The floating platform was almost empty at that hour. There were just a few office workers who would be gone by 3.
Then, the real customers started to wander down from the Ponte Garibaldi and the Ponte Sisto. After half an hour, the patch of sand between the embankment and the floating platform was as busy as an ant-hill. Nando1 was sitting on the swing, his back to me. He was about ten years old, scrawny and misshapen, with a large tuft of blond hair above his narrow face, on which a large mouth smiled brightly.
He watched me out of the corner of his eye. I went over and asked him: “Would you like a push?”
He nodded, joyfully, grinning more widely than ever.
“Get ready! I’m going to make you go really high!” I warned him, smiling.
“That’s ok,” he answered. I sent him flying, and he yelled to the other little boys: “A maschi! 2 look how high I am!”
After about five minutes he was on the swing again, and this time he didn’t keep quiet. “Moro,” he said, “will you give me a push?”
He got off the swing, but continued to hang around me. I asked him his name.
His shoulders were burned, as if by a fever rather than by the sun. He told me they stung. By now Orazio’s floating platform was a merry-go-round of people: some lifted weights, others did chin-ups, others stripped their clothes off or just lazed around. People yelled at each other, sarcastic, arrogant, and relaxed. A group went over to the diving board and started jumping in, doing cannonballs, matchstick jumps, and somersaults. I went over to swim, under the pylons of the Ponte Sisto. After half an hour, back on the sand, I saw Nando, gripping the side of the platform; he was yelling over to me.
“Hey!” he said to me, “do you know how to row a boat?”
“Sort of,” I answered. He turned to the life guard. “How much?” he asked. The lifeguard didn’t even lift his head: he leaned over the water as if he were talking to it, and he was clearly in no mood to joke around:
“One-hundred and fifty Lire for an hour, two people.”
“Yikes!” Nando blurted, his little face still beaming. Then he disappeared into the dressing rooms. He reappeared next to me on the sand, like an old friend.
“I have a hundred,” he said.
“Lucky you,” I answered, “I’m completely in the red.” He didn’t understand. “What does that mean?” he asked.
“I’m broke,” I explained.
“Why? Don’t you work?”
“No, I don’t.” “I thought you had a job,” he said. “I’m a student,” I said, to simplify matters. “Don’t you get paid?” “Actually, I pay money.” “Do you know how to swim?” he asked. “Yes, do you?” “No, I’m too scared. I only go in the water up to here!”
“Shall we go for a dip?” He nodded and followed me like a puppy.
When we were near the diving-board, I pulled my bathing-cap out of the pocket of my swimming trunks. “What is that?” he asked, pointing at it.
“A bathing cap,” I answered.
“How much did it cost?”
“I paid four hundred Lire for it, three years ago.”
“I love it!” he said, putting it on. “We’re poor, but if we were rich my mother would buy me one of those.”
“Yes, we live in one of those shacks on the Via Casilina.”
“So how come you have one hundred Lire?”
“I made it carrying luggage.”
“At the station.” He was a bit reticent; perhaps he was lying. Perhaps he had begged for it. Those little arms of his could hardly have carried a suitcase. I took the bathing cap back, patted his tuft of hair, and asked: “Do you go to school?”
“Yes, I’m in the second grade… I’m twelve years old, but I was sick for five years… Aren’t you getting in?”
“Yes, I’m going to dive in.”
“Do an angel dive,” he yelled at me as I balanced on the diving board. I did a normal dive, swam a little, and clambered back to shore through the weeds, muck, and garbage.
“Why didn’t you do an angel dive?” he asked me.
“I don’t know, this time I’ll try it.” I had never done one, but I attempted to just to please him. When I came out again, he was happy. “That was a nice angel dive,” he said. In the middle of the Tiber, a young man was rowing upstream in a canoe-like boat. “What’s so hard about that?” said Nando, “The lifeguard wouldn’t let me take a boat out.”
“Have you ever rowed a boat?” I asked. “No, but what’s so hard about it?” When the young man reached us, Nando stretched out on the diving board and started to yell at the top of his lungs, his hands cupped around his mouth: “A moro, a moro, can I get on with you?” The man didn’t even answer him. So Nando, still smiling, came back towards me. At that moment, some friends of mine came by and I joined them. I watched them play a game of cards at the bar on the platform.
Nando reappeared, holding a copy of a newspaper, “L’Europeo.”
“Here,” he said. “Read it. It’s mine.”
I took it, just to make him happy, and started to leaf through it. But Orazio came over and grabbed it out of my hands without a word and started reading it, annoyed: it had been a joke. I laughed, and went back to watching the game. Nando came up to the counter.
“I’ve got one hundred Lire,” he said to the lifeguard. “What can I buy?”
“Orange soda, beer, soda pop,” he answered, blankly.
“How much for a soda pop?” Nando asked.
“Give me two.”
A moment later I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Nando holding out a bottle of soda pop. I got a lump in my throat, so that I could hardly find the voice to thank him, or say anything at all: I swallowed the drink and said to Nando: “Will you be here Monday or Tuesday?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“So next time it’s on me,” I said, “and we’ll go for a boat ride.”
“Will you be here Monday?” he asked.
“I’m not sure; I might have to go out with some friends.”
Nando counted the money he had left. “I have twenty-two Lire,” he said. He stood there, lost in thought, staring at the price list with his happy face. I wanted to help him in some way.
“What can I buy for twenty Lire?” he asked the lifeguard.
“Keep your money,” he answered. “Look,” I said, “the seltzer water costs ten Lire a glass.”
“It’s warm,” said the lifeguard.
“What can I buy for twenty Lire…” Nando repeated.
Then he turned to the lifeguard: “So what if it’s warm, give us two glasses.” The lifeguard poured two glasses, and Nando said to me: “Drink.” He had paid for a second round of drinks.
“So if you don’t go out with your friends, will you come on Monday?” he asked me.
“Absolutely! And you’ll see, we’ll have a good time.” Then he decided to go on the swings again; I pushed him so hard he yelled down to me, laughing: “Stop! My head’s spinning!”
Night fell, and we said our good-byes.
Now I can’t wait for Tuesday, so I can show Nando a good time; I have no job, no money, but after all Nando only had those 100 Lire. Millionaires, like the lifeguard on Orazio’s floating platform, have no imagination.
1. Abbreviation of the name Fernando.
2. Phrase in Roman dialect that means something like “hey guys.”
Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss. From a forthcoming collection of fiction, Stories from the City of God, published by Other Press.
ContributorPier Paolo Pasolini