LOPHIUS - A Miner's Luck

One moment, please, and I’ll remove these leaves. They are dangerous on this place, one may easily slip over them.. Are you from here? German? Do you like Germans? I don’t. I like the Russians. My brother perished in Russia. Taken along by the Germans to fight the Russians. But I’ve never blamed the Russians or the communists. Never believed those fairy tales of them eating children, as you were told here.

I have been in a German camp for war prisoners; I came back in ’45. No work, no money. I did some gardening here, on my land. One day a carabiniere passed along the path. I wore parts of my soldier’s uniform: shoes, leggings, trousers.
- ‘Follow me, please,’ he said. I said: - ‘You go ahead, I’ll follow in a moment’, as I didn’t want to give him the impression that he could order me around. - ‘All right’, he said. We arrived at the barracks. He opened a door that opened unto a staircase. On top of the stairs stood the corporal.
- ‘What’s the matter?’ he said. - ‘He wears army clothes’, said the carabiniere. In front of the end of the the stairs there was a room and in there the sergeant was sitting behind his desk. - ‘What is the matter?’ he said. - ‘Somebody working in uniform’, said the corporal. - ‘Undress and detain’, said the sergeant.
They undressed me and threw me into a cell. I stuck my head through the bars and shouted that this was no way to treat a honest man. To give me back my clothes, they couldn’t treat anybody like that. That I had just come back from the war and had nothing, no shoes, no food, nothing. I had a wife and children. I got married during the war, in 1943.

An uncle of mine happened to pass by the barracks, in order to renew his hunting licence. And he heard me.
- ‘Who’s that? It’s Ignazio! What is going on?’ He went up to the sergeant and ordered him to release me. The sergeant said that I had made impropriate use of state properties and that it was none of his business and that he had to be off. My uncle went immediately to a lawyer, a good friend of his who happened to be in the village at that very moment. The lawyer called a lieutenant he knew.
- ‘What?’ said the lieutenant, - ‘Why, that’s absurd. This man is still in service, he is on extraordinary leave and he is obliged to wear his uniform.’
I was released at once and the sergeant was transferred, he had to go away from here.

I once had to do with a Dutchman. An engineer who worked in the mines. No, not in your parts. Here, in Sardinia, in Carbonia.

There was no work, nothing to eat, hunger. The harvests had failed that year. In ’46, that was. I went to Carbonia, to the mines. Maybe I could find work there. I stayed with a friend. That friend was godfather to a son of an administrator of the mines and he had said that he was able to find me a job. But when they met the administrator said: - ‘You may ask me anything except work. You have seen how many jobless are around, every day there is a long line of them behind the door. As for work, I can do nothing for you, they watch everything I do.’ So that friend of mine comes home and says: - ‘You may stay here as long as you want, eat, drink, sleep, everything, but I can’t get you a job.’

My friend didn’t live in Carbonia, but in a neighbouring village. In the morning there was a bus going to the town and in the evening one coming back. His wife made me a good breakfast and I take the bus to the town. The market square was full of people looking for a job. I ask somebody where I can find the employment office. Employment office? There is none. To get a job you have to go to the Chamber of Commerce. I go to the Chamber of Commerce. An endless row of jobless. And you had to show your insurance card, which I had left at my friend’s home.
I accost someone on the market square and ask him where the director lives. - The director? Which director? There are so many directors. But they all live there-and-there. He accompanies me to the neighbourhood where the directors live. I thought, if I manage to speak to the wife of one of the directors, I'll explain her my circumstances. I enter the garden of one of those villas, but find someone on my way, a man who was pruning roses on his knees. A rather stupid sight it was. I stood behind him. At a given moment he looks up and sees me and starts to yell at me. What do I want, I have no right to be there, off with me, away, away! I look up. There was a willow-tree there, not a willow like that one, but one with drooping branches, a weeping willow. I look at that tree and I look at him again, wistfully. - ‘Actually I had come to hang myself from that tree’ I say. - ‘What? Hang? No, you mustn’t do that, are you crazy!’ I tell him that I’ve been in the war and out of a job for half a year now, that I haven’t eaten for three days and that I left 200 lire for my wife and children, my last money. He takes me to his house, which was in that garden, and he pours me from a saucepan that was there. It was vegetable soup of the day before, rancid, uneatable. - ‘No’, I say, - ‘I can’t eat that after having fasted for so long. The only thing I can support now are injections with nutrients.’

He’s off for a moment and I am sitting there, in that cabin, and I hear a woman calling ‘Emilio, Emilio’. The director’s wife. She’s calling for the gardener. I go outside. - ‘What is the matter? Emilio is off for a moment, but maybe I can help?’ She told me that a rabbit had escaped from its cage. I looked around and saw it. It wasn’t a normal rabbit, it was a Flemish type: white with a fat head. I get the animal by its ears and put it back into its cage. In the meantime the gardener arrives. He seemed rather surprised by my initiative. - ‘Who is that man?’ says the director’s wife and I hear them whispering. - ‘He was about to hang himself from that tree..’ - ‘No!’ exclaims the lady, - ‘Don’t do that!’ She takes me to her kitchen and gives me to eat. She also gives me half a glass of wine. - ‘Come back at half past two, three o’ clock, I will have talked with my husband by then.’ I return at half past two. The director is already gone, but he has left a letter for me to show to the administration. There they read the letter and look surprised. I have been assumed right away, medical examination unnecessary. I go into the mine right away. I work eight hours and after that I go outside. I find a letter stuck on my clothes saying I have to go to the director immediately. I grab my head as I realise what’s happened. I have told the lady that it’s half a year that I am without a job, but my insurance card is only six days old. They’ve found out. I enter into the director’s office, my head still black with coal dust. But he hands me five thousand lire. Three thousand to transfer immediately to my wife and children, two thousand for my stay in Carbonia the next two weeks, as they cannot pay sooner than at the end of the month. It was halfway October.

When I came out of the mine I always went to help the gardener in the garden. After a while the garden looked wonderful, because I know how to do that job. And, of course, it was also important to do something in return for the director and his wife. I always carried this fear around that they would find out about the assurance card.

Also in the mine I took on all work I could lay my hands on. One miner had grown a liking for me and let me try his drill. You make four holes at one side of the coal layer and four at the other side. At first he held the drill at the back side, then he let me drill a hole on my own and in the end he made as if he was called away and let me do the whole job. - ‘Now you are able to do it’ he said when he came back.
One day that countryman of yours, the engineer, passed by. He saw me handling the drill. - ‘Come with me to my office’, he said. I followed him. - ‘Do you know that you are doing work you are not allowed to do?’ he said. - ‘You are a general worker, not a qualified miner.’ I was afraid he was going to fire me, but he was writing out a miner’s licence for me. - ‘If you do that work you must be paid for it’, he said.

After three months they found out about the insurance card. I was called to the director’s office. - ‘You said you were half a year without work, but your card says, etcetera.’ His wife was present too. Her face was a dark red. She stood behind me. I said:
- ‘Everything I told you was true, except for the six months I was without a job. In reality I remained eight years and a half without work, if we include the war.’
And the director took my hand and said: - ‘Man, can you talk.’