It was hot in August. After lunch my grandfather used to roll down the shutters so that a dense light filtered through the holes, and then started his hunt for flies. He used to wander around with a fly-swatter, and pierce the air with that tool that looks like a slice, quietly railing at the grazing and jocular flight of the flies. When he despatched one, he left it on the floor, like a threatening haul for those still buzzing around. He slightly kicked it thrice with the tip of the shoe, happily muttering, and then began to wander again with his nose in the air.
In the meantime my grandmother – her apron still on, worn on a simple dotted dress – laid asleep on the rocking chair and snored in a shuffling of lips and breath hissing through her dentures.
I used to sit on the steps outside the house with my head upside down to sun-dry my hair, soaked by the last sea bathing. From that position I could look at the big ants passing by, those black and shiny ants, untiring even in the most scorching hours; I liked to kill time wagging my head in the attempt to hit them with water drops.
The cicadas all around seemed to have gone mad: from the pine forest their chirps came to fill the air around.
It was a typical summer calm, a pause, a trembling time.
At 2 o’clock p.m. a peddler passed by with his Ape Piaggio and in the sultry weather announced an unbelievable mirage of fresh mozzarella cheese and provolas. His voice croaked words in Sicilian dialect through the loudspeaker, words that bounced among the bouganvilleas and the gates of the small villas.
In the meantime my mother was swinging in the shade of pine trees, in that hour when people cannot stay at home because of the heat, and the hammock drew Harlequin’s lozenges on her back.
After the nap, the neighbours came for the afternoon’s briscola game, slowly and politely, as if attending a public ceremony announced by the creak of the gate: uncle Domenico, the tallest uncle I remember, slouched smiling and crunching biscuits; aunt Peppa, a short and black woman that stank of garlic and onion, with thick eyebrows and characteristic small moustaches at the corners of her mouth; aunt Concetta, a wrinkled, tiny and perfectly bronzed woman that used to wear large straw hats and a foulard that smelled of violet, followed by her short and plump husband. They were all uncles and aunts for me and the other children, but I don’t actually know if there was any degree of kinship. They all came for the afternoon’s briscola, the sacred rite of our grandparents. They used to sit in circle around the low table in the veranda with two cups of coffee. I couldn’t understand the game’s rules but I used to stand by and watch: I watched their theatrical gestures as they made a card wheel like a butterfly and quickly slapped it down on the table in victory, or as they meticulously peeled the corners of the cards creating a small and neat fan. I watched their unusual blinking, their shrugs, their fingers pattering on the table: a wonderful secret language between mates.
The afternoon slowly turned red filling the air with jasmines that, as the sun began to set, all seemed to take a breath of relief.
Then came the supper, served in the dim light of the garden spotlights, that always smelled a bit of Autan and melon, and tinkled with ice cubes and singing of crickets.
Nothing could be more beautiful than to lie down with mum on the deckchair, waiting to glimpse a gecko quietly appearing near the lamppost. Or to look at the stars and then flee up the stairs to the terrace and say a last goodbye to the sea lying there, still, behind the palm trees.