NIGHT OF THE CENTAUR FESTIVAL
With his lips puckered as if
he were whistling some sad song, Giovanni came walking toward town down
a slope that was a pitch black tunnel of thickly growing white cedars.
A single tall street lamp,
radiating a brilliant yet soft light, stood at the foot of the slope.
As he steadily made his way toward the lamp his shadow, which had been
trailing behind him like a lanky blurry murky ghost, be
came darker and more distinct, kicking up its legs and swinging its
arms until turning around to his side.
I'm a great
locomotive! I'm speeding up here because this is an incline. I'm going
to pass that lamppost any second now. Hey, now my shadow's the needle
of a compass. It's gone around in a circle and it's right in front of
That is what Giovanni was
thinking as he took giant steps beneath the street lamp. Just then
Zanelli, who had sniggered at him in class that day, came out of a dark
alleyway on the other side of the post. He was wearing a new shirt with
pointed collars, and he all but bumped into Giovanni as their paths
Giovanni wanted to say, 'Zanelli, are you going to the river to float
gourds?' But before he could get the words out, Zanelli yelled nastily
from behind, 'Giovanni'
s getting an otter coat from his father!'
Giovanni's heart suddenly
went cold and he heard a ringing in his ears coming from all around him.
'Who do you think you are,
Zanelli!' he screamed back. But Zanelli had already disappeared into a
house with a white cedar tree in front.
Why does he keep saying
those things when I haven't done anything to him? He looks just like a
rat when he runs away like that. He's so stupid, that's his problem!
Giovanni's mind was leaping
from one thing to another as he passed through town with all the houses
decorated in the most beautiful array of ornamented branches and lights.
The watchmaker's shop had a
bright fluorescent light in the window and an owl, made of stone, whose
red eyes rolled around every second. All kinds of jewels were piled on
a platter made of thick glass the colour of the sea. The platter
rotated, revolving the starlike jewels and bringing a copper centaur
around from the other side. Between the centaur and the jewels there
was a circular black map of the heavens decorated with green asparagus
Giovanni forgot himself in
the map of the heavens.
It was much much smaller than
the star chart that he had seen at school earlier that day. But with
this one all you had to do was to set the date and time by turning the
platter, and the sky for that night would appear in the oval opening.
The Milky Way ran straight through the middle...a smoky zone of white
stretching from one end to the other with what looked like vapours of
steam rising, as if after an explosion, from the bottom reaches.
Further into the shop stood a
small telescope on a glowing yellow tripod and behind that, on the back
wall, hung a big map depicting the entire sky in constellations of
bizarre beasts, snakes, fish and bottle shapes. Giovan
ni wondered if the sky was really so crammed with scorpions and brave
warriors and things, and he thought, standing there in a daze...
Ah, I'd like
nothing more than to travel inside there as far as a human could go!
Then suddenly he remembered
the milk for his mother and he walked away from the watchmaker's shop.
He went through town swinging
his arms and straining to swell up his chest on purpose, even though
the shoulders of his coat were pinching him.
The air was crystal clear,
flowing through the streets and past the shops as if it were water.
Street lamps were tucked away among the dark green branches of fir and
oak, and the six plane trees in front of the Electric Com
pany, decked inside, outside and everywhere with miniature light bulbs,
made the whole place look like the Court of the Mermaids under the sea.
All of the children, dressed
in freshly pressed kimonos, were whistling the tune of the rotating
stars or running about and shouting...
'O Centaurus, Let the Dew
As they happily played,
fireworks of blue magnesium burned in the sky.
But Giovanni, his head
drooping down, was far away from that lively atmosphere about him. He
hurried in the direction of the dairy.
He found himself on the edge
of town where countless poplar trees stood as if floating up into the
starry sky. He opened the darkened gate of the dairy and stopped by the
dusky kitchen which smelled of cows. He took off his cap, calling out...
But it looked quiet inside,
without a soul in sight.
'Good evening,' he called
loudly again, standing up very straight. 'Anybody home?'
After a while an old woman
shuffled out. She did not look well at all, and mumbled to herself,
'What d'ya want?'
'Um, we didn't get any milk
at my place today,' said Giovanni in a spirited voice, 'so I'm here to
The old woman scratched a
patch of skin under her red eye and looked down at Giovanni.
'No one around here now, and
I dunno. Come back tomorrow,' she said.
'But my mum's sick, so we
must have it by tonight.'
'Well, in that case come back
a little later.'
The old woman was almost gone
when Giovanni called out, 'A little later? ...well, thank you,' bowed
When Giovanni was about to
turn the corner into town he noticed six or seven boys in front of the
grocer's on the road to the bridge. Their black shapes mingled
strangely with their dimly glowing white shirts. They were eac
h carrying a lighted gourd lantern, whistling and laughing.
There was no mistaking those
whistles and laughs. They belonged to Giovanni's classmates. At first
Giovanni, startled, started to turn back, but then he changed his mind
and headed for the bridge with very sure strides.
'Going to the river?'
That's what he wanted to say,
but the words got stuck in his throat, and before he could say anything
at all, Zanelli hollered...
'Giovanni's getting an otter
Immediately everyone joined
'Giovanni's getting an otter
Giovanni, blushing to his
ears, started to walk. He was already past them when he noticed
Campanella standing tall among them. Campanella was keeping silent,
with a smile of soft compassion on his lips, no doubt worried that
Giovanni might take offense at the others' words.
Giovanni avoided Campanella's
gaze, and as he left his friend behind he heard the others break out in
their loud whistling again. He turned the corner, looking back at them
and saw Zanelli looking back too. Campanella, now whistling with all
his might, was disappearing into the milky-white haze surrounding the
Giovanni, overwhelmed by
sadness, began to run out of the blue, as all the little children, who
thought that Giovanni was just running for the fun of it, hopped about
on one leg, screaming, yelling and hooting with their hands over their
In an instant he found
himself hurrying toward a black hill.