She could still observe the chaos from the window of her room, and prayed for the salvation of the world. She welcomed men and women by offering them food, clothing and shelter. Men and women who had been denied the essential right to life.
She then told Golan about one of the happiest days she could remember. The day she received her first evening gown and a matching pair of high-heeled shoes, which she had ordered through a mail-order catalogue. Golan listened to her in silence, then suddenly his gaze became dark and in a serious voice he asked Kyros if God had forgotten them.
Kyros smiled without answering, then got up and led him to the window to observe that infinite expanse of blue where a boat with a man on it ferried souls on earth, souls that were tested as torches in the wind. That man was Max, and Kyros told Golan that before his arrival he had prayed for a father to come to the island to take care of the creatures that had been estranged from God by the hand of man. God had never stopped listening to her prayers, and had thus sent Golan to her. Golan the son who had forgotten too quickly what shape love was.
He learned from Kyros to live by keeping dreams and memories, and although he went with her to church every Sunday he refused to pray, communicating with God with gestures.
Years passed, and Golan became a man. One Sunday, just before going to mass, he went out and heard the wind calling him, he watched the house straighten its hump and, waving goodbye to the earth, he went back to the sea.