During  Chalk the Sun’s first Italian residential course, students were challenged to write a story inspired by something they could see in the grounds of  Masseria Impisi: Dr. Fiona Parker-Cole wrote this lyrical piece.  

Alberto  by Fiona Parker-Cole

I cannot help but love Alberto. He loves me too, I feel it.  A kind of … solid, gentle love that comes with age.  Like: ‘I have seen it all and I still choose you’.

When things don’t go so well, I close my eyes and see him. I remember how he looks out across the water towards home, a shadowy outline against the amber moon. It makes me calm.   I think of his deep, gnarled lines running over him like a dried riverbed.  They come from a body that has laboured, relentlessly digging of the red Italian soil with blunt tools.  He toils in the sun, pulling the water from deep in the earth and carrying it high above the level of the sea. I watch him as he works – slow, precise and with the ease of nature.  Harvesting his crops and lifting each one high, inspecting his work, like a precious baby being raised up to the Gods. I whittle about my day, insignificant ramblings of a frenetic young life. Mostly he listens, stoic and wise. His twisted silhouette protects me against the idle gossip and scars of school.  A place where no one is honourable any more.

I never met my grandfather; he died in a trench.  A wasted life, betrayed by the fervour of hope and possibility.  And so I tell my secrets to Alberto. I talk, he listens.  Sometimes, on warm hazy evenings I sit beside him, my hand resting on his rough skin.  His wild, twisted mane – still dark and vibrant after all this time – blows in the wind from Africa. Alberto tells me stories of his past.  Coming to Italy, over the sea from Syria, rocking to and fro, frightened and young, weeping tears for his mother. I close my eyes and listen to the wind and his gentle voice.  It is almost as if  his words penetrate my skin and wash away the tales in my head of the boy from school who doesn’t love me or the girl who sits in front of me, someone I am desperate to be.  I sometimes imagine Alberto and my grandfather talking.  What would two old-timers think of all this?  About the changes to our town, the tourists and the price of bread; it makes me smile and comforts me.

I never met my grandfather, my grandmother didn’t even have a body to bury.  His watch sat on the mantelpiece, waiting for him to return from the war.  When my grandmother died, we buried the watch underneath his favourite olive tree that hung over the veranda.  I imagine its roots entwined with the gold rim, a battery lasting forever; tree, metal and soul flowing with the slow ‘tick-tock’, ‘tick-tock’ under the ground.  My mother thinks that I spend too much time talking to this ancient tree, that I should be out, having a laugh with the kids from class.  But I would rather spend time with someone who loves me. My beautiful, proud olive tree. I call him Alberto, after my grandfather, it seemed a noble name for an old friend who listens to me.