THE GIFT

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Short story from my volume "The Door and other extraordinary stories"

Although as a young child I had noticed what I first thought of as being one of my idiosyncrasies, I never minded it seriously until she told me. I met her in my second year at the university and she remained my girlfriend until graduation. Then she left. During my doctorate I had a different one, but there is no point talking about her here. In fact, there is no point talking about the first either, just for having a rather secondary role in what happened to me. And probably I wouldn’t have mentioned her, not even like this, if it wouldn’t have been for the last days.

Anyway, I can state without fear of being wrong that the first time I noticed the “happening” was when I was six years old. In fact I believe even my memories start not long before. It is true, I remember an unhappy event, but it is one of a kind, from when I was two years old, I had caught a cold and I had to be treated with injections. I was quite fed up with injections, I started getting them from the first year, but those – thank God – I don’t remember. I can almost see myself now, but it was as if I looked at myself from outside my body, I can see myself like in a movie, shivering, crying and refusing the injection. My parents tried to convince me, so did the nurse. Then grandpa got the idea to offer for him to have an injection as well, to make it easier for me. Now I start smiling, he fooled me so easy, grandpa and the nurse retiring for a few moments in the other room, saying when they came back: ready, it’s done. As I said, being a singular memory, which I probably cannot forget due to fear, I’m not going to consider it. There are, obviously, moments which I remember, from kindergarten, from playing, but none has any connection to “my case”.

Therefore, I come back, to the first one I realized as such. It was summer, a few days before I was six years old. I was playing in the courtyard; I was digging a small hole, with my toy-tools. Grandma saw me and she scolded me. I did not understand why. I wanted to make a pool for the sand villa I had built, anyway it didn’t have more than a few square centimeters and I didn’t see the harm in it. Grandma told me it is not good, because the hole means death. I will fill it with water to make it a pool, I told her, and I continued doing my stuff. Grandma gave up and left unhappy. After I filled the small hole with water, I stood there admiring my work. It was then when I first had the feeling of death, my death. I knew death, my grandpa’s from my mother’s side, a little while back, and that of so many domestic animals. I felt most sorry about the lambs, I used to leave their moist little noses to tickle my palm each year, when they would let me pat them, but it wasn’t until grandpa’s funeral that I saw the sadness in people’s hearts and the breaking of parting which death brings along. Until that day I never thought that I will also die.

For a child it is so unusual to think about death, that it, being so far, makes it absurd. But I, then, did not think of my death as being something material, something that will happen over seventy, eighty or one hundred years, but the concept itself. Then it happened… I felt I was lifting from my own body, ascending, watching myself play, floating, look there’s grandma, in the courtyard, there is the courtyard, the house, and neighboring houses, the entire city and the hills around it. I felt all these and, at the same time, I continued being myself, the child playing in the sand and building miniature pools. I don’t know how long this trip took, but I know I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was amazed, probably also scared, I did not know what exactly had happened. A few days afterwards, with the child-like strength to make everything into a story, I got to believe I had dreamt. And because it never happened again until the fourth grade, I completely forgot about it.

But, as it turned out, my nature had other plans. Many times I wondered what was – if any – the reason for us being alive as an intelligent and creative species. Of course I could just take it as it came, without posing existential questions, and enjoy it. Make no mistake, I enjoyed it every time I got the chance, I always tried to live fully, not to waste my time with insipid things, and if I did not succeed every time is because I too am just like you, like everybody else. Even though I’ve lived this experiences which, as I’ve heard, others have not, except for very rare and special occasions.

In the fourth grade, I was at school, during the big break. I remember school with pleasure, but I must admit that I was most found of the breaks. We were able to run as much as we could, and back then we could, during winter we used to have snow fights, we used to have the toboggan run, we slipped, we fell, we laughed. It was a beautiful late autumn day. I enjoyed every day with my colleagues. I would spend all summer at my grandparents, and so I was anxious about the first day of school, which gathered us all again. During the first three years of school we established solid friendships, many of which continued until high school graduation. I had a ball which I used to carelessly run after, and this was no longer the case during middle school, or high school, when football championships would start; I always participated, even though I wasn’t such a talent, like many of my colleagues, but my enjoyment and interest would drop, little by little, every year. Starting with the university, I gave up not only playing, but also watching football games, including those from TV, World Cup and so on, and I cannot say I could fully understand those who are so deep involved that they are willing to sacrifice themselves and others, especially others, for this so called “sport”, which is nothing else but a very profitable business. I would chase the ball and laugh. I used to experience it fully with honest enjoyment, which I would like to recapture and relieve at least once in a while. Then it happened again.

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