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from the April 2020 issue

Farfariel: The Book of Micù

A boy is visited by a mischievous demon in this children’s story by Pietro Albì.


Translator’s Note: Farfariel: The Book of Micu is set in rural Abruzzo in 1938. The narration shifts between the scribe who is writing the text and the mischievous devil Farfariel, whose sections appear in red. The crossed-out sections are parts that Farfariel thinks should not be included in the scribe's text.
 

Summon me. No, it’s too soon to summon me, or maybe it’s too late, and you’re too young, too zulli, as they say in my village.

Some think of me as the shiver down the spine when you’re walking along a dark street. You hear the noise of footsteps behind you, snap your head around to see who’s there, and a cold shiver grips you, curdles your muscles, turns your legs to jelly. That shiver would be me. Others think of me as the crazy voice that fills your head with things that make no sense, things you don’t understand and don’t know how they got there, when you feel close to shame and your cheeks burn red at the madness of your thoughts, an eight-legged horse or your mom with an elephant’s head.   

I’m not that shiver and I’m not that madness, I’m something else. If you want me to come, just say my name six times. That’s all, six times, one after the other, no more. If you pronounce it correctly without a single mistake, if you think hard about me, I’ll come.

What’s my name? It’s too early to say, you’re too young, this story’s too young. You’re both too zulli. But as the story grows, you’ll grow with it, and when the time comes, if you still want me, you can say my name, my real name, six times.

For now, all you need to know is this story is not about me. More importantly, it’s not about the people from a village called Canzano. 

The real story is about a Book, a Book like no other, a Book that couldn’t be more different from the one you’re holding in your hands right now.

Everyone knows the Book, the same way everyone knows about me, because at least once in their life, they’ll have opened the Book. The only problem is, they don’t remember it.

You dream about it, everyone does. You probably dreamed about it last night, it was right there in your dream, but . . . Everyone dreams about the Book at least once in their life, they just don’t remember it.

Since the Book has been in the world, only two people haven’t forgotten it after dreaming about it. One is Micù, who was nearly ten years old when he first saw it, one night in April 1938.

 

A heart for a heart

Rosalbina made the sign of the cross and from the bag pulled out a swallow with broken wings. The knife glimmered in the sun. The swallow was gasping, like a fish plucked from the sky, and Rosalbina thrust her earth-stained fingers into its rib cage, which oozed blood.

Swallerit!”

Micù didn’t want to swallow, but quick as a flash, Rosalbina shoved the raw heart into his mouth. Micù fought against the slimy, bitter thing pulsating on his tongue. How could it be beating? Rosalbina was still holding the knife, turning it this way and that, close to her blood-splotched forehead. “Swallerit!” she bellowed.

Micù felt the animal’s heart pulse in his throat.

He looked at the hole in the animal’s chest, a cluster of clotted blood, ribs splayed like white needles. Rosalbina waited, eyes wide, as if any minute . . .    

The bird’s heart beat a few more times in the boy’s stomach and he felt his intestines cramp.

What happens to you?” Rosalbina asked, worried.

“I have to go,” Micù replied, stamping his feet. Rosalbina finally let go of her son’s hand, and Micù darted away. The pulsing heart of a swallow was too much for his stomach.

He crouched in the cowshed, Duchess nearby, convinced a barrage of fireworks was lodged deep in his viscera. Grimacing in pain and glee, he felt himself release an endless poo. A poo so incredibly big, bigger than the cow’s. Weirder still was the color.

Fregnaaaaaa!” he exclaimed, preferring the village dialect to express his approval.  

It looked blue, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t like the blue flowers that sometimes grow in ditches. It wasn’t like grapes when you look at them against the light and they seem almost blue. It wasn’t like any of the shades of blue in the sky after sunset or in the morning before the sun.

It wasn’t like nighttime in August, when the full moon beams bright bright and the night doesn’t feel like night and the sky shines a beautiful blue, a blue that, until now, Micù had always thought was the bluest of all blues.

Micù needed to clean himself up. Straw? Too dry. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a strip of alfalfa plants by the side door to the cowshed. He had an idea: a backsideslide!

Micù lifted his behind and planted it on the alfalfa. With his hands he dragged himself along the ground, leaving a thin trail of blue behind him. It wasn’t any normal blue! It was like a slice of rainbow with the stars of the night sky crushed inside it.

How could it be that the heart of a swallow so small could produce such an enormous heap?

The truly extraordinary thing was that the blue didn’t smell bad either: it had the scent of squished blackberries and raspberries. Not unpleasant at all. Only Micù hadn’t been picking blackberries and the raspberries weren’t ripe yet. He was amazed.

He picked up a stick and jabbed it into the blue.

It hit something solid. He tried to skewer it, sink the stick deeper. In response, the pile moved. Micù jumped back.

Had he gone on top of something? A sorica that had made its den in the cowshed?

What a stupid idea! Rats, even the ones that live in sewers, all run away. And it was even more incredible to think Micù could have pooed on a rat, hitting it in the split second it was running away.

Maybe a porcupine had been keeping warm in the straw.

But hibernation was over by April. And even if a porcupine had been hiding in that very spot, it would have put out its quills. Micù then thought of a badger, but badgers are so aggressive and . . . he was contemplating yet another new theory when, his stick spattered blue, he found himself fighting off a strange creature that had leapt out at him.

The thing was no more than twenty-five inches tall and of human shape—in the sense that it stood on two legs like a human. It ran a handlike thing over itself to wipe the blue muck off its nose and looked Micù in the eye.

“The Devil at your service!” it announced in perfect Italian with no inflection, so perfect it sounded like the voice that introduced the Duce’s speeches on the radio. 

It gave Micù an enormous bow.

Micù fainted.

While Micù was unconscious, the thing chanted in his ears in a childish, singsong voice, “My name is Farfariel! Long live Farfariel! My name is Farfariel! Long live Farfariel! My name is Farfariel! Long live Farfariel!”

When Micù regained consciousness, he whispered in the faintest of voices, “I g-get it. But are you really the Devil?”

Farfariel held up a hand, opened wide. He had only three fingers, the middle one the longest. He replied in all his voices, unleashing the little girl side of him, which took great enjoyment on occasions of this kind.

More than once I told the so-called scribe in his ear exactly what he should write and how he should write it. More than once I told the silly hack the exact metaphor to use for me. I’m like a cake made of many layers. I’m like my most favorite cake, the Sturgeon, a delicacy from my village that’s shaped like a fish. Whatever happens, even if the cake were to fall from the summit of the Gran Sasso mountain all the way to the ground, if a mysterious force in the cream were to attract Saturn’s rings and pull them all crashing down on top of it, even if the sun in all its immensity were to implode over the almond fin and try to dunk its superincandescent nucleus in the chocolate cream, guess what? The layers would never mix. Never ever, no way!

Farfariel (hoarsely): We’re the devil but we’re not the Devil.

Micù: What’s that mean?

Farfariel: It means I come from hell.

Micù: So you’re here to do evil to me!

Farfariel: It’s hard to explain, but it’s no fun doing evil from evil. It’s more fun to do good from evil, and evil from good!

Micù: Ah! But if you’re evil and you do good, after that good comes evil.

Farfariel: Yes, but from that evil comes good.

Micù: Um, but then comes evil.

Farfariel: Yes, and then good.

Micù: And then evil.

Farfariel: And then good.

Micù: And then evil again.

Farfariel: And then good again.

Micù: Then evil.

Farfariel: Then . . .    

“Then we’ll see,” Micù interrupted.

Micù limped over to his mother, who was still waiting by the house, while Farfariel hopped and skipped endlessly around him.

Rosalbina looked at her son. She lay a hand on his forehead, fearing he had sunstroke. 

Canzano’s fabled medicine woman, the Spiritosa, had told Rosalbina that Micù’s nightmares and his constant chest pains were caused by his heart, a heart so skittish and wild it would take a special force, a strong hand, to govern it. Only the pure heart of a swallow could give Micù the special strength he needed to tame his heart. Maybe the swallow’s heart they had received from the Spiritosa hadn’t been pure? 

Before Rosalbina had time to speak, Micù limped off, hoping to lead Farfariel away from his mother. Playing, prodding, poking, Farfariel was enjoying himself a little too much, teasing the woman with his tail.

When they were far enough away, Micù thundered at Farfariel with all the anger in his body, “So was it you tormenting me at night?”

“Not exactly,” Farfariel replied in his little girl’s voice, showing off all his sharp teeth.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I made you have nightmares!”

Micù leapt at the devil’s neck to strangle him, but the neck evaded his grasp, became impalpable like the air, and disappeared. “Damn you!” Micú screamed at the air, and the air rasped back, “Damned I am . . . and so are you!”

“What’s it got to do with me?” the boy asked, astonished. Farfariel hopped around him, laughing his most childlike, diabolical laugh. “Oh, it has lots . . .”

The church bells of Our Lady of Alno were ringing the eight o’clock mass in Canzano when Farfariel reappeared before Micù.

“I’ll be back in thirty-three minutes!”

Micù swung a punch, but Farfariel vanished again and the boy landed belly-up on the ground like a fool.

It was eight o’clock on April 7, 1938, thirty-three minutes until Farfariel’s return.

I’ll be back!

 

The taste of the fog

If I had to guess, ten minutes had passed.

Micù washed his face in the pail and dressed in his Balilla clothes: black jacket, white shirt, short trousers, school smock over the top. He bid farewell to his mamma and grandma . . . it may even have been more than ten minutes.

Farfariel, if he were true to his word, would return in another twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes was also the time it took Micù to walk to school.

Down the hill, across the muddy road, men and women were digging. A mantle of fog swallowed up the diggers, blanketing everything. It had been foggy that day in November when Gennarino Pinozzo . . .    

“Or maybe it was Farfariel?” Micù thought. “Maybe the devil whispered in Gennarino’s ear, told him the words to say to me that day in November . . .”

It wasn’t me!

Micù was at the exact same spot as that day in November, on the edge of the woods, near the village walls. It wasn’t long after the Day of the Dead, the feast of Saint Martin was the next day, and there was so much fog that the Canzano woods looked like they were on fire.

Micù hadn’t been wearing a coat that day. In short trousers, the cold stung his knees and his feet limped askew to stop him from sinking into the mud. Walking by his side was Dino, one foot also twisted by polio and limping a good deal, then cross-eyed Biagio, then Gennarino.

Dino coughed and spat out yellow. Biagio wrapped his mom’s moth-eaten scarf around him.

Gennarino lay his satchel on the ground and tossed a stone into the mist. It thwacked against the hollow trunk of an olive tree.

“When dogs get the thirst, they eat fog!” Gennarino said, opening his mouth wide.

The boys were entranced by the crazymad things the blond-haired bully said.

Biagio opened his mouth, and Dino didn’t wait to be told twice.

“You have to keep your eyes shut . . . it tastes better!” Gennarino added.

Micù shut his eyes, but a thought struck him: “What if he spits in my mouth?”

He opened his eyes again pronto. A bitter, wet tang slipped across his teeth. It was the taste of the fog! 

Thank God no one had spit in his mouth. He had barely sighed in relief when Gennarino lifted his index finger toward Micù, smoke curling out of his mouth, and said, “Bagonghee . . . .”

Micù staggered back two paces. Gennarino sneered, piglike, wrinkling his nose, “Bagonghee! Bagonghee! Bagonghee!”

Biagio and Dino looked at Gennarino, astonished, and Gennarino hollered, “Bagongheeeeeeeeeeee!!!” with a smirk and a voice that would chill spines, like nails on a chalkboard.

At the last echo of Gennarino’s voice, Biagio burst into sudden, singsong laughter, interrupted by coughing. Then Dino, known as “Moldy-Mouth” because of his rotten teeth, also started to laugh, “Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee.”

The Bagonghee business had begun.

So where had the nickname Bagonghee come from?

It had to be a nickname, one of those stupid things that latches on like a tick when you walk barefoot in the grass. But the tick had burrowed in, hollowed out a den under the skin, and gorged itself there for five months.

It obviously didn’t mean anything. It would die a natural death, it couldn’t last forever. Micù was top of his class, after all. The only one who could read aloud without stumbling. 

He was always the first one with his hand up when the schoolmaster asked a question, and Peppino would pat him on the head by way of reward. Below Micù in the class rankings, a long way below, was Gennarino Pinozzo.

Gennarino Pinozzo brought one of his father’s magazines into school one day. Inside, on the thin paper pages, the whole Bagonghee mystery was laid bare. The secret of the nickname. Only Micù wasn’t permitted to know.

Gennarino Pinozzo would gather his gang around him each morning, and before the schoolmaster arrived, he’d hold the magazine up before the heads of his trusted disciples. It was all ha ha, hee hee, hoots and howling.

Their heads would bore into the magazine like hens pecking grains from a spot on the ground, then they’d look straight at Micù and smile, commenting under their breath, and the word that snaked between the heads, repeated with shrieks and smiles, was “Bagonghee!”

Micù had tried to break into the pack on several occasions, but Pupúm and his heftybulk had kept him out: “Not you!”

So it was far from the eyes and ears of Micù that Gennarino explained and explained, read and read, shed light on the great Bagonghee mystery.

It was Bagonghee-Bagonghee every time Micù limped into the classroom. Bagonghee-Bagonghee when he took his seat. Bagonghee-Bagonghee when he opened his schoolbook. Bagonghee-Bagonghee when he left at the end of yet another grueling day.

To begin with, Micù thought that if he let it go, they’d eventually stop teasing him. Don Luigi said it all the time in his sermons: “Turn the other cheek! Persist in the face of injustice!” Sitting in church preparing for his First Communion, Micú would sometimes look over at Gennarino, who’d be gazing contritely at the altar from the front row—where the village’s most important family sat—looking like a cherub granted the infinite mercy of the Holy Spirit.

As the parishioners ate the body of Christ, kneeling with their eyes shut, Micù would chant, “I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you!” under his breath. Then he’d turn to Gennarino, who’d be mouthing quite clearly in Micù’s direction, “Ba-gon-ghee.”

Micù even asked the priest, inside the confessional as Don Luigi yawned on the other side of the cross-shaped grating.

“Don Luigi. I’m sorry to ask you this, but there’s a word, I don’t know if it’s a bad word, could you tell me if it’s . . . a sin?”

“That depends, Micù. What letter does it start with?”

“With a B, father!”

“Bug . . .”

“No, father.”

“How many letters? Tell me the second letter, Micù.”

“A.”

“Is it bas . . .”

“No, father.”

“What the devil word is it, Micù? Tell me, for the love of God, or I shall sin myself!”

“Bagonghee . . .” Micù blurted.

“Eh?” the priest asked.

“Ba-gon-ghee!” Micù said more slowly.

Don Luigi roared with laughter. “It means nothing, Micù! Nothing at all!”

He granted Micù absolution, then laughed and laughed and laughed some more, even more than Cenzino the Crazy One.

Micù thought he’d have to ask the schoolmaster but . . . that would be ratting. And ratting was for cowards.

Maybe it had something to do with lameness. Maybe Bagonghee was another word for lame, or crooked. Or maybe it had to do with his height, the others were poking fun at him for being small. Micù felt himself slide down with his shorter leg, downdown and more down. A grinding of teeth at every tuneless chant from his classmates. A tremor, in that left leg of his, gripping it, making him limp more than ever. The younger kids had also started to tease him now. Even Santina, who wasn’t yet seven. But they were careful never to let the schoolmaster hear them.

Oh, if the master were to hear them! How he would rage, but it would only start up again the next day.

Of late, Micù had tried to arrive at school moments before the schoolmaster, but each time a classmate would be ready to greet him with a “Ciao Bagonghee!”

After that he tried to arrive late. But seconds before he’d open the door, someone would always appear from behind his back, chanting under their breath, “Bagonghee-Bagonghee-Bagonghee!”

It was as if they’d agreed to take turns.

The schoolmaster couldn’t fathom Micù’s sudden tardiness. And by then the insults had reached the most unimaginable linguistic convolutions, often dished up as questions straight to the poor bagonghee’s face, with the utmost tranquility and not a hint of malice.

“Are all the bagonghees at home doing well?”

“How about that bagonghee grandfather of yours, the Americano, how’s he?”

“What the bagonghee does your father do?”

“Can I bagong your homework, I never had time to bagong it myself?”

“Are you bagongright? You look a bit bagongwrong to me.”

Bagonghee was the everything-word, the word that meant all things to all people, whenever they spoke to Micù.

When it was Gennarino Pinozzo’s turn to lead the bagongheria, he performed it as if it were a ritualistic dance. Into the classroom he’d trot, beating his satchel full of colored pencils like a bass drum as he marched through the door. Gennarino was the only one to own a satchel, or colored pencils for that matter; he’d skip one step forward, one step back, then forward, then back again, shrilling, “Good bagonging, Micùuuuu!”

Clapping, shrieks of joy, insults, rip-roaring raspberries from Pupúm, all directed at poor Micù. And Micù grew ever more weary, ever more tired.

If only he’d bent down, picked up a stone, and thrown it with all his might at Gennarino. If only he’d done it on that first day, he could’ve stopped it all before it started.

 

Thirty-three minutes later

“Where are you, Farfariel? Show yourself!”

Any minute now he’d appear. Only seconds to go.

Micù was standing a few feet from the entrance to the school. His classmates had gone inside. He waited. Looked through the window into his class. The master hadn’t arrived yet. It was cold. Something rustled in the leaves.

Micù spun around. Nothing. He called out quietly.

“Farfariel!” he repeated louder. “Farfarieeeel!”

Not a sound.

He opened the door, schoolbook and jotter gripped tight under his arm. Some children stood on chairs, others were flying paper airplanes. Ever since the master had read them “The Great Italy-to-Brazil Transatlantic Air Crossing,” everyone had wanted to be like Italo Balbo.

Micù, practically tiptoeing, was almost at his desk when Gennarino flashed him a look that stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Good morning, Bagonghee! What do you make of all this bagongheeing?”

“I don’t know, Gennarino,” Micù replied.

“You never know anything, do you, Micù, except for homework. Isn’t that right, Bagonghee? Because you’re just a Bagonghee! A Bagonghee!” Gennarino snarled.

“Bagonghee Bagonghee!” He banged his fist on the desk. “Bagonghee, Bagonghee, Bagonghee!”

Micù looked down while Biagio, Dino, and the rest of the class joined the chorus: “Bagonghee, Bagonghee, Bagonghee.”

Micù took his seat and shut his eyes. Tears of rage tried to force their way out, but he held them back.

Was Farfariel behind all this?

The thirty-three minutes had passed and Gennarino Pinozzo was dancing, a sort of hop, a dance made up of lots of little hops in a circle, and he was hopping around Micù, chanting in his ears.

“Bagonghee, Bagonghee, Bagonghee!”

Peals of laughter erupted from the class.

After yet another hop, his feet seemed to hit an invisible wire, or something tripped him. Whatever it was, it caused Gennarino Pinozzo to fall like a sack of potatoes, and his nose to go, “Crrraack!”

He lay prone on the floor.

The class fell silent. Seconds later, louder than the rumble of thunder, came Gennarino’s scream.

No one could believe what was happening. Gennarino was whimpering.

The first peal of laughter came from Pupúm, then Dino, then little Santina, then everyone else laughed and yelled and delighted at the undoing of Gennarino Pinozzo, writhing there on the floor. The more he screamed, the more the children copied him, honking like geese. Only Micù wasn’t laughing. When the schoolmaster came in, alerted by the commotion, he didn’t stop to bang on the desk or pull someone’s ear. He rushed straight to Pinozzo and yanked him by the arm out of the pool of blood.

“Be quietquietquiet!” the master said over and over, rocking with laughter himself. 

The whole class filed out of the room behind him, as if in procession.

They stood in a circle, just outside the school, while the schoolmaster busied himself with Gennarino’s nose, sweating, struggling to stem the tide.

Micù had gone back inside. Squinting, he spied a shadow slinking in the corner of the room. He whipped around. A cat was rubbing against the outside of the window. It bore an enormous D in the center of its forehead: D for death. The cat clenched a mouse between its teeth. The mouse was still moving its whiskers and paws, the cat sank its teeth deeper into the prey, and the mouse stopped moving, vanquished.

The cat winked, set the dead mouse on the window ledge, and tapped on the window with its paw. It licked its whiskers, closed its eyes. And kept beating on the window with its paw.

Micù opened the window, and the cat jumped in and landed on the floor.

“So it was you then! The death cat in my dreams?”

My prankster side . . . I can’t always control it!

Micù looked at the cat, terrified, while Farfariel dissolved into silent laughter, shoulders quivering. The more Farfariel watched Pinozzo outside, still crying, the more he laughed. Then he stopped sharply, raised an arm, and, with the longest finger on his left hand, pointed to Pinozzo’s open satchel, colored pencils strewn across the pool of blood on the floor.

Micù slipped a hand inside the satchel, extracted the magazine, and hastily tucked it under his shirt. The magazine was too big, and it was obvious he was trying to conceal something. So he leaned out of the window, which was still open, and threw it into the bushes.

Micù hung back after school, walked part of the way by himself, and, when Pupúm could no longer be seen in the distance, turned back. He turned around several times along the way to make sure no one was following him. Back outside the school, he waited, hid behind a tree for a minute. There was no one around.

He reached a hand into the bramble bushes and pulled out the magazine. It was too risky to open it now, time only to scan the front page: "Scenario." He tucked it under his arm and set off at a fast hobble, as fast as he could manage. When he reached the clearing near the irrigation well on his father and grandfather’s land, he opened the magazine.

 

Bagonghee

“Cursed Farfariel, where are you? Damned devil, where are you?”

It was Farfariel who had stretched the invisible wire that had tripped up Pinozzo.

It was Farfariel who had told him to put his hand into Gennarino’s satchel and take the magazine. “Where are you, Farfariel? Where are you?”

The wind started to blow, scattering the grass sheaves his grandfather had cut for the cow.

“What a fool, what a fool I am, for not realizing straightaway . . . Bagonghee’s a name!”

The name of a dwarf! A dwarf for a dwarf!

A dwarf. A dwarf’s name, a stupid, ridiculous dwarfdwarfdwarf. A dwarf clown on a horse, inside a circus tent, entertaining an audience and making them laugh with stupid dwarf acrobatics.

With all the might in his body, Micù hurled the magazine to the ground. He picked up a stone and smashed it on the page to smash the moronic dwarf face grinning at him from the photo, lunged at it with all his might to kill the stupid, insufferable dwarf. Struck the picture repeatedly, over and over, until he was out of breath.

But with two deep breaths, his strength returned, and he tore the magazine into a hundred pieces, tossed the pages this way and that. Then he rolled them into little balls, tore them to bits; he turned Bagonghee’s face to a pulp and chewed it until his teeth wore down. The taste of the paper and ink were the taste of the anger foaming inside him like spittle from the mouth. He struck the ground, gouged it with his nails, punched it until the skin of his knuckles tore open. He sighed and cried and chewed and chewed. And cried and chewed some more and screamed like a demented baby. Anything he couldn’t chew, he spat out. Then buried. He would’ve set it on fire if he’d had a match, but he had no match, so he drowned it.

He peed on it.

He glanced at the well. It was dark. A dark abyss.

A page, nudged by the wind, landed on the tree.

“Trying to get away, eh?”

He grabbed it before the wind carried it away.

His hand trembled.

It wasn’t Bagonghee’s expression as he landed on the horse’s back after a pirouette.

Or the audience, transfixed, arms raised, waving in awe, hands clapping.

It wasn’t the smell of the dirt, sawdust, sand hanging like fog in the picture. So thick he could feel it in his nose, mixing with the odor of the animals, the scent of fur coat-clad ladies in the stands gripping the hands of children who gaped, intoxicated by the cocktail of dung and sawdust.

It was the horse. The horse stopped him from destroying the page. It was huge, with eyes that were blacker than black and the caption “Bagonghee riding Atlas.”

“What’s Atlas got to do with it? Why on earth would you call a horse Atlas?  Ugly little moron! You think you can call your horse after King Atlas and people will suddenly forget you’re a dwarf? Idiot dwarf!”

He was on the point of ripping up the page when the dwarf’s face flashed between his fingers: he was a bold-looking dwarf, eyes shining with joy, blazing with fun, anger, and fire. It was the fire that gave him the strength to govern the horse. It was the joy and the astuteness, the anger and revenge. That dwarf was showing off: he felt important and he wanted everyone to know.

Micù began to think about the article he’d pored over before tearing up the pages. Bagonghee excited people, he won their admiration, they marveled at his astonishing feats.

Maybe the horse’s name wasn’t to make people forget he was a dwarf, it was to make sure they remembered him! It was written in the magazine that he was the highest-paid performer in the circus.

That he could jump and vault on horseback. Do things a normal-sized man couldn’t: his height enabled him to spin and do electrifying acrobatics.

A body so ungainly on the ground acquired elegance and finesse on the back of a horse.

It was as if he’d molded it to do tricks on horseback. Those eyes were trying to tell Micù something.

But the dwarf’s eyes said nothing. Instead, Farfariel spoke, suddenly appearing on the edge of the wall that circled the well.

“Do you feel small?” he shrilled.

“Go away!” Micù bellowed.

Farfariel continued, “I’m small too!”

“Leave me alone!” Micù shouted.

Farfariel paced around the edge of the well.

“Do you remember the last time you went to church?”

“That’s got nothing to do with this!”

“There are two statues kneeling on either side of the altar.”

“Church has nothing to do with this!”

“What are those statues?”

“Nothing.”

“Think about it, there are two of them . . .”

“They’re angels.”

“And what are angels like? Are they beautiful?”

“Yes, and?”

“Are they like me?”

“No . . .”

Without warning, Farfariel stopped, eyes fixed on Micù. “Tell me, Micù, are you more like me or the angels?”

“You’re the Devil, go away!”

“Answer me.”

“. . .”

“Are you like me or the angels on the altar?”

Micù looked at the well, pupils throbbing furiously.

“What, you’re not crying, are you?”

“Shut up, damned devil!”

Micù bent down to pick up a stone, but by the time he’d straightened up, Farfariel had gone.

“You never learn, do you?”

He reappeared in front of Micù’s face with his tongue out. Micù didn’t try to hit him this time, only stared with such plaintive eyes that even Farfariel felt a stab of compassion.

“Will you ever learn to use your talents to your advantage?”

The legs disappeared, then the body, then the hands with those strange fingers, and last of all the head, big blue tongue sticking out. Micù reeled. He threw the last few scraps of the magazine into the well.

He carefully folded the photo of Bagonghee on Atlas and placed it in his pocket.

He wasn’t ready to discover his power, the power of the Book. He was obsessed with his height.

“You’re either taller or shorter when you have to face people,” he repeated to himself. And he’d have to get used to being the shortest. Always. But maybe shortest didn’t mean weakest. For starters, to not be the weakest, he had to be cleverer. But where was the line between being clever and being cruel?

And what if he had to be a devil to be taken seriously by everyone else? His head reeled with questions.

“When will you stop being afraid?” Farfariel’s voice taunted him. “When will you stop being afraid?”

It surrounded him.

“When will you stop being afraid?”

No matter how many stupid questions you ask, nothing counts more than the right one.

“I’m not scared! I’m not scared of anything. Do you hear me, Farfariel? Do you hear me?” Micù bellowed to the four winds, limping toward home. “I’m not afraid of anything!” he shouted some more to the wind, trying to stop Farfariel’s voice. And the voice, before finally falling silent, said one last thing.

“The Book is yours, Micù. It’s waiting for you.”


From Farfariel - Il Libro di Micù (Uovonero, 2018). © Pietro Albi. By arrangement with the publisher. Translation © 2020 by Denise Muir. All rights reserved.

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