Dominique Manotti: Escape

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Dominique Manotti Escape
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Escape: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Dominique Manotti




8 February, near Rome

The bins stink. A huge skip with black plastic rubbish bags spilling on to the concrete floor, a poky little room with no windows lit by two flickering fluorescent tubes, blocked off by a metal shutter and an iron gate. Filippo is furious. Usually, when he comes to sweep out and clean the bin room, the rubbish trucks have already been, the skips are empty and the stench is not too bad. But today the smell is almost unbearable. He sets to work, gagging. He sweeps and scrubs the floor, then sloshes bleach and buckets of water over it. Six months inside, another 410 days to go, desperate to get out, but how? Then what? He hurls a final bucket of water and glances at his watch. In a quarter of an hour, his shift will be over. Time to clock out, go back up to his cell … 410 days, fuck, another 410 days … Suddenly, the motor controlling the metal shutter from the outside starts up and the shutter begins to vibrate. Panic. This has never happened before. He isn’t supposed to be there when the gate opens. What do I do? Terrified, he glances at his watch. No, this is when I should be here. A dull thudding sound comes from the rubbish chute, something banging against the walls, and a curled-up body catapults headlong into the skip then unfurls and dives into the refuse. Filippo just has time to recognise his cellmate, Carlo. A stream of incoherent reactions, My only friend breaking out … and without me … The metal shutter begins to rise, letting in a shaft of sunlight across the floor. I’m here when he breaks out, I’ll be accused of aiding and abetting him and I’ll get another year at least … in solitary. Without a second thought, Filippo jumps, arms raised, grabs the top of the skip, steadies himself with acrobatic agility and plunges into the mound of refuse. He hears Carlo swear under his breath and say, ‘For fuck’s sake bury yourself and cover your face,’ and then loses contact. He pulls his T-shirt up over his face, closes his eyes and swims down between the bags towards the bottom of the skip. The plastic is nice and slippery, but the smell and the weight are suffocating. A torn bag and his head and arms are covered in sticky, viscous, rotting, scratchy matter. And that stink. He vomits. All over his face. Calm down, stop panicking, otherwise I’m dead. Get this T-shirt off, wipe my face, breathe calmly, short breaths, protect my nose and mouth. His body curls into a ball, Filippo tries to open up an air-pocket by extending his arms very slowly. He listens to the sounds coming from outside. The truck has just dropped off an empty skip. He pictures the guards positioned all around the yard. Now the truck is about to load their skip. Its sides clanging, the skip rises through the air as it is winched up, one more thud and it is on the truck. A pause, the operators must be attaching the tarpaulin … engine starting up, they are on the move, a pause, his heart now thumping, the guards must be lifting up the tarpaulin, inspecting the skip’s contents. Filippo huddles tighter, the truck is off again, at a steady speed. He is out. Incredulity. What on earth am I doing here? He briefly loses consciousness.

The skip is swiftly emptied. Their bodies are thrown out and they roll among the bags and the refuse. Already on his feet, Carlo grabs the semi-conscious Filippo’s arm and forces him to get up. They are standing thigh-deep in a mountain of rubbish. Dazed, Filippo looks around him and notices an industrial building and a brick factory-chimney on his right, and on his left a very high, very smooth wall against which the refuse is tipped. Is this the taste, the smell of freedom? Not really. Carlo doesn’t give him time to collect himself, he pulls, pushes and shoves him, forcing him to run down the mound of rubbish, then drags him towards the perimeter wall. In front of him stands a ladder. ‘Up!’ commands Carlo, thumping him in the back, ‘Get a move on.’ Filippo climbs the ladder in a daze, swings over the wall and tumbles down the other side. Carlo jumps down nimbly just behind him and helps him up. A car awaits them, engine running, doors open, and they fling themselves on to the rear seat. The smell is unbearable. The driver — wearing dark glasses, his coat collar turned up to conceal the lower part of his face — opens the windows and pulls away at speed. Seated next to him a girl, head held stiffly, face covered by a headscarf. Without turning around, she says:

‘So who’s this?’

Filippo hears Carlo’s tense voice:

‘Drive, drive, we’ll talk when we can stop.’

They are lying side by side on the floor in the back of the car. Bumps and bends, they must be driving fast along a country road. Filippo feels all his muscles contract and ache. He makes himself breathe, protects his head and let his mind go blank.

The car comes to an abrupt stop, the engine switches off, the door opens. Carlo taps Filippo on the shoulder, making him start, and points to a clump of trees about a hundred metres away.

‘Wait for me over there, I won’t be a minute.’

Filippo straightens up, takes a few steps, stiff at first, aching, confused, then he freezes, completely overwhelmed, stunned by the sight that greets him. He is standing beside a tumbledown dry-stone barn on a shelf jutting out from the mountainside. Down below lies a blue-green lake, and opposite him a white, rocky ridge, vivid against a vast blue sky. He feels giddy. He opens his arms wide and breathes deeply. The air is very pure, sharp. He feels it enter his lungs and cleanse the stench of the bins and the vomit. The calm, the silence, the beauty, that is the word that sums it up for him. A surprising word for a kid from a working-class district of Rome who’s never admired a landscape. He sets off again, walking slowly, swaying slightly, shivering with cold, surprised to be in one piece, at liberty, and in the middle of the mountains.

Without thinking, he turns round, perhaps to speak to Carlo, or to seek reassurance that he is there and will be joining him. Carlo is there, his back to him. Standing before him is the girl from the car, not very tall, her perfect oval face raised towards him in the full sunlight. She is talking to him earnestly, perhaps angrily. Her headscarf has slid down on to her shoulders freeing a mass of fair hair that glints copper-coloured in the sun, ruffled by the wind. The image etches itself on his memory. The girl with coppery lights in her hair and the mountains, the beauty of freedom. Carlo puts his arms around her, leans slowly towards her mouth and kisses her in a lengthy embrace. Behind them stands the driver who has turned down his coat collar, removed his dark glasses and is staring at the couple formed by Carlo and the girl. Filippo is struck by the man’s appearance — a square jaw, deep-set eyes beneath very dark eyebrows that form a thick, continuous line across his face, and a scar on his left cheek that drags his eyelid downwards. The overall effect is thuggish. When the driver notices that Filippo is watching the three of them, he suddenly looks furious and raises his hand. Scared, Filippo quickly turns round without waiting to see how the gesture finishes, and walks towards the clump of trees as instructed by Carlo, with a sense of having committed a serious offence, but not knowing what. In such situations, his strategy has always been to take refuge in deepest silence and switch off his mind, without attempting to understand.

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