In the small mountain village, people where only talking about one thing. Someone had returned to live in the little house in the woods. Marco and Luca swore they had seen it with their own eyes: the smoke was coming out of the old chimney, the rooms were lit up and a song was echoing throughout the forest. This small dwelling was located right next to one of the lowest mountain chains in the region, between the edge of the forest and the mountains: the echo was assured.
For all the boys in the village, it seemed impossible to think that anyone had ever lived there again. They used it in the evenings to meet, to bring their first girlfriends, to play hide-and-seek. The boys had even invented the ‘abandoned house game’. It was a test of courage that all the young men in the village would have to face: spending a whole night alone in the house. It was considered the test of the passage from adolescence to adulthood. If you did this you were no longer a boy, you were a man.
“Who could have come back to live there? The former owner? The madman?” Elena pondered as she looked quietly out the bus window. “Besides, who said he was crazy? The usual villagers. How I hate this place, these people who are so fake, so mean and who talk too much. If I have to tell the truth, I would really like to live in this little house”.
Sabrina got on the bus, smiled at everyone and, with her sharp eyes, she checked, commented, pitied and judged. Elena hoped she wouldn’t run into her. She had stopped a few metres away, had joined a group of young people who were shouting and the music was out loud. Suddenly, the music lowered and their voices filled the whole vehicle: they were talking about the little house in the woods: “The madman is back, yes, the crazy cuckold”. And everyone laughed loudly. “The old man wants to take away the pleasure house. I do not care, I am going anyway, so maybe I will catch his wife…”, “She wants to be with everyone except of her husband”. Some were laughing so hard that they had tears in their eyes. Elena got off, without even seeing which stop it was. “Better to walk alone than to be with these people,” she thought, smiling and waving at Sabrina, who was waving and blowing kisses at her from the bus. As she retraced her steps, she looked at the people, she saw them all so ugly, so busy with useless tasks, so sad not knowing true sadness. She empathized with them and hoped to find something interesting, but to her everything had become dull, meaningless and sad. She saw friends talking behind each other’s backs, renegades everywhere, couples who were not in love but still smiled. That was normal, she had been told, “you are young, so have fun!”. “Why should I do things to show others that I am happy, when I am not? So she had stopped. Marcello watched her from a distance. He had always been curious about this girl who was so different from the others: locked up in her own world, far from everything and everyone. Anyway, as usual, Elena did not even looked at him. At least he was sure of that. She opened her bag and checked that she had the book with her. “I am not going home. I want to go to my usual place”.
She looked up and saw Marcello, gave him a forced smile and turned around. Before going to the centre of the village, there was this little path that led into the woods. There was a smooth and huge stone rolled into the mountain years ago, near an oak tree. It was the “usual place”. She would lie there in her swimwear and would read for the whole afternoon. She often stayed until late in the evening, despite invitations and calls from her parents. But this time the stone was busy. A gentleman, a handsome man in his fifties, shirtless, was smoking a cigar while singing a song. Elena approached him with a determined step and asked, “Who are you? The man, whose name is said to be Gianni, raised his head slightly, then lowered it again and, after a long sigh, exclaimed: “I am the crazy cuckold”. Elena replied fearlessly: “Oh well, nice to meet you! I am the crazy old spinster”. Gianni looked at her: “You? An old spinster? You must be sixteen, if that is possible. “I am twenty”. And you, are you a spinster because you are crazy? “No, I am crazy because I am a spinster. “Then it is not so bad, if you think I am crazy because I am a cuckold! They burst out laughing. “Anyway, you must not think about these things, about what people in this little village think. You must have an open mind, you do not have to think about the village, you have to think about the world beyond this village. Elena was intrigued, “I already have my own world. Don’t you see it? Here it is! The girl took out her book. “As far as I am concerned, you can only hear my universe through the silence.” Silence. Suddenly, there was a song, or rather a melody, but it was very low. “It’s the radio in my house and… you know what? I’ll take you there, come on. I have to explain something to you. The two of them walked away, in total silence. Elena held the book in her right hand and Gianni looked up at the sky. As they approached the house, the volume of the music increased. And now that Elena was inside the house, she was already in love with it. Lots of books, lots: in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the storeroom. And then there were papers scattered everywhere: sheet music. “So it’s true that you’re crazy. “Oh yes, I am. He let her walk around the house, and he could see that her fingers, every time they touched a surface, kept time, tapped the rhythm on it. “Elena, come here. I have something important to tell you. Elena sat down next to the piano, Gianni sat in front of the instrument instead. “Now I’m going to tell you something. And you have to listen to me. Your world is literature. My world was Anita. We met in Africa. I had just left my wife. I was a broken man. We were living in the village, we had just got married when I discovered a whole series of betrayals that had taken place before my eyes, without my knowing it. Do you know who told me? Don’t you know? The villagers.
They thought I knew everything, since the betrayals had taken place before the wedding, they told me about it one day in the bar, joking. They were convinced that I knew about it but that I had forgiven him and we got married afterwards. I was devastated. You know that feeling of anger so strong, so heartbreaking that it turns into deep disappointment? When you come home and say nothing to her. Where you can’t find a single reason to sleep with her again, even for one night. So you know what I did? I did something crazy. I left the house. Without saying a word to anyone. I ran away that night. I didn’t even have any luggage with me. Just my papers. And I arrived at this little house in the woods, which belonged to my grandfather. At that time it was just a barn, I had never taken anyone there. I spent the night there. The next day I got on a plane and went to Africa. Is this possible? Yes, because as a doctor I had been there a few years ago for some experimental research we were doing in a village. But I never had time to get to know the people, because I was always in the clinic, studying, doing my research. I cried the whole way. Suddenly, when I landed, I saw this woman coming towards me. She was beautiful. I – I look at Elena – had never seen such beauty in her gestures, her smile, her eyes. But her strong point was her friendliness, a talent I had never considered important for a woman. She laughed, she always laughed in fun. And that’s how I fell in love, two days after I left home. I, my voice trembles when I talk about it, I have to thank for being a “crazy cuckold” because otherwise I wouldn’t have found Anita, I wouldn’t have found my Africa, where I come back every year, I wouldn’t have come back here, I wouldn’t have renovated the house to make it our little “home” after every mission. Elena, what I want to tell you is that it is important to have a world of your own, but it is also important to live in this world, to live it fully. Enjoy this life, you have the gift of observing it intelligently, with insight, with sincerity, with kindness. Always take a book with you, it’s true, but while you have it, go out and discover the world. There’s no point in resenting this place. Think of me. I should never have gone back. Instead, I made my home here and it was here that I took care of my Anita until she couldn’t breathe. And to the question that I know you will ask me: “So you will also rediscover the world”, I will tell you that I have already discovered and experienced it, after Anita’s death I went away for years, but now I have decided to return. The only thing that makes me feel good now is to be here reading, playing the piano and listening to Anita’s voice singing. She sings this song. Listen to her voice… But this kind of life is not for you yet. You have to look at things in a different way. You are smart, you are clever and you are crazy! You have everything you need. Go out, discover, learn and love. “Maybe I’m a bit of a wimp. “Not at all… you’re just young. Be aware of that and you’ll find everything there. With that, Gianni started to play, in rhythm with Anita’s songs. Elena took the notebook he had given her and read it by the door. It was Gianni’s travel diary from Africa. Just as she started to read, she saw a shadow approaching. “What are you doing here? It was Marcello. They had never spoken. Elena answered curiously: “The real question is what are you doing here? Gianni shouted without stopping: “Marcello, is that you? Elena, this is my nephew”. Elena’s eyes widened, Marcello didn’t understand much, but immediately asked: “Is that my uncle’s newspaper? But how come he never let me read it? Let me see, shall I? And with Anita’s voice and Gianni’s music, the two children sat down next to each other and started to read together, looking at each other from time to time, smiling. Ah, how crazy fate is.