Thursday, 1 April 1993, 7:30 p.m.–
Friday, 2 April 1993, 2:30 a.m.
Hearts do not grieve and can suffer
Hour by hour, even for an entire life,
Without any of us ever knowing,
With too much certainty, what is happening.
Camilo José Cela, La Colmena
In the parabolic mirror, he sees the silhouette
advancing. He holds his breath. Then the man takes
another step, and Francesco breathes again, relaxing
his shoulders. For an instant, he was afraid it was the
Bear. But though the stranger is tall and robust, he’s at
least four inches shorter, has grey hair and is wearing a
herringbone jacket that the Bear wouldn’t be caught
As the bus approaches the stop, the man makes his
way among the other passengers until he reaches the
driver’s seat. When he leans towards him, Francesco
notices an intense odour of aftershave.
“Excuse me,” the man says, with a Roman accent.
“Could you let me know when we reach the stop closest
to the Teatro delle Celebrazioni?”
Francesco gives him an affirmative nod, while he
presses the button that opens the pneumatic doors.
People crowd on, permeating the bus with a smell of
sweat, fried potatoes and smoke.
“You have to get out at Arco del Meloncello, at the
end of Via Saragozza. I’ll let you know when we get
“Thanks. Then I’ll wait here,” the other says. He
takes a step back and settles himself by a window.
Francesco closes the door and glances in the lefthand
mirror. He sees a scooter approaching, driven by
an elegant-looking man in a brown overcoat that flies
out behind him. He lets the man go by, then presses
the accelerator and moves on again.
One of these days the Bear will present him with the
bill, and, as always, he’ll find himself without a penny
in his pocket, inventing ridiculous excuses, looking
out of the corner of his eye for a possible escape route.
He stops the bus at a pedestrian crossing. Among
the people going by is a tall girl with a backpack, from
which the head of a tiny infant sticks out. Passing in
front of the bus, the newborn looks up, staring at him
with an expression of astonishment.
Francesco leaves Strada Maggiore on the left and
turns onto Via Castiglione. Opposite is the Palazzo della
Mercanzia, with its tall gothic arcades and the white
balcony that stands out against the dark brick.
The anxiety of this evening is a new sensation, which
he can’t explain. His life is a total disaster, obviously,
but by now he should be used to it. How long has it
been since he’s had his head above water? And yet, one
way or another, he has always got by.
His gaze detaches itself from the street and slides
diagonally along the surface of the windscreen. The
dark silhouettes of the passengers, slightly distorted by
the convexity of the mirror, are reflected in the rectangular
frame. Cold neon light rains on their heads
and shoulders, but the bodies are immersed in a livid
obscurity, where forms commingle. That mass of figures,
swaying as they grip the support poles, has something
spectral about it.
The grey-haired man, holding on to a pole, lets his
eyes wander out the window. Sprawled on the seat
beside him is an acne-faced kid who is picking his nose.
Next to him, two women in their fifties chatter in loud
“So, in the end she decided to dump him?”
“She told him to go to hell, I’m telling you. She
packed her bags, threw them in the back of the
Volkswagen and went off.”
“Oh, so she took the Golf ?”
“What do you think she did? Walk?”
From the compressed-air tank comes a continuous
hiss that grows in intensity until, every four or five
minutes, it erupts, in a kind of elephant bellow. It must
be that the discharge valve isn’t properly calibrated.
The bus passes Piazza Galvani, which is swarming
with kids. At the bus stop, the first to get on is a stifflegged
old man, with a broad-brimmed hat and a cane.
He hooks the cane over one arm and climbs up the
steps, followed by a girl and boy entwined around each
other, who get on without a pause in their kiss.
Francesco presses in sequence the three buttons
that close the doors, lowers the turn-signal lever.
The man in the armchair has a thin, bony skull that
looks like an insect’s. His lips are rigidly set in a sadlooking
line. On the television in front of him the
images of a movie rush by. Four police cars, sirens blaring,
are following a big blue car with a good suspension
system, which one way or another always manages
to avoid being stopped.
The thin man is examining his fingers, looking for a
possible cut, or even just a small superficial scratch. He
pays closest attention to the area around the nails. It
must be the twentieth time that he has completed this
minute inspection, but still he’s not satisfied. He
rotates the hand an inch or so from his eyes, slowly,
then lays it again on the arm of the chair and returns
to the TV with his impenetrable expression.
Now the blue car seems done for. The police cars
have increased in number and are pursuing the
fugitives through an unpaved area that runs under a
viaduct. A little farther ahead you can see there’s a
sudden drop. Meanwhile steep banks of earth rise up
on both sides, keeping the car from making a U-turn.
Now it’s hemmed in and has to go straight towards the
The man with the face of an insect stares at the
screen, thinks again of the job he’s just done. He sees
the informer again, in profile, while he’s putting the
key in the door of his car. He seems to feel again
the pressure of the recoil in the palm of his hand. The
informer pirouetted against the car and slid to the
ground, his fingers searching for a hold; then he stiffened
on the asphalt, dying, with his head stuck under
the body of the car. To finish him off, he shot him in
the chest. He sees again the two gashes opening in the
man’s shirt, the body jolting as if hit by electric shocks.
Now that there seems to be no way out, the pursued
car suddenly accelerates and, with a sharp jerk of the
wheel, swerves. It skids, slips neatly between two pylons
and heads at top speed towards a truck trailer providentially
abandoned on the edge of the cliff. The bed
of the trailer creates a sort of trampoline. The girl next
to the driver is screaming, covering her eyes with her
Unfortunately it wasn’t just a matter of getting rid of
the man. He also had to retrieve an envelope. So, after
murdering him, he had to search the corpse. And at
that point he cursed himself for not having at least
brought a pair of gloves. He shifted the edge of the
jacket with the point of the silencer and stuck his hand
under the blood-soaked material. At that moment
there was a noisy rumbling from the dead man’s intestines.
It seems to him that he can still smell that sweetish
stench and feel the warm wet material under his
fingertips. After retrieving the envelope, he got away
in a hurry, rubbing his sticky fingers together. Panic
forced him to stop after barely twenty yards. The blood
was already starting to coagulate. He wiped the blood
off his fingers with his handkerchief, then threw it into
the first trashcan he saw.
The blue car hits the trampoline at full speed and, a
moment before the inclined platform starts to sink
under its weight, takes off towards the opposite bank
of the precipice. The car is thrust upward, but the one
pursuing car that tries the same manoeuvre finds itself
with a much lower launching pad and ends up at the
bottom of the ravine. Amid a roar of revving engines,
wailing sirens, squealing brakes and the clash of crumpling
metal, the television screen shows the blue car
landing with a series of bounces on the opposite side
of the ravine, while on the near side the six surviving
vehicles are crashing into one another to avoid going
over the edge.
The man with the face of an insect twists his mouth
in a grimace of disgust.
Then he looks at the clock and presses a button on
the remote. In the room silence falls, while the images
continue to flicker on the screen. The man puts on his
slippers and gets up. He goes to a low glass table on
which a telephone sits.
He dials a number. One ring. Two. Three. Four.
The man can still see the television from there. His
lips are set in the usual bitter, suffering line. He is so
still that his face seems cut in stone. In his right eyelid
a tear has formed.
“Hello, signora? It’s Diolaiti. Is your husband at
While he waits, the receiver leaning against his ear,
he takes a handkerchief out of his pants pocket, delicately
wipes away the tear.
Well, yes, all in all not bad, thinks Leila, barefoot
before the mirror. She rotates her body, inclines her
head. Her dark hair, cut like a helmet, cascades from
one side, covering part of her face. Not bad, but time is
passing. She examines her legs, below the tight miniskirt.
They are slender, well-formed legs. Her feet, too,
are shapely. But Leila is in the mood for inspection.
She lifts up the miniskirt, and with the index finger
and thumb of both hands pinches the flesh on the
outer part of the left thigh. Some small indentations
appear on the skin. She squeezes harder, to see if the
cellulite holes increase in number and depth. The skin
turns red at the centre, whitens along the edge of the
pressure. The number of little indentations, however,
remains the same. Leila lets the edge of her skirt fall.
She takes a step forward, brings her face close to the
mirror. No doubt about it: here, too, a few signs are
starting to be visible. At the corners of her eyes, for
instance, and around the mouth. Not really wrinkles.
Rather, small superficial marks. But visible.
Time is passing, even if she doesn’t show her thirtythree
She backs away again. There she is: slim, well
proportioned, sexy. That mini, then, is particularly
flattering. It accentuates her shapely legs, with their
narrow calves. Her legs are very good; her bosom, on
the other hand, has always seemed to her too small,
even if that’s the reason it has remained high and firm.
Five-five and 117 pounds, you can’t complain. Especially
since, until now, staying in shape hasn’t taken
much of an effort. Until now.
She feels like smiling. She looks at herself in the
mirror again, examines the marks of time on the geography
of her skin, starts to worry about the future.
Thirty-three, the beginnings of cellulite in the upper
part of the thighs, six million in cash hidden in the
false bottom of a closet and another twenty-five in a
bank account. Nothing solid on which to rely, apart
from her ability to fend for herself. But security is not of
this world, thinks Leila, trying to get rid of the sticky
sensation that’s caught her.
She bends over, puts on low, black-leather boots. She
zips them up, then stands and with her palms
smoothes the creases in the miniskirt, which is tight
across her hips. She pinches the material of her body
stocking, to adjust the neckline. She opens the closet,
chooses a short, very soft black suede jacket. While
she’s putting it on she thinks that what she’d really
like, once and for all, is a good stroke of luck.
The large, squarish man sitting at the head of the
table pounds his fist down a couple of inches from his
“You’ll do what I say, and that’s it! Understand?”
His wife looks at him, frightened. She knows his
rages, and knows that nothing good can be expected.
Whereas the girl, it seems, couldn’t care less about her
“You think you can tell everyone what to do,” she
says. “Why don’t you try instead to understand that I
have my own life, and . . .”
“Your own life . . .” the man interrupts, with a threatening
look, but his daughter won’t let him continue.
“Yes, Papa, my own life! And you’d better not interfere
“You be careful what you say! If I order you . . .”
“Do you hear yourself talking?” cries the girl. “I order
you! If you want to know, I don’t give a damn about
His daughter’s words have a surprising effect on the
man. He jumps to his feet with an agility that is surprising
in such a heavyset person, and in an instant has
come around the table. The girl, seeing him lunging
towards her, tries to get up, but the man stops her,
grabbing her wrist.
“Who do you think you’re talking to? One of those
imbecile friends of yours?”
The girl struggles, but the man tightens his grip.
“Ow, Papa, you’re hurting me!”
“I’m hurting you? You have no idea how much I can
The wife, still sitting in her place, throws her napkin
on the table.
“For heaven’s sake, Giuseppe! Enough! What kind
of behaviour is this?”
The man turns his head, gives the woman an angry
glance. The daughter takes advantage of this to free
herself with a sudden tug, and, before he can manage
to grab her again, is in the hallway. She runs to her
room, the man follows but isn’t in time. The door
closes with a thud and the key turns rapidly in the lock.
“Elisabetta!” the man shouts, his nose an inch from
the door. “There’s no point locking yourself in. I can
knock down this door if I feel like it!”
He stands there, panting, in the yellow glow of the
ceiling light that reflects off his square, bald head,
shiny with sweat. Rage builds up inside him like steam
in a pressure cooker.
He raises one hand and slams the palm, hard,
against the surface of the door.
“Get that clown out of your head! Either you stop
going out with him or I’ll throw you out of the house!”
“Go away!” the girl cries, from inside. “Leave me
His wife, behind him, says: “Do you think it’s necessary
to treat her like this?”
“You be quiet,” he snarls at her, darkly. “It’s your
fault if our daughter is out of control.”
“Things can’t always go the way you want, Giuseppe.”
“I told you to keep your mouth shut.”
“Anyway, you’ll get nowhere like this.”
The man’s shirtsleeves are rolled up to the elbows,
revealing thick, muscular arms. His fingers fidget near
his hips. He turns towards his wife and glares at her.
She tries to meet his gaze, but there is something in his
look that scares her. She and her daughter have always
been afraid him. The woman tries to remember if she
felt that fear even before she married him, when they
went out together and he’d take her to the movies, to a
dancehall, a restaurant.
At that moment, the telephone rings, at the far end
of the hall. The woman, glad to have a reason to leave,
turns on her heels and heads towards the front
The man stands staring at his wife’s back as she walks
“Hello? Oh, it’s you. Yes, my husband is home. I’ll
get him right now.”
The woman reappears.
“It’s for you. That colleague of yours. Diolaiti.”
He snatches the phone out of her hand.
“Is that you, Diolaiti? Yes, go on. What’s up?”
At the other end of the line, the thin man with the
face of an insect puts the handkerchief back in his
“What do you mean, what’s up? We agreed that you
would call me at dinnertime, don’t you remember?”
“Oh yes, right, I’m sorry. I had something else on my
mind just then. So, how did the job go?”
Diolaiti raises one hand and examines it.
“Done,” he answers, while he studies the outlines of
his nails, one by one. “I’ve already seen the boss, and
he confirmed the Bologna job. Shall I come by and
pick you up tomorrow morning?”
“Tomorrow morning? Yes, fine.”
“Tell me, Garofano, is something wrong?”
The heavyset man looks in the mirror above the
shelf, to inspect his balding head.
“No, nothing in particular. The usual family problems.
You want to know something, Diolaiti? You did
well, not to get married and bring children into the
world. They’re nothing but a big pain in the neck!”
Diolaiti is silent for a couple of seconds. He stares at
the figures moving across the screen of the television,
on the other side of the room.
“So, I’ll come by around nine tomorrow morning.
“Yes, of course. See you tomorrow,” says Garofano,
then he hangs up the phone and smooths the lock of
hair on his forehead with the palm of his hand.
Diolaiti puts down the receiver. He rubs one hand
over his stomach. These damn burning sensations
have come back to torture him.
He goes into the kitchenette, fills a glass under the
tap, drops an effervescent tablet into the water. He
goes back to the living room, sits down on the sofa and
stares again at the TV. He balances the glass on an arm
of the sofa. A tiny sliver of the tablet, which by now is
almost completely dissolved, eddies in the water in a
swirl of bubbles.
What was it the instructor was always saying during the
“The driver’s true eyes are the rear-view mirrors.
Never forget that, kids. It’s the mirrors that allow you
to keep an eye on the situation.”
He must have repeated it a million times. Francesco
recalls his oblong face, with the high forehead
and dirty-blond eyebrows, inclining downward,
that gave him the look of a whipped puppy. His
name was Marchetti and he had a habit of sucking on
“I’m telling you this for your own good. You have to
pay more attention to what’s going on behind you than
to what is in front of you. Keeping an eye on the street is
nothing. The hard part is not to be caught by surprise
by what’s happening behind you! It doesn’t take much
to crush a cyclist who’s caught between the curb and
the side of the bus.”
He rolled one of his mints around in his mouth and
leaned forward to smack the student who was driving
at that moment.
“Did you hear what I said? Check the rear-view
mirrors, damn it! Did you notice that scooter that’s
Francesco, in time, began to consider even more
useful the inside rear-view mirror, the one that allows
you to keep an eye on what is happening inside the bus.
The eye in the back of your head, as many of his colleagues
call it. It’s the inside rear-view mirror that
allows you to distinguish possible bores, old people
with precarious balance, beautiful girls. And, above all,
to intercept the pain in the ass. Cities are full of annoying
people who get on the bus solely to find someone
to torture with their confidences, complaints or misfortunes.
And that someone is there, just within reach,
all they have to do is settle in next to the driver and
ignore the sign that forbids them to speak to him.
In big cities people end up feeling alone, and it’s not
easy to find someone to unburden themselves to. The
psychiatrist’s couch has a steep price, while a ticket for
an hour’s ride on a public bus is cheap and can be
bought at any newsstand or tobacconist. For the most
part, people don’t really think they can improve their
lives and, in fact, have no intention of making an effort
to do so. They simply look for someone who will listen
to them. A friend, a Mormon, a counterman in a deli, a
bus driver. Understanding friends are extremely rare,
Mormons have the downside of giving advice, and
countermen are in a hurry to serve other customers.
Bus drivers represent the best solution. That’s why the
inside rear-view mirror has a fundamental importance.
It allows you to identify the pain in the ass before he
goes into action and offers the possibility of beating
him to the punch. Sometimes it’s sufficient to appear
to be in the middle of some manoeuvre or to grab the
radio and pretend to be engaged in a conversation
with the dispatcher. Francesco had taken the words of
his instructor to heart, and looking behind him
became one of his principal activities. Ever since
troubles and creditors had begun to pursue him, this
habit had been transformed into an obsession.
Francesco stops the bus at the signal at Porta
Saragozza. The flower seller is carrying the plants
inside the shop. The usual fifteen or twenty old ladies
have gathered to say their prayers, sitting on chairs
arranged on the broad pavement that separates the
Porta from the boulevards, where at eight in the evening
the traffic is beginning to thin out.
In Via Saragozza the traffic is moving pretty well,
and soon they come up to Villa delle Rose. As
Francesco approaches the portico, he turns to get the
attention of the grey-haired man.
“Here we are, get off here. That place opposite is the
Teatro delle Celebrazioni.”
“Thank you,” says the man.
In the side mirror Francesco sees the acne-faced kid
get out, followed by the old man in the broadbrimmed
hat and the grey-haired man. As soon as
they’ve got down from the last step he closes the doors
and starts off again.
Tomorrow he’s on the night shift, but tonight his
shift ends at one-fifteen. He could make a stop at the
bar, have a quick beer and see what’s happening.
Maybe sit at a table, just for a couple of hands.
He cracks the window to get a little air.
He has more or less 300,000 lire remaining. Ultimately,
what’s the risk? He doesn’t have far to go, with
300,000 to get to the end of the month and a few
dozen creditors hassling him for money.
The dark hills run by on his left. The yellow of a
flashing traffic light pulses in the night. Francesco
takes his foot off the accelerator. The fresh air hits his
face and he breathes in deeply. Well, yes, all things
considered, why not? With spring arriving, who knows,
maybe tonight the cards will go his way.
Andrea sticks the card in the slot in the telephone,
then presses the numbers.
The voice of the Secretary answers.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me,” says Andrea. “I want the confirmation for
tomorrow. Everything is set?”
“Of course. Exactly as you arranged it.”
“I want to be sure, I don’t want any surprises at the
moment of the handover.”
“Calm down, Fabbri. Everything will go as planned.”
“That will be best. Otherwise you know what could
“I’ve told you that you don’t have to worry.”
“Good, then I’ll just say goodbye. Give my regards to
Andrea hangs up, checks the time on his wristwatch.
He takes a slow look around the place. He goes over to
the bar and sits on a stool a little apart. After a few
moments the bartender comes up to him.
“What can I get you?”
“A Coke,” Andrea answers. “And put a slice of lemon
The bus moves off, and the man in the herringbone
jacket looks at the posters outside the theatre, on the
other side of the street. Next to him an old man in a
broad-brimmed hat walks slowly away, leaning on a
cane. He checks his watch. It’s still early. The concert
begins at nine-thirty, there’s plenty of time for a stroll
and a cigarette. He takes a pack of Marlboros out of his
He walks slowly under the portico, towards the Arco
del Meloncello. His knee is hurting again. Who knows,
maybe the weather is about to change.
It must be at least six years since he was in Bologna.
And that time too it was a brief stay. He turns to the
right, up the steps. One flight, and he is above the
arch, suspended over Via Porrettana. The cars pass
beneath him. From here, following the portico, one
can reach the sanctuary of San Luca. He went up there
often, many years ago. But not on a pilgrimage. He
smiles, blowing the smoke out of his nose. He went to
have sex with a student, on the backseat of the car,
hidden behind a stand of bushes, in a small space littered
with used condoms, cigarette butts and Kleenex.
It was ’75. The car was a blue Opel, fourth-hand. The
girl was called Sonia, and she was studying literature;
she was one of the hothead radicals who were around
in those days. She was twenty-one and came from
Pescara. He was fifteen years older, working for the
secret service, and had been transferred to Bologna
precisely to keep an eye on people like her. Not being
Bolognese was perhaps the only thing they had in
The quarrels, the shouting, the insults return to
mind. After they had talked a while, the blood would
go to Sonia’s head and she would say that he was a
servant of the state, a watchdog in the service of power,
that between them there could be nothing, and it was
better to cut off that absurd relationship. He listened,
but usually he didn’t get mad, he could even understand
the reasons for Sonia’s protests. But mainly he
was fascinated by the colour her face got, by the
Abruzzese accent that grew thicker, and by the odour
of her skin when she was angry.
Now, thinking back, he can’t believe there was a
time when he was discussing politics with a girl who
was a member of the radical left. One of the types the
police would have shot.
He throws the cigarette stub on the ground, crushes
it under his heel.
Good times, shit, yes. A student of the ultra-left
being fucked by a cop from the secret service, on the
backseat of a dilapidated car or in the toilet of a
He looks at his watch again. If this damn knee didn’t
hurt so much, he wouldn’t mind climbing up to the
top and seeing Bologna from on high. He puts his
hands in his pockets. Maybe another time. In threequarters
of an hour he will be comfortably seated, listening
to the notes conjured by the magic fingers of
Down at the corner there’s a bar. He’ll be able to
order an espresso and smoke another cigarette, peacefully,
as he waits for the concert to begin.
Leila opens the door of her Y10. She throws handbag
and jacket on the right-hand seat, gets into the driver’s
seat and starts the car. At the intersection the signal is
red. She takes advantage of it to shift her head to the
side and glance at herself in the rear-view mirror. What
she catches is the part of her face that goes from her
dark bangs to the base of her nose. At the centre of the
rectangle, two grey-green eyes, vaguely oriental in
shape. The mascara is perfect.
She opens the handbag, grabs a Gauloise Blonde,
puts it between her lips. She clicks the lighter. She
inhales deeply, blows the smoke out towards the windscreen.
She sticks her hand in the handbag to make
sure once again that everything is there. The cloth for
fingerprints, the folded-up nylon knapsack, the latex
gloves. Behind her a horn beeps. She looks up, realizes
the light has already changed. She goes into first and
quickly releases the clutch.
At the end of Via Irnerio she turns right. While she
goes along the tree-lined avenue, she lowers the window
a couple of inches, to let out the smoke. Reaching
Viale Gozzadini, she puts on the indicator and shifts
left towards the centre strip. Red light. Then green.
She turns into Via Castiglione and takes it past the
Margherita gardens. The discotheque is at the top of
The tyres squeal on the gravel of the car park. Leila
parks her car in a spot far from the entrance. Before
getting out she opens her lipstick and, looking at herself
in the rear-view mirror, runs it over her lips.
Thursday, 1 April 1993, 7:30 p.m.–