She ran. The screaming sirens terrorising her legs into motion. Every step a trauma. They all ran. Boys, girls. Lessons abandoned. Books, bags and reason thrown into chaos. All they could do was run. Breathing in short gasps, her lungs burnt with the effort of survival. Bile rising in her throat. The sound of the aeroplanes flying low over the village terrified her—she hated the noise, and the sirens seemed to whir in her ears long after the scream had stopped. She’d try to think of things other than the possibility of a bomb landing on her life and exploding it to smithereens. She couldn’t understand why Copparo, her home – barely on the map – was part of this great violence. No, in truth she didn’t want to know, or try to.  

Italy finally capitulated. Many sirens later: on 8 September, 1943. But the war was not over. Now, the Germans were rounding up her own people, men in the fields—brothers, fathers, to serve the call of the Führer. To serve in the war. She knew that there were camps just across the Adige, where prisoners were kept. She’d seen them. She’d seen the prisoners. Sometimes she’d wander out of her village with her friends, to play—as they did before the war. Her mamà didn’t like it but she missed her favourite places; the trees and shrubs, the smell of the sea from the nearby port that they didn’t go to much anymore. She wanted to be free.  

She’d beg mamà to let her stray out of the village and on some days, like Italy, her mother capitulated. She may not have done so if she knew about that one time.

She was walking with her friends, girlish giggles peeled through the air as they blushed and batted their eyelids in response to daring minds and dreaming hearts – “e ‘cosi’ affascinante” – when four soldiers popped out of nowhere, interrupting their easy laughter. She knew them to be soldiers because although they wore no uniform, their language was English. Not just soldiers—invaders! Eyelashes fluttered still and laughter quietened. The men were in conversation – “porto”, “Codigoro” – and hadn’t noticed her and her three friends; they quickly hid. Watching. Waiting. Neither did the soldiers see the man. She knew him. He was from her village. He, too, was hiding. Only he had a gun and it was pointed at the men. She wanted to tell him “No!” or maybe she should shout to the men to “run” but before she could make up her mind, the soldiers continued on their way, quickly, quietly—as if they had heard her silent plea.

She didn’t tell this to mamà. No. Then she wouldn’t be allowed to dream and her cheeks would remain pale, and her eyelids still.


Story inspired by Nonna (& the Zanin family storytellers)

Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.

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