· The saint of the month ·
“Lovely”, commented the waitress as she cleared the table.
The seated man turned to face the motorbike parked behind him.
“Yes, indeed it is”, he agreed.
“It’s a superbike isn’t it?”.
“It’s a BMW S1000RR. D’you know anything about motorbikes?”.
“A fair amount”, the girl said, casting another glance at him. She put down the dishes and explained: “My brother had one like it but smaller”.
“This one’s an in-line four-cylinder 999 cc bike”. He couldn’t help adding: “with extractor manifolds like shark fins. It can even do 270 on the straight.
“A great speed”, the girl recognized, “have you done it?”.
“Up to 270? Of course, but I take it easier now”.
“But were you a racer when you were young?
“Yeah, and I did the Tourist Trophy until I was past 50, if you care to know”.
She didn’t seem impressed. “All the bikers who come to the Isle of Man try it, age doesn’t matter. Where did you come?”.
“Twice amongst the first three. I’ve got a fine lot of memories”, he mumbled to himself chuckling.
“Well, you’ll also remember our Loaghtan lamb, if you want to try it. It’s our best dish. We serve it with Bonnag bread, if you like sweet things.
When she came back the girl was carrying on the tray a mug foaming with red beer.
“Aren’t you cold sitting outside?”, she asked, having served him. October’s a damp month round here”.
“But the sun’s warm today”, he retorted. However, noting her interest in his bike he didn’t start on the Loaghtan straightaway. Even in the uncertain sunlight, the metal gleamed brilliantly.
“Why on earth are you here now?”, the girl asked him out of the blue, “the Tourist Trophy is run in June. No one comes to tour the Snaefell Mountain Course in October. The course’s too dangerous what with the mist and the wet asphalt.
“And who said that I wanted to test the course?”, he answered, trying a slice of Bonnag bread.
“Anyone can see from a mile away that you haven’t done with biking, the girl pontificated.
“Oh yeah? And how d’you make that out?”.
Oh, well, from the way you go on devouring it with your eyes”.
It was true, he couldn’t stop giving a glance every now and then at the yellow body with its shiny, shark-fin extractor manifolds.
“In fact I do care about it”, he admitted after a little while. “Because it’s my last bike, after this one I won’t be getting another”.
“Then it could be your wife”, the girl teased him. But then she noted, “This year, in June, two bikers were left lying on the race-track. Lying there, you understand”....
“Yeah” he nodded, and then recited, “Ladies and gentlemen, come to the Tourist Trophy of the Isle of Man, the most dangerous race in the world”.
“Do you know what it means to be left lying on Snaefell Mountain?”. There was a note of precision in her question.
He carefully cut himself a slice of Loaghtan, but didn’t take a bite of it.
“Yes”, he said at last. “It was eight years ago on Gooseneck”.
And were you frightened?”.
“There wasn’t time to be frightened. I believe there never is time to understand it when it happens: The bike… this one… went by itself, it slid from under me like a skittish horse”. He met her gaze before adding: “On the Gooseneck one sometimes gets up to 240. And I certainly came pretty close to it”.
“The Gooseneck”, he tried to focus on the girl, “it seems to me that on that part of it there aren’t any walls”.
“There was one, and the bike ended up against it with me behind. It crashed in a split second with all its weight, then bounced back over me. I was already lying on the ground. But the bike passed over me, I felt its pedals caress my hair. And I continued to crawl over the asphalt until I was within a centimetre of the wall, without even a scratch. While I was feeling myself to see if I was still whole a lucky charm fell out of my pocket”.
The story must have moved her because she sat down at his table. “And so you got out of it just like that? So that thing must have worked”.
“Right”, he commented, “but I don’t think it was solely a matter of luck”.
He began to fish about in his tracksuit until he pulled out two minute fragments of wood. They made a female figure with flowing garments whose hair was wrapped in a kerchief, but it was broken at the waist. He laid the pieces carefully on the table.
“I rather think that it was her work. I’d brought this statuette of St Orora the previous day in a shop in Douglas. We riders are superstitious, so I found out first who the saint of the Island was.
“May I?”, the girl asked, and she delicately stroked the two little pieces of wood. “And did these really save your life?”, she added doubtfully, before returning them to him.
“Not the statuette. She herself, St Orora, did it. Do you know who she was?”.
“You just said so. A woman of these parts”. “That’s right”, he continued, “mysterious. She lived here in the ninth century. I looked into it but there’s nothing left about her in the chronicles. In my opinion her name certainly derives from “Aurora”... and all we know about her is that she confessed sinners. There must also have been a church dedicated to her in the Douglas area. I’ve looked for it but today no traces of it remain.
“Then how d’you know that it was she who protected you?”.
He looked at her thoughtfully and added softly: “Well, one knows these things. Or feels them. In any case you have to have been in the saddle at Gooseneck to be certain of them”. He cleared his throat, tried the beer and added: “That’s why I’m here today. I come every year on 20 October, for her feast day”.
“Really?”, the girl asked surprised. “Can one live here all one’s life and not know such an important thing?”. But there was no trace of irony in her voice.
“Anyway, you know now”, he said. “And you’d do well to remember it. It can happen”, he added, “that we forget certain saints, but I’ll swear that they never forget us”.
She smiled at him before leaving him to his Loaghtan and the Bonnag. Then she changed her mind, she turned round and asked him his name. She felt it right first to introduce herself: “I’m Agatha”.
“Edmond Laycock”, he answered, and offered her his hand. “Once I was famous. But now that you know the truth about St Orora and about me”, he ended, “you can just call me Eddie”.
Dario Fertilio (1949) comes from a family of Dalmatian origin and lives in Milan. A journalist and a writer, together with the anti-Soviet dissident Vladmir Bukovskij, he launched the Memento Gulag [Memorial Day] for the victims of Communism and all forms of totalitarianism, which is celebrated on 7 November. He experiments with various forms of expression, alternating articles, narrative, essays and theatre. His books include short stories, La morte rossa (Marsilio), the essay Il virus del totalitarismo (Rubbettino) and the historical novel L’ultima notte dei Fratelli Cervi (Marsilio). He prefers the themes of rebellion against unjust power, of the freedom to love and to communicate and of the relationship with the sacred.
St. Peter’s Square
Dec. 15, 2019
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