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from the October 2012 issue

I Remember

I remember the summer storms during the rainy season when the wind flung open the windows and lifted the contents of the rooms in a swirling dance. Streaks of lightening lit up the gray sky and the thunder was like the angry scream of the entire universe, unleashed right there, in that very spot.

I remember, between the crashing of the thunder and the flashes of lightening, old Haimanot hiding under the ironing table in the living room, alternately shouting, "Wai! Gud reichiben! Oh God, something bad is about to happen to us!” and reciting that prayer she had learned from the Italian nuns in Asmara in order to ward off the threat from the lightening, "High! Stay high like the name of Mary.”

I remember the water taking us by surprise in the courtyard as soon as the car came through the gate. Lakes of water poured from the sky. Gusts of wind tossed the branches of the willows and eucalyptus trees in the courtyard. The old fir tree leaned threateningly over the kitchen roof. Each time, we asked ourselves if it was about to fall. And meanwhile, there we were, you, Mauro and me, sheltering under the roof of that makeshift garage with the engine and the heat on and you telling us all about Italy, your childhood, Crevalcore. You always talked about Crevalcore when it rained. About the autumn mist, the castle of the Ronchi, about  that blackbird of yours that had learned to whistle the Italian anthem "Fratelli d'Italia." Then the rain would taper off, the storm moved away, leaving its tail above us. A thin, grumbling trickle of water. You used to say, "In Italy it can rain like that for three days on end," and I stared at you in disbelief. I just could not imagine that there actually existed a place where that miserable trickle of rain would have the gall to go on falling for so long.

But then I did see it, in this land of yours, while I was searching for some trace of you in order to discover there some possible root of mine. I saw it and it drenched my soul with sadness and nostalgia.

I remember, once the storm was over, Abeba and Lemlem running over with towels and umbrellas to protect us from a possible sudden reoccurrence, something that was not unlikely. You would say, "Untie Book," and we would rush into the house getting our feet wet in the river of water that runs down from the mountains of Entotto after a storm. The delighted Book would shake his fur, spraying water in every direction, old Haimnot came out from under the table and we, sitting in front of the fire, me with my arms around you, would laugh.

Dear Father, today is a special kind of day, a unique day, the day of remembrance. And I wanted to dedicate it to you who chose to be buried in my land while I wander, sad and alone, across yours.

I went to hunt through the old letters that you wrote to Uncle Fiore and that he gave back to me after you died. I looked for one with your signature, that signature that I loved so much as a child, with that g and that h that stretch out like the arms of a dancer mastering space, and that m that was like rippling water. That signature, profoundly yours, those letters that were almost illegible, more like drawing than writing.

And I remembered how, when I was a child during long phone calls to my friends, I would try to imitate it while scribbling on the white sheets of paper next to the phone. You know, I used to think that if I could imitate it, I, too, would become like you, your arms extending wide over the land of Ethiopia, as light as the rippling water that gurgles down the streets of my beloved Addis Abeba after the rain.

Dear Father, today I placed my signature next to yours on the letter, then I folded it again and put it back in the drawer.

© Gabriella Ghermandi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Victoria Offredi Poletto and Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi. All rights reserved.

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