During the break, after receiving his food, Enzo went to look for a place in the shadow so he could eat his food quietly. He saw Ruggiero, who was eating and sitting under a big three. Enzo looked at him, and was tempted to go and sit near him, but then he thought it would be a too cheeky thing to do, therefore he decided against it, although unwillingly.
But the young man gave him a greeting nod and said, "Are you looking for a place to sit?"
"Come here then, this place is big enough for the two of us," the young man said, patting on the grassy ground near him with his hand.
Enzo felt slightly thrilled, went near the corporal who repeated his gesture, inviting him to sit down. The boy sat down and smiled to express his gratitude. Ruggiero answered with a smile, and for a few seconds they looked at each other in silence.
"Your name is Enzo?" the young man asked.
"Yes, Vincenzo Rota, but everybody calls me Enzo."
"You are a very good worker, in spite of your young age," the corporal said. Enzo didn't answer, but was happy to hear the compliment.
"How old are you?" the young man asked him.
"Seventeen, ten years younger than you, sir."
"Ah, and how do you know my age?"
"My father told me that we were born in the same month, but ten years apart."
"What does you father do?"
"Nothing for now, since he fell ill. He was a farmhand, but now I am taking his place."
"And your mother?"
"Unhappily, not even one. Just my father and me, alone," the boy said with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
For a while, they ate in silence, but Enzo had the impression that the young man was looking at him, just an impression, because he didn't dare to look at his face. He looked at the man's shoes again.
So, after a while, he said, "You are wearing new shoes today."
"They are not new."
"But they were different from those you wore yesterday..." the boy noted.
"Well, I changed my suit and these shoes fit better with this one."
"Do you have a pair of shoes for each suit you have?" the boy asked, stupefied.
"Almost. You ever wear shoes?"
"No... they are too expensive and they are not necessary."
"You never wore them?"
"Just once, on the day of my First Communion, as Dad told me. Mom borrowed them along with the suit. I had a weird feeling, I felt like I was wearing a disguise, with those clothes on me that were not mine. Too beautiful. But I don't remember the shoes."
"I would have liked seeing you in that suit," the young man said with a broad smile.
"I looked ridiculous," Enzo answered, shaking his head.
"I don't think so. You are a handsome boy, and looking at you is a pleasure. With fine clothes, you for sure would look really nice."
"A handsome boy, me, sir? How can you say that?"
"Because you are."
"You are the first to tell me so, sir."
"I am sure your mother told you that."
"Who can remember? And then, as they say, even her filthy piglets are beautiful to the sow," Enzo said, and the young man laughed. Enzo loved Ruggiero's way of laughing and thought he must make him laugh more often.
Ruggiero said, "Last time, you compared yourself with a donkey, this time, with a piglet... what animal are you, really?"
Enzo was pleased that the man remembered their previous short conversation. "A sparrow," he answered.
"A sparrow? And why?"
"Because he lives off crumbs, and he is always merry."
"And are you merry?"
"Yes, sir, rather," he would have liked to add "and mainly because I'm sitting near you now" but he didn't dare. He liked very much staying there near that young man, handsome and elegant. "How was life in Palermo?" the boy asked.
"You preferred there than here, I bet, sir."
"Well, for some things, possibly yes. But I don't regret so much not being there."
"Were you engaged, sir? Did you have a girl there in Palermo?"
"No. I don't meddle with girls," the young man answered with a smile fluttering on his lips.
"But you are already of that age to start a family," the boy noted.
"My father always says so. And my mother also."
"And you, sir?"
"I let them say it. For the moment, I really don't feel like to halter myself."
"But sooner or later..."
"Later, as late as possible," Ruggiero jokingly answered, then asked, "What about you? Is there a girl making you sweet eyes?"
"Me? I'm still a boy. And then, who do you think can notice me? Moreover, girls are... too different."
"Ah, I see," the young man commented.
"Did you like to study, sir?" Enzo asked suddenly.
"I can't even read or write," the boy said.
"Would you have liked to study?"
"I don't know. I don't think so, but I don't know. One needs a good head to study. And then, of what use could it be for me? A farmhand has nothing to do with books and papers," Enzo concluded, shrugging his shoulders. "What did you do in your free time, in Palermo?"
"I went to coffee shops with my friends, or to theaters. I rode my horse, or went to swim... And you, how do you spend your free time?"
"Free time? I have very little of it, thank God. In the evenings I spend an hour at the village belvedere with my mates, before going to bed."
"And what you do there?"
"We just pass time. We chat a little, we pull each other legs, but in a friendly way, not in a bad way. Sometimes we just sit there in silence, just to be together, to not feel lonely."
"And what you talk about?"
"Well... about what's happening in our village, about girls, about... anything that we can think of at that moment."
"You don't seem so enthusiastic about going to the belvedere with your friends," the young man pointed out with a smile.
"Well, there is nothing better to do. Sometimes the ballad singer passes by our village, or the puppets theater comes and then we have some fun, but all the other days... But you rather, sir, how do you spend your free time here at the village?"
"I could answer as you did -- thank God I have very little of it. But I spend it reading, or going around on my horse."
"Don't you have any friends here, sir?"
"Not real friends. Not yet. Sometimes I go to Siracusa."
"Do you have friends there?"
"No, I know nobody. But it is a pleasant city, although it is not Palermo. I can amuse myself for a while, mainly when I feel too lonely."
"Do you feel lonely, you sir?" the boy asked with slight astonishment, looking at the young man's face.
Ruggiero smiled, "Yes, why? Are you amazed?"
"Well... I didn't think you could feel lonely, sir."
"And why not?"
"I don't know, but... I just didn't think it's possible. You seem serene."
"Yes, I am rather. I like talking with you," he then said, following who knows what thoughts.
Enzo was about to answer that he also liked that very much, but at that moment, the signal for the end of the break sounded and Ruggiero stood up. The boy quickly stood up also, and with a salutation nod to the corporal, went back to his work.
Although he continued to work with dedication, he just kept thinking about the short conversation he had with the young corporal. He was so close to him that he would have touched his body if he had just stretched out his hand a little. If only he could do it... but that was a forbidden dream. Nevertheless, he was happy that the corporal wanted to talk with him, and he also said "I like talking with you." Those words still echoed in his mind and gave him a sensation of warmth and great joy.
Ruggiero passed near the boy a couple of times and each time greeted him with a light smile. Also, when he paid Enzo, he had a smile that gave a great deal of pleasure to the boy.
Back at home, his father noticed that the boy was merry. "It was good today?" he asked.
"The new corporal is kind," Enzo joyfully answered.
"Kind? And why is he kind?"
"What do you mean why?" the boy asked, knitting his eyebrows.
"Corporals are never kind. They only care about your work and not wasting time."
"I don't waste time!"
"To them, you can never work enough. If you feel he is kind, beware, sooner or later you will be disappointed."
"They are not all the same, are they?" the boy said, somewhat annoyed by that judgment which he felt was gratuitous. Then he added, "You don't know him."
"You know one and you know them all. Sure, some are worse than others, but they are all skunks..."
"And I tell you he is not a skunk."
"You are young..."
"But he is not a skunk," the boy stubbornly repeated, and started to eat, determined not to let his father have the last word on that subject. The man shook his head but didn't insist.
He father went to the tavern, and Enzo went to the belvedere. The chats and the jokes of his mates seemed more boring than ever to him. It's also because he could not talk with the others about Ruggiero as he would have liked.
At a certain point, Alduzzo asked him, "Enzo, today during the break, what were you talking to the corporal?"
"What? Ah, nothing."
"You spent the entire break talking... and said nothing?" his friend insisted.
"We are here to talk also, to talk, and about what? About nothing..." Enzo quietly answered, hoping that his friend didn't insist.
"Well, we talk about girls, about work, about what's happening in our village or the rumors that go around..."
"That's that," Enzo said.
Ranuccio said, "Do you know, boys, I went to see don Rolando. He said he would think about it and let me know. He said he probably need a hardworking boy."
"Probably means no, don't deceive yourself," Alduzzo said, distracted from his curiosity.
"It is not so. Don Rolando is not the kind of guy who speaks in vain. If he said 'probably', then he meant 'probably' and not 'no'" Rosario said, then added, "I worked as a farmhand for don Rolando -- if it was a 'no', he wouldn't send someone to tell you, he would tell it to you straight. He is a real man, he is not a 'quacquaracqua'!"
Enzo was relieved that they had changed the subject and it was no longer about don Ruggiero. "Has he already bought the hotel in Aci?" he asked, trying to keep the subject alive.
"Not yet, but it seems that it is close. He said he would go to Aci again this morning," Ranuccio answered.
"Yes, I saw him leaving on his horse," Martino said.
"Hey, Luigi, did you bring the cigar and the matches?" Cesare asked.
"Ah yes, I almost forgot," the boy answered, taking out the cigar.
"Yeah, I bet you wanted to smoke it all by yourself!" Manuele retorted.
Luigi giggled, but lit the cigar, made a puff with an exaggeratedly voluptuous look, then passed it to Rosario. In an almost religious silence, the boys puffed and passed the cigar around. Only Manuel, after having inhaled his drag, started to cough, making funny grimaces. His eyes bulged and everybody laughed.
Enzo found that it had a horrible taste, but didn't say anything, afraid to be mocked, and passed it to Ranuccio.
After a while, they passed the cigar around a second time, but Manuele refused it, "How can you say it is good?" he asked with a funny look.
"The problem is that you are still a kid," Luigi retorted.
"A kid my fucking prick!" Manuele protested, "let me have your sister and then we will ask her afterwards if she thinks I am a kid!"
Everybody laughed, including Luigi, who then said, "What's that, you become inflamed so easily?"
"No, what becomes easily inflamed is his prick!" Manuele insinuated.
They continued to joke while finishing up the cigar.
At a certain point Manuele said to Alduzzo, "If you want to try my prick, just lower your breeches, and I'll push it all inside you!"
At that Alduzzo answered, "Eh no, the one who can screw me has not been born yet!"
Cesare immediately said, "Have faith, he will probably be born soon!" and everybody burst into laughter.
Enzo also laughed, but thought "who knows if the one who one day will take me is already born? Ah, if he was don Ruggiero!" and at this thought he became aroused. And he longed to be back at home, in his bed, to abandon himself again peacefully in his erotic fantasies.
When at last Rosario said he was going back home, Enzo also said goodbye to the others. From the tower came the chime of the bells -- it was eleven. Enzo would have liked to go back home even earlier, but he didn't like to be the first to leave, therefore he always waited for someone to say goodbye first, then he felt he was free to leave.
As usual, his father, who could sleep until late in the morning, was not home yet. Enzo thought about taking his mattress to the terrace on the roof so he could sleep in the cool air. He climbed the narrow stairway, and spread the mattress on the floor, trying to even out the vegetable horsehair that filled it. He stripped off and washed himself with the tub of water, trying as usual not to use too much of it, but enough to cool down and clean his body. Then he lay down. He looked at the sky -- it seemed like black velvet with a handful of diamonds spread on it. He watched the stars and the constellations, asking himself if someone ever did count them, if somebody knew how many there were.
Far away, a cricket's chirping seemed to lend a voice to the faint twinkling of the stars. Enzo thought that it was good to be up there, and that it would have been perfect if Ruggiero was lying near him. The boy felt fascinated about the young corporal, so different from the others, with that fleeting smile, so discrete that it always seemed to be under control, if it wasn't for his limpid laughter and penetrating glance.
The light breeze coming from the sea brushed his body and Enzo felt like he was in a state of grace. Who knows if Ruggiero would choose him again the next morning? Possibly yes, since he was a good worker. Moreover, he had the impression that the corporal liked him. "If only we didn't belong to two different worlds," the boy thought with a touch of sadness, "we could perhaps even become friends."
"Friends" -- there was something suggestive in that word that the boy was thinking, a word that was abusively used, and had no real meaning in most cases. Acquaintances, fellow, mates, all were called friends, and yet friendship was something different. Friendship, the real thing, is knowing each other, is familiarity, likeness, fraternization, mutual liking, intimacy, confidence, affection, devotion... it is giving each other heart and soul.
Enzo fell asleep, immersed in these thoughts, dreaming that Ruggiero's smile could be for him. "If I could have his friendship, even if it was just an unexpressed, secret friendship, it would be really beautiful," the boy thought while he was falling asleep sweetly.
The next morning, Enzo was awakened by the first ray of the sun. Anxious but joyful, he went to the square. He was the first to arrive this time. He leaned against the same tree with that indolent grace, characteristic of the youths his age, unconscious of the natural and fresh beauty of their bodies, no longer adolescent, but not fully virile yet.
Other farmhands started to come in small groups. Each of them had more or less a preferred place that he would occupy if it wasn't already taken by somebody who arrived earlier. The ones who arrived earlier, of course, got to choose the places they thought were the best, and nobody ever quarreled. Many preferred the steps in front of the Mother Church, which would open its gates for the morning Mass in a short while. By the time of the Mass, all the corporals would have already arrived and made their choices. It had always been like that.
As usual, Ruggiero was the first one to come. Passing in front of Enzo, he looked at him with his luminous eyes, and like on the previous mornings, he simply said, "Come!"
Enzo nodded happily. While he followed him towards the plantation, he noticed that he wore the same shoes as the day before, but different trousers. "Who knows how many suits and pairs of shoes he has?" the boy wondered. Ruggiero's family was not as rich as the master, but they certainly didn't have to worry about money, and the young man dressed with a moderate elegance.
Enzo worked hard all morning, waiting for the break with anticipation. When he heard the signal at last, he went to take his share of food and meanwhile he looked around with his eyes for the corporal, but was not able to find him. He then went to sit under the same tree as the day before, hoping that the young man would arrive. After a few minutes, Enzo saw him coming. He noticed that Ruggiero was looking at him with his usual light smile. The young man went near Enzo, who noticed that the slightly tight trousers of the man suggested what was packed between his legs. Enzo swallowed, half aroused.
Ruggiero greeted him then asked, "May I sit here?"
"You ask me that, sir?"
"You may want to be alone," the young man answered, looking at him with an interrogative expression.
"No, on the contrary, sir, I will be pleased if you sit here," the boy said, and felt he was blushing.
Ruggiero sat down and started to eat. "I am also pleased to be here with you. You are a good boy. It is a real pleasure to stay near you. And you are also so beautiful," Ruggiero said without looking at him, with a low voice.
Enzo looked at him, surprised and pleased all at once, "Beautiful... me?"
"Like sparrows, isn't it? A discrete beauty, but not a bit less appealing," the young man said, still without looking at him.
Enzo wanted to say that if there was someone really beautiful, that one was Ruggiero. But even if he had these words on the tip of his tongue, he was not able to utter them. He felt that these words would seem too intimate, too daring if they were said by him.
"I would like if we could become friends," Ruggiero said after a while.
"Friends..." the boy repeated, almost like an echo, feeling his heartbeat accelerate.
"To also meet out of work," the young man added.
"But you, sir... will you not feel ashamed to be seen around with me?"
"Ashamed? But why?"
"If I had better clothes... and then, I'm so much younger than you. And you are a gentleman, and I a poor devil."
"What would people say?"
"Do you care? I don't. And then I'll teach you to ride a horse..."
"A horse..." Enzo echoed, thinking that it was a funny thing to say while talking about what would people say of an eventual friendship between such different persons.
"Don't you want to be my friend?" Ruggiero asked, looking into his eyes with a serious and intense expression.
"I would like that, sir, but..." the boy answered with emotion.
"I don't have friends here, and you..."
"If I was ten years older..."
"What does that matter?"
"Or if I was dressed better..."
"What does that matter?" the young man insisted.
"And then... I am not even able to read and write."
Ruggiero laughed at this last statement, and in a while, Enzo also started to laugh. They started to eat without saying any more words. Enzo had his head and his heart in turmoil -- Ruggiero wanted to be his friend! It was like his dreams were becoming true and the boy was almost scared to believe it.
The end of the break signal sounded. Enzo stood up, "I've to get back to work," he said.
"So then?" Ruggiero asked, standing up.
"Thank you." The boy answered.
"Thank you... yes?" The young man asked, looking straight in his eyes.
"Thank you," the boy said again without adding anything more, and went quickly with his basket towards the row where he was working.
He would certainly have liked to say "Yes, thank you," but it seemed too beautiful to be real. What could someone like don Ruggiero find in someone like himself? Why did he offer him his friendship in that way? Couldn't he offer it to him without saying a word, simply by talking with him again during the breaks? He could not answer "yes", but he didn't want to answer "no" either, therefore, what could he say? Was it possible that the young man didn't understand that?
He worked, trying not to think about their short conversation, but he was not able to. At the end of the day, he passed by the corporal's table to get his pay. He was tense. When Ruggiero counted the coins, instead of putting them on the table and pushing them towards him as usual, he handed them to Enzo in his hand. Enzo hesitated for a moment, then stretched out his hand. Ruggiero put the coins in the boy's hand and brushed it with his fingertips. Enzo trembled slightly. "Can you wait for me for just a little while? We can walk a stretch of road together," the young man said. Enzo looked at him in surprise, but nodded.
He went out of the plantation and stopped at the gate, leaning against one of the bricks pillars. His mates, as they went out, nodded at him in greeting.
Martino stopped near him, "What are you doing here? Who are you waiting for?" he asked.
"The corporal. He said he had to talk to me."
"Ah, really? What's up, will they hire you permanently?" his friend asked with obvious envy.
"I don't know, I don't think so. Maybe rather, he doesn't like the way I do my job."
"Bullshit, you are one of the best, you gather more oranges than us. You'll see, it will be like I said. Well, good luck!" his mate said, waving goodbye with his hand, and went away.
Enzo looked at him leaving, and wondered what his mate would have said if he knew that the corporal offered him his friendship.
Finally, after the last farmhand left, Ruggiero came, leading his horse by the bridle. "Let's go," he simply said. They walked for a while, side by side, in silence. "So then?" suddenly the young man asked, continuing to walk.
"So then..." Enzo murmured, not knowing what else to say.
"Because of your clothes?" the young man asked.
"That also," Enzo answered.
"I can get you better ones."
"It would be odd, don't you think, sir?"
"But then, it's not just that."
"Our age, then?"
"Well, a little of everything."
They reached the crossroad where their ways parted. Ruggiero stopped his horse and sat down on the low wall. "Came here and sit. I want to understand," the young man said.
Enzo sat near him. He put his hands at his side on the low wall and swung his legs slightly back and forth. Ruggiero put his hand on that of the boy. Enzo became slightly stiff and stopped swinging his legs, but didn't withdraw his hand.
"I want to be your friend," the young man said with a low and warm voice, and the boy trembled. "Don't you?" Ruggiero asked him.
"Yes, sir, and very much!" Enzo murmured.
"Really?" Ruggiero asked.
"Yes, really," the boy said, feeling more and more moved, looking at the tips of his own feet.
Ruggiero's hand that was on top of his own moved, like in a light caress. "Friend... intimate friend?" the young man asked.
"Yes..." Enzo whispered with an almost imperceptible voice.
"Do you understand what I mean?" Ruggiero asked, intertwining his fingers with those of the boy while looking at him. Enzo blushed, but kept silent. "Do you understand?" the man insisted, squeezing the boy's hand.
Enzo slipped his hand away from the hold of the man, who stiffened and looked tensely at the boy. Enzo slowly put his hand on Ruggiero's thigh, without looking at him, and slowly moved it up, and up, until he reached the bulge between the man's legs and stopped there, cupping it. Then he raised his eyes to meet those of the young man, and with a shy but luminous glance, Enzo said: "Yes..." and caressed the incipient turgidity, but then quickly withdraw his hand, and blushing, he moved his glance away.
Enzo was feeling his heart beating so violently that he asked himself whether Ruggiero heard it also. "Enzo..." the young man said with a low and sweet voice that made the boy tremble more than if he had received an intimate caress.
"Yes?" Enzo whispered.
"I desire you, since the first time I saw you, on the square."
"Yes... but where? How? When?" Enzo asked with emotion.
"Come with me, now."
"I can't. My father is waiting for me."
"Then, after supper."
"If my friends don't see me at the belvedere, they'll start asking me questions. Don't you understand, sir, how difficult it is?"
"Yes, I understand it, but... and after you met your friends?"
"My father will be surprised to see me going back home later than usual. And I have to wake up early tomorrow morning, sir, you know that."
"I know a safe place. I'll wait for you at the crossroad to the cemetery."
"I'm somewhat scared."
"If somebody sees us."
"Not there. Will you come?"
"I don't know."
"At what time?"
"After the eleven o'clock chimes... perhaps."
"Why perhaps, Enzo? Tell me yes, please."
"I'm somewhat scared, sir, I told you."
"No, not of you, but..."
"Please?" the young man insisted with a sweet voice, caressing the boy's leg.
Enzo shuddered, then whispered, "At eleven 'o clock. I'll be there."
"Good. Now came on my horse, I'll take you home."
"No, it would be odd. But my father will ask me why I am so late. I need to find an excuse..."
"Tell him that you had to help me, some extra work. Come on, take these..." The young man said, handing him some coins.
"No, what for?" the boy said, tense and proud.
"For the extra work, to justify it, right?" Ruggiero said, forcing the boy to accept the coins.
"Ah, right..." the boy answered thoughtfully, accepting them at last.
Then he jumped down from the low wall and ran towards home. But after a few steps he stopped, turned towards the young man, who was standing still near his horse, and shouted, "I'll be there, my word!" and he resumed running, lightly and nimbly towards his house.