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by Valentina Rizzi

They are too many and I can’t remember them all. They are the names of the 900 people killed by the mafia in Italy, and this year they are read aloud in front of thousands of students, during the memorial day for mafia victims organized by Libera. There’s a stand waiting for me and I get there breathless. On foot, I start carrying the crates of books to sell, as I try to dodge the solid crowd of students sitting on a huge meadow, in front of a stage. There’s a spring atmosphere, the sun is shining and you can hear girls and boys shouting cheerily, some of them lying down, some with their legs crossed, some holding each other, in clusters on the ground. An immense crowd of young people. Just as I stand in the middle of this green ocean with my crates of bookfruit, a dreadful roll call solemnly starts on the microphone. A leaden silence falls down and everything stops for a moment. The books lose their weight, I am floating in mid-air and look around, bewildered. The students don’t make a move as they listen to the names of men and women killed in the name of truth. Relentless, the list goes on: the students themselves read it in turn passing the microphone around, I hurry up to the stand and try to hold a few names by writing them down on a piece of paper, but they are too many, so which ones should I choose? Does it make sense to mention just a few of them?
Now somebody reads the names of Borsellino and Falcone aloud, somebody else starts a faint applause, which is immediately stifled. Does it make sense to applaud two names out of 900? Is there really a name that is more important than another, a name that deserves an applause and a name that doesn’t? I stop writing and start listening. 900 names are a lot, minutes pass by and I count the names of women; there are less women than men and other questions arise. Now the students – that stadium crowd crammed on the ground – look stunned. They don’t move, some start to look around, some other swallow, the deafening silence is like a slap in the face of thousands of people. 900 names, too many to try and imagine their lives, the void they have left, their age, and their personal struggle. 900 names that start to besiege me and seem to be part of an endless list. Some readers hesitate, some are moved, some read aloud and time seems to last forever.
All of a sudden a cuff down there on the meadow, a paper ball, a paper airplane. It’s life kicking in again. The list of names has come to an end giving way to a long applause. My isolation ends here, in front of this immense applause, as hands clap for several minutes until they hurt, to remind us that we exist and we are all on the same side. I wonder how many of these boys and girls know what mafia is and how many of them will be able to choose courage and not fear. Now microphones are shut off and in a few seconds the crowd is gone. Their legs are so long and thin that it feels like being in a field full of herons, whose wings are replaced by backpacks and schoolbags. With their rocker’s shirts and their clumsy way of moving around shambling, they make me smile once again and give me grounds for hope. Quickly arranging my books on the small table, I choose to place Ti chiami Lupo Gentile by Luisa Mattia in the middle. Maybe because it is a mafia tale set in Ostia, where I live, maybe because I have just finished reading it, or because the protagonists are young people, kids, children like the ones who have just passed before my eyes.
In a matter of minutes teachers assemble their classes and head towards the exit of the Casa del Jazz in Rome, the venue of this meeting. I am stunned by the beauty of this park. And I start to make friends with my neighbours. What are you promoting? “We make Social Football in Centocelle, a kind of football based on ethical rules, where dedication, respect and sharing are top priorities.” And you? “We are members of the Cinecittà homeowners’ association; we are collecting signatures in order to prevent the privatization of an abandoned railway station and to leave it at the disposal of the people who live there by proposing an alternative project about sustainable mobility. We are also collecting signatures to request a new kindergarten; here welfare services are missing. And you?”. I sell books on a three-wheeler and I don’t give up.