It was an extremely quiet summer, when my family decided to spend a few weeks in the sweet Emilian country. I was the only granddaughter in a warm and affectionate family. I was therefore deeply loved and often alone.
So my imagination used to run loose, in that expanded time that boredom makes endless and unchanged, very far from today’s becoming and frenzy. There was just the being, human and child.
Although I did not have a predisposition for taxonomy, I learnt to distinguish blackbirds from chaffinches, bullfinches from robins, magpies, greenfinches, hoopoes and scops owls. Days went by – sweet and golden – while I tamed boredom among cresses and daisies. It seemed that childhood would never come to an end.
Under the unfailing shadow of the magnolia I spent the first hours of the afternoon, stupid with digestion and the immobility of the siesta. Neclensia, my granny often said, is not a flower but a naughty boredom, so one of those afternoons, following a map of little cellulose clues, I walked behind the vinegar cave, then beyond the pond with its putrid secrets and reached the small rose-garden. It was forbidden and of course I got in.
In that place hidden between two rows of hedges, I could be sheltered against August great heat and everybody else’s looks. The rose-garden concealed amazing wonders.
The buzzing bugs sometimes were fairies in disguise, sometimes little insidious spies, sometimes just my granddad’s velvety bees. In my daydreaming I followed the frenzied comings and goings of the tireless and trustworthy worker bees, and my fancies flied like bugs – I had winged thoughts.
The last day of holiday my granddad – who knew my pastimes, which he often fed with fantastic stories, like that of the princess fallen in the vat – showed me something he had found in the garden that morning. It was a young ferret, with a white and tawny mantle, which had recently died in peace. It was very soft. He put it in a glass jar and solemnly promised to leave it in the rose-garden until my return, under the most beautiful rose-bush.
It was an evening at the end of the summer and the serene air was saturated with the scent of honey.
The following Sunday we got back to the country, as promised. My granddad was waiting for me by the main door, in order not to betray our secret. His cheeks were as red as the Lambrusco he furtively poured in my glass, to make me laugh and love him more than anybody else.
I immediately ran to my little friend in the rose-garden, while the – deafening – cicadas were somehow tongue-tied: they had stopped for a dark moment, inappropriate to their mood. I found it strange, but sometimes we don’t want to see things as they are.
I was not fascinated by death, but by transformation. I didn’t understand how so many worms – hungry and white – could have entered the jar. It was sealed and my granddad would never have opened it. I couldn’t believe they came from that beautiful soft creature. They seemed to be voracious and insatiable.
An overwhelming discovery, but the ferret was magnificent now and fascinating.
And it was precisely so that, waiting for tea-time, I approached the incredible mystery of life.