Antonio was bored. The little town of La Martella had little to offer, and was always sulking in the shadows of Matera, a nearby tourist hotspot. The small, narrow lanes, in which three bicycles caused a traffic jam, were lined with two-storeyed brown-brick residences, with a splash of colour here and there, in the form of a restaurant or a café. His mother, Rosalia, insisted on moving here, away from their small cosy hut in the countryside. He didn’t understand why. He was so happy there, playing with his friends, going to school and running around in the fields.
As he tapped the panes of the window, and looked outside, he saw something peculiar. The shadow between the two houses opposite to theirs seemed to be moving. There were eyes looking up at him, and hands pointing at him. He was transfixed, and his hand slowly inched towards their house phone. However, the eyes and hands disappeared, immediately, when a policeman passed by. He quickly closed the blinds and started watching an Italian dub of The Godfather.
At sunset, his mother came home. As her heels clacked on the wooden stairs, Antonio rushed to greet his mother. As the door opened, he stood in shock. Her hair was more dishevelled than usual, her makeup was smudged in a couple of places and her hand trembled carrying the packet of their dinner.
“What happened, mamma?”
“Nothing, Toni. Just a hard day at work.”
“Okay! What did you get for dinner?”
“I got Chinese food! Let me go wash up, and then we can eat!”
Antonio prepared the table, while Rosalia took a warm bath. “The food looks delicious, mamma! Where did you get it from?”
“I got it from Wang’s, a new place near the School!” said Rosalia, while drying herself. “Speaking of which, a man will be coming tomorrow morning, to talk about a new job that I’m starting. If it goes well, you’ll be off the shortlist in no time.”
Antonio jumped in excitement, and ran to hug his mother. “I can’t wait for tomorrow morning!”
After their nightly prayer, they began dinner. During dinner, Antonio told his mother about the eyes and hands he saw in the shadows. She raised her left eyebrow at him, and said, “On the opposite side, you say? Well, don’t ever go into the shadows. It’s a bad place. Filled with bad people. Let’s finish off and go to sleep.”
The prospect of going to school again, it kept him up all night. He couldn’t wait to meet this man, who could steer him back towards his old life. As the first ray of sunshine entered the bedroom, he started shaking his mother. “Mamma, Mamma, wake up! It’s morning! He’ll be here soon!”
“Will you relax? It’s 6 o’clock, he’s not due till 9! Go back to sleep!”
But sleep was no longer a companion for Antonio. He made himself breakfast, drew up a bath and arranged everything in the house, so it was spick and span. When a sharp rap on the door announced the arrival of ‘The Man’, Antonio let out a squeal of excitement. Rosalia, dressed in a red, sheath dress and stilettos, opened the door. A tall, well-built, clean-shaven gentleman stood across the threshold, wearing a black suit. He carried a bag from Pinocchio Toys. He smiled, stepped in and said, “Ciao, Antonio. How are you today?”, in a raspy voice.
Trembling out of excitement, he stuttered, “I-I’m good, Sir. H-How are y-you?”
“I’m doing great, thank you. I got you a little present. Here.”
A trembling Antonio took the bag and thanked him feebly. ‘The Man’ replied, “Ms. Rosucci, shall we confer in the room downstairs?”
Rosalia replied, “Please make yourself comfortable downstairs. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
As ‘The Man’ left, Rosalia leaned down and said, “Play with your gift, ragazzo. I’m downstairs. Call me if you need anything. But do not come downstairs.”
She left, with her heels clacking on the wooden floor. Antonio opened the bag, and a doll popped out. A doll of his favourite superheroine, Wonder Woman! That was the last one he needed to complete his collection! He received the final bambola, the one he’d been looking for three years!
As he ran to add it into his collection, he heard his mother scream downstairs. It was no ordinary scream of anger or despair; it was one of pain. Then came another. And another. They seemed to be getting louder, and deeper. He could also hear things being scattered downstairs, as they hit the wooden floor. Her screams turned to moans; moans of anguish and agony.
Terrified, he stood frozen in the middle of the house, clutching the bambola in his hand. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think and couldn’t speak. He didn’t know what these sounds were, and he didn’t know why his mother was making them. All he wanted was, for them to stop. They did, half an hour later, with a guttural shriek from ‘The Man’. His mom shouted, “I’m leaving for work, ragazzo! See you in the evening! I love you!”
He spent the whole day, curled up in a little ball. He couldn’t get over what he heard. He tried to drink some water to calm down, but he wasn’t thirsty. He wanted to eat a light pasta to soothe his nerves, but his appetite had been murdered. He looked at the bambola and asked her, “Wonder Woman, what was happening?”
At sunset, his mother came home. As her heels clacked on the wooden stairs, Antonio rushed to greet his mother. The door opened, and Rosalia appeared. Her hair was well kept, her makeup was perfect and her she kept a steady hand on the packet of their dinner.
Antonio hugged his mother, and cried, “Mamma, what was happening in the morning? Did ‘The Man’ hurt you? Mamma, what was going on? Talk to me, Mamma!”
Rosalia replied, “Ragazzo, I’m a bit tired today. I’ll explain it tomorrow morning. I promise.”
They ate dinner in silence, and she tucked him into bed. She stroked her thin, ebony hands through his hair, and whispered, “I love you, ragazzo. You’re a big, brave boy. You will always take care of your mamma.” He fell asleep.
Antonio woke up next morning to loud noises. Rubbing his eyes, he heard his mother scream. And again. And again. They got louder and deeper. The moans replaced the screams. And it ended, again, with the guttural shriek. Antonio clutched the bambola, and started crying. “Why are you doing this to me, God?”, he exclaimed, “Please let my mother go!”
At sunset, his mother came home. As her heels clacked on the wooden stairs, Antonio’s ears perked up. He still didn’t move. His mother came into the bedroom. Her hair was well kept, her makeup was perfect and her she kept a steady hand on the packet of their dinner.
Antonio screamed, “Mamma! I couldn’t move all day! What is going on? I’m feeling ill! I can’t move or think or-or sleep! My tummy’s empty but I don’t even want to eat anything! Mamma, help me!”
Rosalia hugged him, and said, “It’s okay, ragazzo. It’s okay. Mamma bought you medicine. You need to take it, and sleep.”
“No, mamma, no! I don’t wanna sleep! Tell me, Mamma!”
She picked him and said, “Not now, ragazzo. Not now. Let’s get you in the school first. I’ll tell you after that, okay?” Antonio, burst into tears and nodded, “Okay, mamma. I won’t. But please stop!”
“I will. I will.”
But, to Antonio’s horror, it didn’t stop. Her pain seemed to increase by the day, and his horror transformed into frustration. His sleep was always induced by medicine, and his appetite was long gone. He began talking to himself and his bambolas. He went about his day in the most sedentary manner, in an eerie robot-like manner. Washing the dishes, doing the laundry and cleaning the house were tasks he performed like a computer. Entertainment and exercise failed to cheer him up.
Every time he heard his mother scream, he would take his frustration out on the bambolas. With every scream, he’d tear off their hair. With every moan, he’d bite their bodies. With every shriek, he’d pull off their heads. All, but one, remained. Wonder Woman. She gave him hope, and kept him together.
Into the second week, he’d had enough. As his mother’s screams began, he clutched the bambola, and quietly went downstairs. He trembled with every scream, and every movement was measured. He unlocked the front door, and closed it noiselessly. Stepping onto the street, he looked around. Not a soul was in sight, except a lone black cat, up ahead. Her moans had begun. And he ran.
He ran and ran, till he didn’t know where he was. He looked up and he was in a desolate, dark lane. The walls around him were whispering, and the windows were staring at him. All of a sudden, he heard the same scream. Except, it was a different voice. The voice was coming from the window next to him. He was stuck, but, this time, a part of him wanted to see what was happening.
He moved closer to the window, and cupped his hands around the glass. The sight he saw, was burnt into his memory. He stood at the window, and his eyes welled up with tears. Is this what ‘The Man’ was doing to his mamma? Was he hurting her in this way? Why did she come all the way to La Martella for all this?
He mustered up the courage and ran out of the lane. He walked back towards the main street, his feet clacking on the cobbled streets. He clenched his bambola, and headed home. He spent the whole day, trying to understand what happened, and what he had seen. He didn’t speak a word to his mother, that night.
Next morning, he decided to confront ‘The Man’ for what he was doing to his mother. In a medicine-induced stupor, he clutched the bambola and waited for the screams to start. He started to walk down the stairs, softly. The screams kept getting louder as he approached the room.
A red light was coming from under the door. He kept tiptoeing to the door. The screams stopped and the moans began. They stung him like icy needles and his heart began beating faster. He stopped at the door, and the moans stopped, suddenly. His mother let out a high-pitched scream of pain.
He could hear the noise of something hitting violently, and her screams were interspersed with the words, “Sir, please stop! What are you doing?” He peeped through the keyhole, and saw his mother, naked, on the sofa, bathed in a shade of red. ‘The Man’ was sitting on her, with a wooden plank in his hand. He struck her, and she screamed.
Antonio was petrified. He couldn’t process what he’d seen. He looked down, and saw the bambola. He bit off its head and screamed in anger. Panting heavily, he opened the door.
– Inspired by the song Puppe by Rammstein