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by Valentina Rizzi

This time the rolling shutter remains lowered. Biblio in its box, with the lights off. This time the street is left outside. How many rolling shutters will be lowered today, tomorrow, for the rest of their days? This is what I think while I am walking through one of Ostia’s main roads, a few steps from Bibliobox. I entered the household store where I once bought some shelves for Biblio, where I bought the table for the fairs, the table that can be closed like a suitcase and perfectly fits in the compartment. There I also bought a three-legged stool and many other decorations for my journeys between the lines: it is an earnest and creative shop. Today I entered the shop, in search for some other containers and, as soon as I crossed the threshold, I was welcomed by a huge half-deserted place with a heap of enormous cardboard packages piled up in a corner. Frantic shop assistants wrapping up stuff and half-empty shelves. “This is the last day, grab the chance!” “Are you moving?” asks a woman by the cashier. “No, we are closing down.”
Those words, as heavy as boulders, reached me like a punch in the stomach. I bought some casual fripperies, hasted to pay and went out. Tomorrow this place won’t exist anymore.
I crossed the street and saw four other shop windows, vacant, deserted. In the bustle of lights in front of the station, four dark windows shine more than the others. The empty space surrounded me as I went ahead towards the Bibliobox.
I haven’t been going out for days and I keep on thinking about the last voices I heard in the street, those of people who can’t make ends meet. Those of a family that conferred before buying a book and didn’t buy it in the end. “We need light-bulbs! Let’s go and buy bulbs!” a family man told his wife who was trying to convince him to buy a book for their niece. And one day, one of my usual clients said “You know what? My grandson is afraid of new sounds. Have you got a nice story about sounds? Well no need to hurry, I just wanted to know… You know… today I paid my taxes, an arm and a leg… No, today I can’t. Are you going to come back next Saturday? Maybe the Saturday after…” I’d really like to answer you, madam, I wish I could tell you that I will come back. I cannot tell her that I have paid a heap of taxes as well and that the streets are more and more frightful since ghost windows are joining in a single big black hole, since streets are more and more similar to many gruvières and the lights can’t cover the stink coming from the bags of garbage surrounding the bins. I will be there, I won’t, who cares? Where do I want to go, what do I want to do, with a rickety three-wheeler and four books about poems and dreams? The truth is that people can’t make ends meet. They stack up in queue to buy food, they use their money for stocks and supplies. With this black crisis, it is difficult to recover the meaning of my mission. The design shop closes down, and so does the literary café, the shop selling paintings is half as big as it used to be, the hardware shop is no longer here, you can find books at the supermarket next to a cotechino. What is left of beauty amidst the squalor in which we almost drown? The urban landscape is becoming poorer and poorer. We get accustomed to degradation, we get used to it.
Today, Biblio, you will stay inside. And I will stay with you. Inside here, tidying up shelves and books, sweeping the floor in the hope to remove the dust from my rusty thoughts as well. Is there anybody that still cares about these books? What happened to beauty? Empty streets, degradation, garbage, deserted shops and deafening silence. Where are the children? What happened to the children? Give us back our childhood, the beauty, the dream of an Italian miracle, the hope for a different ending. And if they don’t give it back to us, let’s take it back! Let’s start again from an image, a word, a story. Bibliobox is closed today, and yet I hear someone knocking. Yes, there is somebody knocking out there. I half open the shutter and look outside. It is the owner of the neighbouring box. She is holding a heap of books in her arms. “I have wanted to give them to you for a long time. I bought them when my son was a child. I thought I would like them to be still around. Take them, for your library service. I do not want them to disappear inside a bin. I would like to give them a new life. I know that you go around, so take them for Bibliolibrò, bring them with you.” The rolling shutter lifts up opening on a blue sky piercing the clouds. It lasts a moment. I get on my three-wheeler again, I start the engine and go.