The curious events in this account refer to the city of Casteddu in the year 198_. Objections may be raised as to the need for such a detailed report, since the incidents have already received ample attention in banner headlines and newspaper articles throughout Europe and abroad. The narrator will moreover be accused of seizing the reader’s attention through no special merit of his own, making use of material which is by now of public domain. For these reasons, he feels it necessary to give his credentials and to reveal his role as that of the anonymous informer whose black briefcase was delivered to the judicial authorities handling the case, the contents of which were responsible for bringing the scandal to public knowledge.
Before the scandal, tourists knew Casteddu only as the southern port of a Mediterranean island where the big ferries from the continent dock each day across the street from the center of town. Seen from the sea, the skyline is dominated by the old city, with its heavy walls, towers, and cupolas, while the rest of the city nestles below it on lower hills. And though the city is well enough known on the Continent, it is not in itself a prime tourist attraction; rather, it is here, in the port of Casteddu, that the tourist draws his first breath of vacation, and it is here, on the deck of the ferry, that he feels again the comforting twinges of anxiety which permit him to return to his home.
Casteddu is the perfect doorkeeper of his vacation, mirroring without effort his expectations and delusions. The palm trees, agave plants, and hedges of prickly pears are all festive signs of the holiday to come. Even the pitifully dry flower beds with which the municipal authorities had hoped to embellish the city are a solace to him and seem to promise weeks of harsh and healing sun.
He will climb the 139 steps from Piazza Indipendenza to the top of the bastion, will gasp at the strange beauty of the city below him, the vicinity of the port’s brilliant waters, and he will be amazed that such a precious view is deserted by the inhabitants. A few palm trees, like late night, reluctant to leave dancers in an immense ballroom, and a couple of pale shadows like himself along the low wall of the bastion are the only signs of life. He will continue his climb toward the dark citadel, counting, as his guidebook recommends, the ancient cannonballs stuck in the wall of the Clinic. And, in the cool of the narrow streets of the labyrinthine old city, he will sniff the air eagerly for fish and urine, and listen with satisfied non-comprehension to the exotic, cackling sounds that emerge from the mouths of the women dressed in black who hang over their half doors to watch him pass. He will peer into their dim drawing rooms and feel momentarily disillusioned by the sight of a color television or a motorcycle resting against a lace-covered dresser, then immediately flatten himself into a doorway to let a careening automobile pass.
All is as it should be, he will think, before rushing to leave the city for his destination: a green shuttered, white villa on a cove of transparent, turquoise water. Before leaving, the visitor will note that Casteddu is a big city, and it is, if only superficially. Those who remain longer may observe, beneath the convulsive traffic and latest fashions, certain similarities in habits and outlooks between Casteddaius and their fellow islanders of the interior which lend an old-world quality to the city. The geographic setting of the island and the difficult means of transportation to the Continent have long been used to excuse or explain this peculiarity and, doubtlessly, there is some truth to it. Longtime residents tend to place the blame on the fact that two thirds of the inhabitants of the city are inlanders who have moved there over the last thirty years, abandoning their herds, olive and orange groves for the relative security of a vegetable stall at the market in Casteddu, or a place at the Ottanico Refinery on the outskirts, bringing with them an age-old hunger and diffidence for the ways of the world. And while these emigrants have changed the face of the city, they have not put down roots in it. Their roots are still fast in their inland hometown. “Home” is there, a refuge against future and probable dangers, and it is there they return in hard times, and to marry their daughters, celebrate their patron saint, and bury their dead. One is led to believe that they are present only physically in Casteddu, while their thoughts, hopes, and desires continue to haunt their hometowns. With all these new arrivals, Casteddu has become a large city, though more provincial perhaps than it was. It isn’t surprising, then, that a slow and easy rhythm dominates the city. Each day, towards two in the afternoon and nine in the evening, for reasons mysterious to the foreigner, the crowds dissolve from the streets. By common appointment, the entire city retires to eat and take its leisure. For the uninitiated, this severe rhythm lends a monstrous quality to Casteddu, as if a gigantic living creature, with one slow breath, had sucked the population up into his gut, to spit it out again at regular intervals. But for the Casteddaiu, this is the most precious of times, a private time of his own to use as he desires, one that he would not barter for all the conveniences of modern living.
Nor is it surprising, given the circumstances, that the prevalent state of mind of the inhabitants is boredom: boredom weighs on them heavier than the sultry July heat and cuts their vitality more surely than the cold, damp February wind. It is the small town boredom, that pleasant and universally remembered phenomenon which gives flavor to the little things in life. The effect brought about by the scandal, which thrust the sleeping city from one day to the next onto the stage of the world’s attention, is easy to imagine. The Casteddaius, or, rather, the islanders, since the two are inexorably entwined, were precipitated by the events into emotions of an intensity previously thought impossible. Their condemnation of the events and their acceptance of the unexpected notoriety were the source of a deep feeling of duplicity in them. For a moment, the complacent provincial city on the confines of Africa awakened from its lonely lethargy.
The partiality and sensationalism with which the press reported the events led to considerable public side-taking. While some qualified the “oneshot mass murderer”, as the protagonist came to be called, with adjectives reserved for common crime, others chose to see in his act a spontaneous heroism, an “explosion of justice”, as it was often called. To an eyewitness of the events, both of these points of view appeared senselessly unilateral and overly simplified. The narrator’s own dismay in the light of such contrasting opinions led him to the decision to reelaborate and complete his already dusty notes on the events and to give them a semblance of literary form to facilitate further discussion. The present account, compiled with an exacting and altruistic effort, is the result of this determination. It is the narrator’s hope that his effort will not go unheeded by the Casteddaius and that it will serve as a permanent reminder of those tragic events – so they will not be absorbed and forgotten by the islanders’ infinite capacity for pain and acceptance.