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Extract from novel, Port of No Return

The Italians did not meet each other’s eyes. They hung their heads, afraid if they glanced up they would look upon fear or express it, and it was a fear, they knew, if shared, would quickly intensify. Ettore stared at his scruffy boots without seeing them. He knew he was in company where men were preparing to do one of two things – they were either preparing to die or preparing to kill – and they were all tense with it. Tension quickly uncoiled into action and all too soon they were being shoved towards the forest’s interior, ordered and pushed to follow a damp dirt trail.

Ettore heard coughing at the back of the group – Roberto was somewhere behind him. He could not see Edrico, but he could see the youthful Gabino ahead of him. After no more than ten minutes, they came into another clearing. There, the trees thinned out and the ground became rocky and slippery. They approached what appeared to be a narrow opening – a hole in the ground’s limestone surface. Ettore knew such sinkholes existed in the Karst regions and the hinterlands of Trieste. They were like cavernous pits that had been eroded within the limestone with depths that could plunge up to hundreds of metres. He had seen them in his childhood. The hole was only about two metres wide on the surface. It was surrounded by thin grasses, moss-covered rocks and overhanging branches and looked peaceful and innocent enough. They were told to halt.

The Italians, for the first time since their blindfolds had been removed, exchanged looks between each other. What was this madness that awaited them? Were they to be shot and their bodies disposed of down this natural chasm in the ground? Down there their bodies would lie broken and mangled – perhaps never to be found or exhumed.

The guards – eight of them – trained their rifles on them, expecting them to run. They wouldn’t get far if they tried…

Extract from novel, Wanderers No More 

Martino’s father called from the doorway. ‘Mr Adams?’

‘Yes. Can I assist you, sir?’ The man turned and straightened to an average height. As his eyes settled on his visitor, he was surprised to see a rugged, dark-haired man, dressed casually for labouring. His olive skin looked darkened by the sun and his hands were rough and blistered; combined with his Italian features – the strong nose, the dark eyes, the course hair—these were tell-tale signs of a new migrant. Within seconds of his appraisal, he braced himself for a barrier in language and perhaps even in intelligence.

‘Can I help you?’ the pert-nosed teacher rephrased the question, making it louder and slower.

Standing outside, Martino saw through the window that his father did not respond but marched over to the board, snatched the chalk from the man’s hand and wrote two Italian words on the board – ‘Insegnante idiota’.

‘Say them,’ the outraged father said in Italian and knocked his knuckles upon the words. He pointed at the teacher and again knocked on the words. ‘Go.’

The teacher shook his head, a little confused at first, then realisation dawned. He recalled his treatment of the migrant boy, Taddeo, and his right cheek started to twitch nervously. The father had to be at least a head taller and his solid, muscular arms were twice as thick as his own. He looked at the words and hesitated. How to pronounce them? He wasn’t quite sure…

Martino observed his father glaring at Mr Adams, a teacher that Taddeo had described to him only the night before as being very strict and cruel with a fondness for whipping students with a stinging cane, and he started to grow concerned. He had an urge to shout ‘Watch out!’ to his unsuspecting father. But Martino was failing to comprehend how capable and hardened his father had become after living through a long and terrible war, one in which he had been forced to work for the Germans and was later shot and thrown in prison for it. His father had seen death, executions, bombings, disease and extreme poverty and, in recent weeks, had known backbreaking labour in extreme heat. As such, Mr Adams in his neatly ironed shirt with his soft and flabby arms did not intimidate him in the least.

‘Can’t say it?’ his father inquired, now speaking Italian louder and slower. And to Martino’s astonishment, his father calmly reached out and grabbed the stammering man by the back of the neck and very deliberately whacked the teacher’s forehead against the blackboard.

 

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