“The crippled, crippled. It’s the crippled who believe in miracles. It’s the slaves who believe in freedom.”
Derek Walcott, Dream on Monkey Mountain
“Thus the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part: for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand… But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state.”
They bark: Ears. You bend your ears forward and turn around, first right, then left.
Nostrils. You tilt your head back to make the inspection easier.
Mouth. You open your mouth. The body’s doorways open on command. You open your mouth but they don’t feed you. They don’t put something in: they check to see that you don’t have anything.
Lift your tongue. You obey.
Stick out your tongue. You obey.
Gums. You move your lips aside, using your hands. Your fingers doing the guards’ bidding.
Your mouth is empty, nothing irregular. Going back it’s easy for it to be empty, because you have to talk a lot when you go on leave. You have to go to a woman who is familiar with prison: because she was locked up herself, or because she was brought to visit a father or a brother there as a child. Maybe her husband is still there. There are girls who are in a hurry and don’t understand. They think that if you haven’t seen a woman in twenty years, you’ll want to get your fill when you’re outside. Instead, a woman who knows prison will take you home, feed you drop by drop. You’ll go there in the afternoon, hoping it will soon be dark. She’ll offer you coffee. And you’ll talk. And talk. You have to empty your mouth. Let some of the prison out. If you don’t talk, there’s no room for anything else.
Toro goes to a woman like that.
Back in prison they order: Hands, and you hold out your arms, you spread your fingers, as if to keep from falling. Walking in the dark. Then you begin wiggling your fingers. Hard to know why. Who can manage to conceal something in the fingers of an open palm? But when you come back from a leave you’re so proud of your hands that you’re almost glad to do it. They’re the hands of a man, finally. Would you like some coffee?, the woman must have asked. Thanks, Toro must have replied. You put the cup in your mouth and it feels like a sink between your lips, it’s so thick, so weighty. I’ve never been let out on leave, nor will I ever be. But I experienced it when I got taken out to go to a trial eight years ago. A real teaspoon, of stainless steel, hard to stir with. The clinking, after years of plastic. If the cup falls, it breaks, you have a responsibility. It’s a cup for adults. When the police escort you, they might stop at the autogrill and buy you a cup of coffee. The guards never do. Because the cops are used to dealing with people who are free, not yet caught. They teach policemen to recognize a face, even after many years. Not the guards.
Armpits. Toro raises his arms.
Lifts and separates. Lifts his penis, separates his testicles.
A few hours before the woman had held them in her hands, warm flesh replacing the prison’s cold walls.
Toro more naked in front of the guards than in front of her.
In prison you relearn a fear of the dark. Toro probably asked her to turn on a small lamp, an abat-jour, and move it to the floor, under the bed. To put layers between them and the light. And in that dim glow they must have looked at each other. The woman, familiar with prison, doesn’t apologize for how small the room is. She turns on the gas stove. Almost all the objects around them existed a good twenty years ago. Maybe not in that room. Maybe not exactly in those colors. Maybe bigger, less shabby, newer. But nothing around makes you uncomfortable. Since the woman turned off her cell phone and set it on the bedside table, nothing seems to come from the future. Nothing forces you to count the years. The yellow gleam from under the bed, the blue gleam of the gas stove.
The guys on the tiers look at women on television, see them on visiting days. I don’t.
Okay, turn around, the guards snap.
Feet, they order. First one foot, then the other, like a horse. Feet immediately marked by prison.
Bend down and open up.
Toro crouches and spreads his thighs.
If you don’t cough from the cold, you cough on command. They do it to humiliate you. To really check they should use a scanner, or put on a glove, insert a finger. Instead they make you bend over and cough, observing the contractions. An order is more forceful if it’s pointless.
Fortunately, Toro is still suffused with the woman.
Each time, when they part, she blesses him. Like a son leaving for war. A sixty-year-old son.
And each time she asks him: Why don’t you escape? You’re serving life, why do you go back? But Toro knows that they would catch him immediately. In his neighborhood, at his bar, at the table in the back, the one near the wall.
The only ones who are truly able to escape are those who are capable of living anywhere: not calling, not writing. Not contacting anybody, ever. Dying in one place and being reborn in another, with no regrets. Moving the way money is moved: in a flash, without even seeing it. But Toro is someone who has always dealt in cash. He has hands that are big as shovels. The body of a man who has worked for generations, even though he’s never worked. The only heavy stuff was the money, heaps of money. And the constant problem of finding satchels, suitcases, vaults, checkrooms, places able to hold all that money. Watching out for water, fire, animals, molds. Wind and rain. And being worried that you forgot a little of it, somewhere. And you can’t remember where.
Toro isn’t capable of vanishing.
For men like him, being on the lam means hiding in a bunker, underground, close to home. Near a son, buried close by.
Better off in prison: you see more sunlight, you meet more people.
That’s why Toro left the woman and started walking, dodging cars and passers-by.
Outside there is always someone who crowds you, and the cars become more and more silent each year. Inside, even in the biggest prison, if you know who you are, you can get around. Someone like Toro can walk along with his eyes closed in here, because everyone will let him pass. A prison without an orderly walking area is a prison where no one wants to be. Here, when the first or third floor guys, who are organized, go down to get some air, the yard is orderly. When it comes to the second or the ground floor, it’s a disaster, because they’re all drug addicts or people who don’t belong.
But outside nothing is organized: you have to sidestep continually. You sense the haste of the individuals around you. You have the feeling that everyone is lined up behind you, and wondering: Who is that slow man? And sometimes it’s true. You also have the impression they know where you’re from. But that’s never true, because those outside never think about the inside.
Solitary. Maurizio Torchio.
English translation © Anne Milano Appel, 2019
© Seagull Books Pvt Ltd 2019