Maxim Gorky: Tales of Italy

In silence, the old man waved his hand. Both bald guys grinned as one and the old man sipped some more wine and went on, watching, as the falcon soared in the skies, “I was thirteen when he hired me, like all the others, to fetch blocks for the construction of his house. He treated us like dirt, his animals were treated with better care. When my friend, Lucchino, brought his attention to that fact, this is how he responded: ‘This mule is mine, while you are a stranger to me, why should I be sorry for you?’ These words made my heart bleed, but made me take a closer look at his life. I wasn’t thrilled by what I saw – he was nervy and cynical with everyone, be it the elderly or women – he didn’t care. When reproached for such behavior, he would just laugh, ‘When I was poor, there was no one to take pity on me, either.’ He cliqued well with priests, carabineers, and the police; other people only saw him in their bitterest misery, he knew he could take advantage of them.”

“Such people do exist,” the lame guy said quietly; the other three just gave the old man a look of compassion. One of the bald guys handed him the bottle of wine. The old man took it, checking its contents against the light, and toasted, “To the sacred heart of the Madonna!”

He used to say, “For centuries, the poor worked for the rich and the silly for the smart, this is how the world works.”

The narrator grinned and reached out for the bottle again - it was empty. He tossed it on the rocks casually, where the hammers and picks were piled, and nearby, a piece of the Bickford fuse was curled up like a snake.

“Young as we were back then, it hurt us deeply to hear such words; they destroyed our dreams, our hopes for a better life. Once me and my friend Lucchino met him in the field at dusk, riding his horse. We told him gently, but firmly, “We would ask you to be kinder to people.”

The bald guys burst out laughing, while the lame guy smirked, and the narrator sighed noisily, “Yes, it is a silly thing to do! But youth is honest. Youth believes in the power of words. I would say more: youth is the consciousness of our life…”

Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT

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