Pick Language

Giovanni Dozzini

Picture of Italian winner Giovanni Dozzini

Giovanni Dozzini was born in Perugia (1978) where he still lives today. He works as both a journalist and an interpreter. His articles have been published in several internationally acclaimed newspapers including “Europa”, “Huffington Post Italia”, “Pagina99”, “Onda Rock” and “Nazione Indiana”. Since 2014, Giovanni has been a member of the organising committee for Encuentro, a festival that aims to promote Spanish literature in Umbria. Music is a passion of his, often defining himself as a "failed rock-star".

Winning Book

E Baboucar guidava la fila

Four asylum seekers who arrived in Italy after crossing half of Africa and the Mediterranean. They are suspended between the hope that their request will be accepted and the anxiety of being rejected. There are those who wait for the first hearing before the commission, those who appeal to the civil court, those who have perhaps obtained humanitarian protection and for a while can go on without too much fear. A weekend they decide to take a train that will take them from Perugia to the Adriatic. The journey is rhythm of encounters, of the obsessions of everyone and of the fluctuating relationship with their common language, Italian. Forty-eight hours of apparently small events: fines, bivouacs, visions, football finals, some quarrels, in which the four friends will always find themselves walking, in single file, along the streets of the province of Central Italy as if they had returned to Africa. Baboucar led the line is a fable without morality, which addresses the issue of migration by choosing to tell what comes after the crossings, the elusive normality of a dignified life that follows every landing and everything that this normality contains: the fears, the desires, anger, nostalgia, succeeding in obtaining that particular poetic resonance that only real things have.

Publishing House

Email Address: 
Phone No.: 
+39 06 3336545
Organisation: 
Minimum Fax

Agent / Rights Director

Phone No.: 
+39 06 69331440
Email Address: 
Representative: 
Clementina Liuzzi Literary Agency

Excerpt

Baboucar guidava la fila. Subito dopo di lui veniva Yaya, qual- che metro più indietro gli altri quattro: Robert, Ousman e i due ivoriani. Accanto a loro scorrevano la ferrovia e le case, coi pia- ni terra infarciti di alimentari pakistani e Western Union. Le macchine passavano veloci, il sole era ancora alto anche se or- mai si erano fatte le sette di sera. Si erano ritrovati un’ora pri- ma nell’atrio della stazione per poi spostarsi in una piazza due isolati più in là, dove avevano potuto parlare all’ombra degli al- beri frondosi disseminati lungo il bordo. Al centro della piazza c’era una grossa palma, sul lato opposto alle panchine su cui si erano seduti una giostra rosa e decorata con disegni per bambi- ni sopra le vetrate chiuse.

«Allora domani partiamo alle sette», aveva detto Baboucar, e si era messo a spiegare il programma. Nessuno aveva obiettato, anche se era chiaro che esisteva un problema piuttosto eviden- te. Contando anche i due ivoriani, infatti, erano in sei, e nella

 

macchina di Maia ci sarebbero stati solo quattro posti. Babou- car però fece finta di niente, e si limitò a parlare dei tempi da rispettare e dei soldi, dei biglietti fino a Foligno e dei rischi da non correre più. La multa che aveva preso lui all’andata bastava e avanzava. Sotto sotto d’altronde sapevano tutti, loro per pri- mi, che gli ivoriani avrebbero dovuto trovare un altro modo per ritornare a Perugia. Avrebbero fatto quel che avevano in animo di fare dal principio, e cioè risalire su un treno e ripercorrere la strada al contrario fino a casa. E tutti sapevano, nessuno esclu- so, che non sarebbe stato un grande impiccio. Yaya aveva chie- sto a Baboucar per chi avrebbe dovuto fare da interprete in tri- bunale, ma Baboucar sapeva solo che si trattava di due senega- lesi e un gambiano, dei nomi non aveva idea. Ousman era stato silenzioso per tutto il tempo, perché pensava alla sua, di udien- za, e pensava alla richiesta d’asilo rifiutata, e non trovava ragio- ni per fare qualcos’altro che non fosse tacere e perdersi nel pro- prio sconforto. Robert aveva capito, più o meno, e si chiedeva chi gli avrebbe fatto da interprete quando sarebbe toccato a lui andare davanti alla commissione.

L’altra questione da risolvere, adesso, era quella della notte. Yaya aveva chiesto a Ousman di raccontare quanto gli avevano detto i carabinieri, ma Ousman non era dell’umore giusto per parlare, così fu Yaya a farlo, e a domandare agli altri, fingendo di domandarlo a se stesso, se fosse o meno il caso di dormire in spiaggia. A quel punto c’era stato un po’ da discutere.

«Ma noi siamo tanti. Non c’è pericolo», aveva detto Baboucar. Yaya sbuffò, e disse di non avere alcuna voglia di litigare con qualche balordo. Poi propose di dare un’occhiata vicino alla fab- brica con le ciminiere, che era meno vicino alla stazione, così si erano messi in marcia, e avevano cominciato a risalire la fer-

 

rovia. Sulle soglie dei pakistani e degli Western Union in effet- ti c’era già della gente dall’aspetto poco raccomandabile, perlo- più italiani e maghrebini con la birra in mano e gli sguardi osti- li. Uomini ma anche qualche donna, e quando i negozi furono finiti e una ragazza africana magra con un corto vestito fucsia appostata all’angolo di una bassa palazzina gli sorrise Yaya pen- sò che anche stavolta l’avrebbero sfangata. Tutti notarono la ra- gazza, tranne Ousman. Baboucar aveva promesso che gli avreb- be passato il caricabatterie appena avessero messo piede nel bar, e adesso gli sembrava di avvertire il peso del telefono inerme nel fondo dello zaino, di figurarselo con esattezza in mezzo all’a- sciugamano insabbiato e al costume asciutto.

«È petrolio?», chiese Baboucar quando furono a tre o quattro- cento metri dalla fabbrica, ma nessuno gli rispose. Dopo cinque minuti erano sotto le ciminiere. Il sole aveva finalmente preso a scendere alle loro spalle, e i sei ragazzi guardavano la linea drit- ta del mare. Si erano seduti l’uno accanto all’altro, tenevano le gambe piegate davanti a sé e le braccia stese ai lati, i palmi nella sabbia grossa e scura, la pelle nera e lucida costretta nei vestiti colorati. Gli zaini e la busta di plastica di Baboucar erano ammas- sati qualche metro più in là, vicino a una barca, e tutto intorno la gente aveva cominciato a sbaraccare e ritornare a casa per ce- na. Un vecchio pescatore abbronzato fino al midollo stava sedu- to su una sedia di tela da campeggio dirimpetto a una delle mi- croscopiche casette. Di tanto in tanto un bambino di tre o quat- tro anni sgattaiolava verso di lui, faceva una specie di pernacchia e se ne tornava sotto l’ombreggiante steso tra altre due costru- zioni. L’uomo aveva i capelli bianchi e un costume da bagno ver- de molto piccolo, le gambe e le braccia asciutte e muscolose, la grossa pancia tesa e glabra. Ai suoi piedi riposavano due lunghe

 

canne da pesca, ferme come buffi animali da riporto stanchi do- po una giornata di caccia. Baboucar scattava fotografie al mare e agli altri, qualche selfie con la fabbrica e le ciminiere sullo sfon- do. Intanto parlava del film, cercava di commentare la presenza della grande raffineria, diceva che andare al mare era stata dav- vero una buona idea. In pochi gli stavano dietro. Robert sì, e a un certo punto arrivò persino a chiedere da dove poteva venire tutto quel petrolio, ma né Baboucar né Yaya né nessun altro sep- pero o vollero rispondere. Ousman era nervoso. Sentiva la sab- bia nei calzini, e il pensiero del cellulare scarico lo tormentava.

«Per stasera secondo me qui può andare bene», disse infine Ba- boucar guardando Yaya con decisione, e quello gonfiò le guan- ce e si strofinò il dorso della mano sul naso.

«Boh», si limitò a dire.

«Perché boh?»

«Perché boh. Forse un posto meno vicino alla ferrovia può essere meglio».

«Che posto?»

«Eh», fece Yaya. «Non lo so. Non lo conosco questo posto».

Ousman si piegò in avanti e squadrò entrambi. Non erano molto lontani dal punto in cui lo avevano fermato i carabinie- ri poche ore prima.

«Forse qui abbiamo pericolo», disse.

Yaya annuì, rimettendosi la scarpa che si era tolto per liberar- si di un piccolo sasso acuminato finito sotto al tallone.

«Ma siamo tanti!», disse Baboucar. «Ci lasciano stare. E poi guarda là. La stazione è lontana. Anche i pakistani e quei kebab. Lontani. Non ci vengono qua».

Lui, come gli altri, si immaginava gruppetti di quei tossici o nordafricani in canottiera che si mettevano a perlustrare la spiag-

 

gia con una bottiglia in mano e un coltello nell’altra, pronti a ra- pinare chi gli si fosse parato di fronte o a difendere con le buone o con le cattive il loro territorio. Ma era sinceramente convinto di non correre alcun pericolo. Era vero, erano in tanti, e ciascu- no di loro ne aveva viste di tutti i colori. Ed era vero anche che si trovavano nel punto più scomodo della spiaggia. Al di là della ferrovia la strada principale curvava verso l’interno e scompari- va tra la campagna e la periferia. Cercò di spiegare questo suo ragionamento, e rincarò la dose facendoli riflettere su quanto corta sarebbe stata la notte.

«Veniamo a mezzanotte. Anzi dopo. La una. Poi alle sei ci dobbiamo svegliare. Sono meno di sei ore. Possiamo anche non dormire. Cioè, uno per volta. Posso farlo io. Quasi tutto io. Fi- no alle quattro. Poi due ore tu, Yaya. O tu, Ousman».

Robert annuì con vigore, e in un italiano stentatissimo si of- frì di dare un cambio per un turno di guardia. Baboucar lo rin- graziò, contento di avere trovato un alleato, per quanto si trat- tasse del pesce più piccolo di tutta la spedizione.

«Passeranno anche i treni», disse Yaya. «Non dormiremo un cazzo».

Baboucar si mise a ridere, forzatamente. I treni non erano un buon motivo per complicarsi la vita a cercare posti migliori. Il po- sto migliore era quello. Lo avevano immaginato da prima di par- tire, e non era successo nulla che potesse davvero fargli mettere in discussione quella decisione. Le raccomandazioni di due cara- binieri non bastavano. Perché avrebbero dovuto fidarsi di loro?

«Eh», fece a quel punto Ousman, «non lo so. Non lo so, Ba- boucar. Vediamo».

Baboucar respirò profondamente, ma decise che non si sa- rebbe fatto rovinare la giornata da un intoppo del genere. Al

 

momento di andare a dormire mancavano ancora molte ore, e dopo la partita gli altri avrebbero sicuramente cambiato idea. Dormire lì era la cosa più semplice. Con la stanchezza e col buio, gli uomini hanno voglia di andare a dormire. E il più vi- cino possibile.

Pochi metri più in là, il pescatore aveva ascoltato i loro discor- si, e ne appariva piuttosto colpito. Da qualche minuto si era ad- dirittura alzato e avvicinato, rimanendo a fissare il mare con un piede appoggiato sulla barca ma prestando tutta la propria atten- zione a loro. I due ivoriani se n’erano accorti, ma non gli interes- sava un granché. Degli altri aveva intuito qualcosa solo Ousman, che adesso lo guardava incuriosito e perplesso. L’uomo raccolse il suo sguardo, e a quel punto decise di parlare.

«Sentite», disse rivolgendosi a tutti e a nessuno, «ve lo dico io dove dormire stanotte».

Sistemò le canne da pesca e gli fece strada fin oltre il sotto- passaggio, dove Ousman ammirò ancora una volta i due mani- festi di Lory consumati dal tempo. Lei era sempre lì, chissà da quanto, colta nell’attimo prima di mettersi a cantare o andare a sistemarsi i capelli o togliersi di dosso il vestito, e lasciare i suoi grandi seni pallidi liberi di ammiccare verso chi volessero. Era lì nell’indifferenza di tutti, oramai, perché a nessuno interessava più un concerto vecchio di anni, e nessuno sapeva niente delle cose che Lory avrebbe invece potuto dire a lui, magari cantan- do, o chiedendogli un ultimo ballo. Ousman non rallentò, non ostentò interesse, vide quanto gli bastava e proseguì dietro agli altri, e quando sbucarono sulla strada al di là della ferrovia il pe- scatore aveva guadagnato qualche metro sul gruppo sgranato portandosi appresso Baboucar sottobraccio. Era in ciabatte, e s’era infilato una camicia a maniche corte completamente sbot-

 

tonata sul ventre pieno di muscoli e grasso. Ousman non senti- va bene cosa si stessero dicendo, parlava soprattutto il pescato- re ma Baboucar ogni tanto rispondeva o domandava. Gestico- lavano entrambi, e da dietro parevano due vecchi amici che si erano rincontrati dopo molto tempo.

Non ci misero molto ad arrivare dove gli aveva promesso. In una delle costruzioni sul lato sinistro della strada, stretta tra due portoncini di legno, si apriva una porta di metallo e vetro opa- co, accanto alla quale era affisso un cartello di plastica con una scritta resa illeggibile dal tempo. Il pescatore la spalancò, e su- bito furono invasi da una forte puzza di chiuso. Nei raggi di so- le che filtravano dalla porta galleggiò un pulviscolo denso. Uno dei due ivoriani tossì. Yaya fece finta di afferrare il raggio, sorri- dendo, e Ousman, che aveva avuto la stessa tentazione, gli offrì le nocche del pugno chiuso in segno di approvazione. Il pesca- tore stava già aprendo un’altra porta, pochi secondi e una luce al neon cominciò a vibrare sul soffitto.

«Il posto è questo», disse illustrando con un mezzo giro del braccio la stanza in cui si trovavano. Era piuttosto grande e qua- si del tutto vuota. Solo un angolo era occupato da una scrivania ricoperta di faldoni, accanto alla quale campeggiava una sedia da ufficio in pelle nera con le ruotine. L’uomo si avventò subi- to sulla finestra che le stava alle spalle e la aprì in fretta. Di fian- co, sul muro, c’era un calendario del 2014, su quello di fronte una grande riproduzione del Quarto Stato di Pellizza da Volpe- do. Quel muro era anche l’unico a essere ricoperto integralmen- te di legno chiaro, sottili listelli verticali separati da scanalatu- re larghe poco meno della metà. Accanto al quadro era appeso un bersaglio a cerchi concentrici gialli e neri, con due freccette conficcate non lontano dalla circonferenza.

 

(EN)

Baboucar led them single file, one behind the other. Right behind him came Yaya, a few yards back the other four: Robert, Ousman and the two from the Ivory Coast. They proceeded along, the railroad tracks beside them and buildings whose ground floors were crammed with Pakistani markets and Western Unions. Cars sped by briskly, the sun was still high even though it was now seven o’clock in the evening. They had gathered an hour earlier at the entrance to the station, then moved to a square two blocks away where they could talk in the shade of leafy trees scattered around the perimeter. At the center of the square stood a large palm tree; on the side opposite the benches where they sat was a pink carousel decorated with kiddie designs above shuttered glass partitions.

“So then, tomorrow morning we leave at seven,” Baboucar said, and started explaining the plan. No one objected, although it was clear that there was a rather obvious problem. Counting the two Ivorians, in fact, there were six of them, and there was only room for four in Maia’s car. Baboucar, however, skipped over that, and only talked about the schedule they had to keep to and about the money, about the tickets to Foligno and about risks they should avoid. The fine he had gotten on the way up there was more than enough. Besides, deep down they all knew, they more than anyone, that the Ivorians would have to find another way to return to Perugia. They would do what they had intended to do from the beginning, that is, get back on a train and retrace the way home in reverse. And everyone knew, no exceptions, that it wouldn’t be a big hitch. Yaya asked Baboucar whom he would be interpreting for in court, but all Baboucar knew was that they were two Senegalese and a Gambian, he had no idea of their names. Ousman was silent the whole time because he was thinking about his own court hearing, about the denied request for asylum, and he saw no reason to do anything other than remain mum and wallow in his dejection. Robert understood, more or less, and wondered who his interpreter would be when it was his turn to go before the committee.

The other question to be resolved now was that of where to spend the night. Yaya had asked Ousman to tell him what the carabinieri had said to him, but Ousman wasn’t in the mood to talk, so it was Yaya who did, asking the others by pretending to wonder himself whether or not it would be better to sleep on the beach. At that point there was a bit of discussion.

“But there are a lot of us. There’s no danger,” Baboucar had said. Yaya snorted impatiently, and said he had no desire to skirmish with some thug. Then he suggested they take a look around the factory with the smokestacks, which was farther away from the station, so they set off and started back up along the railroad. There were some disreputable looking characters on the doorsteps of the Pakistani shops and Western Unions, in fact, mostly Italians and Maghrebis with a beer in hand and hostile looks. Men but also a few women, and when the markets ended and a thin African girl in a short fuchsia dress stationed at the corner of a low building smiled at him, Yaya thought that this time too they would manage to get by. Everyone noticed the girl, except Ousman. Baboucar had promised that he would let them have the battery charger as soon as they got to the bar, and now Ousman thought he could feel the weight of the dead phone at the bottom of his backpack, picture it exactly in between the sandy towel and the dry swim trunks.

“Is it oil?” Baboucar asked when they were three or four hundred yards from the refinery, but no one answered him. In five minutes they were close to the smokestacks. The sun had finally begun lowering behind them, and the six young men gazed at the distinct line of the sea. They sat next to one another, with their legs bent in front of them and their arms stretched out to the sides, palms in the coarse, dark sand, their shiny black skin constricted in the colorful clothing. Baboucar’s backpack and plastic bag were piled up a few yards away, near a boat, and all around them people had begun packing up to leave and go home for supper. An old fisherman, tanned to the bone, was sitting in a canvas camp chair opposite one of the microscopic little houses. From time to time a child of three or four would tiptoe towards him, blow a kind of raspberry and dart back under the sunshade stretched between two other buildings. The man had white hair and wore a very tiny pair of green swim briefs; his legs and arms were lean and sinewy, his big belly taut and hairless. Two long fishing rods lay resting quietly at his feet, like improbable retrievers weary after a day’s hunting. Baboucar took photographs of the sea and of the others, a few selfies with the factory and smokestacks in the background. Meanwhile he kept talking about the film, trying to call attention to the presence of the large refinery, saying that going to the sea had really been a good idea. Few were following him. Robert was, and at one point even went so far as to ask where all that oil could come from, but neither Baboucar nor Yaya nor anyone else knew the answer or cared to respond. Ousman was edgy. He could feel the sand in his socks, and the thought of the dead cell phone nagged him.

“If you ask me it’s okay to stay here tonight,” Baboucar finally said looking decisively at Yaya, who puffed out his cheeks and rubbed the back of his hand on his nose.

“Huh,” was all he grunted.

“Why huh?”

“Because huh. Maybe someplace not so close to the railroad might be better.”

“What place?”

“Um,” Yaya said. “I don’t know. I don’t know this area.”  

Ousman leaned forward and looked from one to the other. They were not far from the spot where the carabinieri had stopped him a few hours earlier.

“Maybe here we are in danger,” he said.

Yaya nodded, putting back on the shoe that he had taken off to get rid of a small sharp stone that had ended up under his heel.

“But there are many of us!” Baboucar said. “They’ll leave us alone. And besides, look over there. The station is far away. The Pakistanis and those kebabs too. Far away. They don’t come here.”

He, like the others, imagined little gangs of those junkies or North Africans in tank shirts who prowled the beach with a bottle in one hand and a knife in the other, ready to mug anyone they ran into, or to defend their turf come hell or high water. But he was genuinely convinced that they were in no danger. It was true, there were many of them, and each of them had been through all kinds of things. And it was also true that they were in the most out-of-the-way stretch of the beach. Beyond the railroad track the main road curved inland and disappeared among the fields and the outer fringes. He tried to explain his reasoning, and reinforced it by reminding them how short the night would be.

 “We come at midnight. Even later. At one. Then at six we have to wake up. It’s less than six hours. We can also not sleep. That is, take turns. I could stay awake. Almost the whole time. Until four. Then two hours, you, Yaya. Or you, Ousman.”

Robert nodded vigorously, and in very broken Italian offered to take a turn at standing watch. Baboucar thanked him, glad to have found an ally even though Robert was the small fry of the expedition.

“Trains will come by too,” Yaya said. “We won’t get any fucking sleep.”

Baboucar forced a laugh. Trains were not a good reason to complicate their lives by looking for better places. This was the best place. They had pictured it before leaving, and nothing had happened that could really make him question that decision. The warnings of the two carabinieri were not enough. Why should they trust them?

 “Um,” Ousman said at that point, “I don’t know. I don’t know, Baboucar. We’ll see.”

Baboucar took a deep breath, but decided that he would not let the day be ruined by a glitch like that. There were still many hours left before bedtime, and after the game the others would surely change their minds. Sleeping there was the simplest thing. When they’re tired and it’s dark, men want to go to sleep. And as close by as possible. The closer the better.

A few yards away, the fisherman had listened to their discussion, and seemed struck by it. Some minutes ago he had actually stood up and moved closer, staring at the sea with one foot resting on the boat, but paying full attention to them. The two Ivorians had noticed it, but didn’t much care about him. The only one of the others who had sensed something was Ousman, and he was now watching the man, curious and perplexed. The fisherman caught his eye, and at that point he decided to speak.

“Listen,” he said, addressing everyone and no one, “I’ll tell you where to sleep tonight.”

He stored the fishing poles and led them beyond the underpass, where Ousman once again admired the two time-worn posters of Lory. She was always there, who knows for how long, caught in the moment before starting to sing or going to fix her hair or taking off her dress and leaving her big pale breasts free to wink at whomever they wanted to. She was there to the indifference of everybody, now, because no one was interested in a concert that was years old, and no one knew anything about the things that Lory might instead have said to him, maybe singing, or asking him for a last dance. Ousman did not slow down, did not show any sign of interest, he saw what was enough for him and continued on behind the others, and when they came out to the road on the other side of the railroad tracks the fisherman, taking Baboucar under his arm, had gained a few yards on the trailing group of stragglers. He was wearing flip-flops, and had put on a short-sleeved shirt that flapped unbuttoned over his fat, muscular belly. Ousman couldn’t hear what they were saying very well, it was mostly the fisherman talking, but Baboucar occasionally answered or asked a question. They were both gesticulating, and from behind they looked like a couple of old friends who had met again after a long time.

It didn’t take long to get to where he had promised them. In one of the buildings on the left side of the road, braced between two wooden wicket doors, was a main door of metal and opaque glass; a plastic sign was affixed beside it, its inscription rendered illegible by time. The fisherman swung open the door, and they were immediately assailed by a strong musty odor. Dense dust particles drifted in the sunbeams that filtered through the door. One of the two Ivorians coughed. Yaya, smiling, pretended to grab hold of a sunbeam, and Ousman, who’d had the same temptation, offered him a fist bump as a sign of approval. The fisherman was already opening another door, and after a few seconds a neon light began flickering on the ceiling.

 “This is the place,” he said, indicating the room in which they found themselves with a half sweep of his arm. It was quite large and almost completely bare. Only one corner was occupied by a desk stacked with folders, next to which stood a black leather office chair with caster wheels. The man went quickly to the window behind it and hurriedly opened it. Beside the desk, on the wall, was a calendar from 2014, on the opposite wall hung a large reproduction of “The Fourth Estate” by Pellizza da Volpedo. That wall was also the only one to be completely covered with thin vertical laths of pale wood, separated by grooves slightly less than half their width. Beside the picture hung a dartboard in concentric black and yellow circles, with two darts stuck not far from the edge.

 

Translated from Italian by Anne Milano Appel. 

English translation © 2019 by Anne Milano Appel