Friday, 31 January 2014
IL TRENO HA FISCHIATO: UNA NOVELLA DI LUIGI PIRANDELLO English translation by Stefi - Thank you to those who took the time to review my drafts and share their valuable comments.
The train has whistled: a novella by Luigi Pirandello
Il treno ha fischiato: una novella di Luigi Pirandello
Novella pubblicata per la prima volta sul Corriere della Sera nel 1914
He was raving. Start of brain fever, the doctors said. And all his colleagues kept repeating it too, when walking back, in pairs or groups of three, from the mental hospital where they had just been to visit him. They seemed to enjoy announcing it, with scientific terms that they had just learned from the doctors, to some latecomers they met on their way back:
– Delirium, delirium.
– Brain fever.
And they wanted to appear afflicted, but deep inside they were so happy: they had fulfilled their duty. Enjoying their good health, they walked out that sad place and into the merry and clear winter morning.
– Will he die? Will he go crazy?
– Who knows?
– Dying, it doesn't seem the case...
– What does he say then? What does he say?
– The same thing over and over. He talks nonsense.. – Poor Belluca!
It didn't occur to any of them that, given the peculiar conditions in which unhappy Belluca had been living for so many years, his case could be absolutely natural. And that what Belluca said, which everyone considered delirium and a sign of craziness, could instead be the simple explanation of his natural case.
In reality, the fact that Belluca the night before had proudly gone against his boss, and that after being harshly reproached, he almost violently attacked him, gave good reason to believe that Belluca was actually experiencing some sort of mental alienation. And the reason for this being that no one could imagine a man more obedient and submissive, more disciplined and patient than Belluca. Slow... yes, who called him that? One of his colleagues at the office. Slow, poor Belluca, trapped within the restricted boundaries of his arid accounting tasks, with no other thoughts than single-entry accounting, double-entry accounting, cancellations, deductions, withdrawals and planning; notes, sales ledgers, stracciafogli* and so on. A walking filing cabinet; or rather, an old mule who quietly pulled his cart, always with the same pace, always down the same road, well equipped with blinders. Now, this mule had been whipped a hundred times, flogged with no pity, just for fun, just to see if he would somehow react, if he would at least prick up his ears, if he would show some intention to lift one foot to throw a kick. Nothing! He had peacefully taken all the unfair whippings and the cruel teasing, without even uttering a word, as if it was deserved, or rather as if he didn't even notice anymore, accustomed as he was, after so many years, to the continuous and solemn injustice of life. Really absurd was, therefore, his rebellion, if not the result of a sudden mental alienation. Even more so considering the fact that, the previous night, he actually deserved to be reproached; his boss indeed had the right to tell him off. In the morning, Belluca looked different when he went to the office, like a new man. And what's more – something as big as, let's say, a mountain collapsing – he came in a half hour late. His face seemed, all of a sudden, wider. It seemed that his blinders suddenly had fallen off him, and that life, in all its beauty, had all at once presented itself to him, suddenly, wide open, all around him. His ears seemed open all of a sudden, allowing him to hear, for the first time, new voices and sounds. That is how he went to the office, so happy, a vague happiness full of dizziness. And for the entire day he didn't get anything done. In the evening, Belluca's boss walked into his office, and looked at the books and the documents:
- So? What have you done the whole day? Belluca looked at him smiling, almost with an air of impudence, and showed his open hands.
- What does that mean?, his boss shouted out, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him – Ohi, Belluca!
- Nothing, Belluca replied with that half impudent, half imbecile smile on his face
– The train, Sir.
- The train? What train?
- It whistled.
- What the hell are you talking about?
- Last night, Sir. It whistled. I heard it whistle …
- The train?
- Yes Sir. And if only you knew where it took me! To Siberia …. or, or … to the forests of Congo …. It takes just a second, Sir!
The other colleagues, when hearing the boss screaming furiously, went into the room and after hearing the way Belluca was talking, burst into laughter. At that point his boss – who must have been in a bad mood that night – annoyed by that laughter, became even more furious and started to beat the tame victim, after his cruel jokes. However, the victim reacted this time, causing great astonishment and terror in his colleagues, and inveighed against his boss, screaming out that nonsense of the train that had whistled, and that now, for God's sake, now that he heard the train whistle, he couldn't, nor wanted to be treated that way any longer. They forcefully grabbed him, tied him and dragged him to the mental hospital.
Even here, he kept talking about the train. He imitated the whistle. A very plaintive, concerned whistle, far away in the night. And right after he added: - We are leaving, we are leaving gentlemen, where to? Where to? And he looked at everyone with eyes that were no longer his. Those eyes, usually gloomy and dull, were now smiling and shiny like those of a child or of a happy man; and illogical phrases came out of his mouth. Absurd things; odd and poetic expressions, full of imagery, which caused even more astonishment as nobody could explain how, or thanks to what great miracle, such expressions would come out of his mouth, that of a man who had until then only handled numbers, books and catalogues, and who was blind and deaf to life: an accounting machine. Now he talked about blue peaks of snowy mountains, rising in the sky; he talked about slimy cetaceans that, on the ocean floor, would draw a comma with their tails. Things, again, unheard of. The person who came to tell me all this, together with the novelty of the mental alienation, was however disconcerted by the fact that I showed no astonishment, in fact not even the slightest surprise. In fact I kept silent when I heard the story. And my silence was full of grief. I shook my head, and with the corners of my mouth pointed down, I said bitterly: - Gentlemen, Belluca is not crazy. You can rest assured he is not crazy. Something must have happened to him; something very natural. Nobody can explain why because nobody knows well enough how this man has lived so far. I do know, and I am certain that I will be able to find a very natural explanation for all this, after seeing him and talking to him.
While walking to the hospital where poor Belluca had been taken, I kept reflecting to myself: “To a man that has lived like Belluca so far, in other words an “impossible” life, the most obvious thing, the
most ordinary incident, any unforeseen slight obstacle, let's say for example a rock on the road, may produce extraordinary effects, which nobody can explain unless they consider his “impossible” life. That's where the explanation lies, attached to those impossible life conditions, and that's how all becomes clear and simple. Those who only see the tail, without taking into account the monster to which it belongs, may see it as very monstrous in itself. But we have to reattach it to the monster; and then it will not appear as monstrous anymore, but just as it should be, as it is part of that monster. “A very natural tail”.
I had never seen a man live like Belluca. I was his neighbour, and not just me, but all the other neighbours also asked themselves how a man could endure that kind of life. Three blind women lived with him, the wife, the mother in law and the sister of the mother in law: these last two, very old, had cataract; the other one, the wife, did not have cataract, but was just plain blind; walled eyelids. All three of them wanted to be served. They screamed all day long because nobody served them. The two daughters were widows, and moved back to the house after their husbands died; one had four children and the other three; they didn't have the time nor the desire to look after the two old women; at most they helped their mother from time to time. With the little income of his accounting job, how could Belluca feed all those mouths? He brought home work for the evening: copying documents. He copied and copied while hearing the wild screaming of those five women and those seven children until they, all twelve of them, finally went to sleep in the only three beds available in the house. Large beds, double beds; but three. Violent fights, chasing, knocked over furniture, broken dishes, crying, screaming, tumbling around, because some of the children would jump into the blind old women's bed; they slept in a separate bed and every night they fought because none of the three wanted to sleep in the middle and she would resist when her turn came. The house was quiet eventually and Belluca went on copying until late at night, until the pen fell off his hand and his eyes closed by themselves. He then threw himself, often dressed, on the old broken couch and immediately fell into a deep sleep, from which every morning he woke up with difficulty, more dazed than ever.
Well, gentlemen: something very natural had happened to Belluca, given his conditions. When I went to visit him at the hospital, he told me himself, word for word. He was still a little overexcited, but in a very natural way, about what happened to him. He laughed at the doctors, nurses and colleagues who thought him crazy.
- I wish!, he said. - I wish!
Gentlemen, Belluca had forgotten, for many many years, that the world existed. Engrossed in the continuous torment of his wretched existence, absorbed all day in doing calculations at the office, without ever taking a breath, like a blindfolded beast wearing a yoke and moving around a well or a mill, yes sirs, he had forgotten for many many years – actually forgotten – that the world existed.
Two nights before, when feeling exhausted he threw himself on that broken couch, maybe due to excessive tiredness, he couldn't, unusually, sleep right away. And all of a sudden, in the profound silence of the night, he heard a train whistle from afar. He felt his ears, after so many years and who knows how, suddenly open. The whistle of that train had torn and taken away the misery of all his horrible anguish, and almost from an uncovered tomb, he had found himself moving around gasping, in the airy emptiness of the world that had just opened wide for him, enormous, all around. He had instinctively grabbed the covers that every night he threw on himself, and let his thoughts run after that train driving off in the night. It was there! It was there, out of that horrendous house, far from all his angst, the world was there, a lot of world, far away, the train was going there... Firenze, Bologna, Torino, Venezia … many cities, where he had been as a young man and that surely were still bright and shiny that night on earth. Yes, he knew what kind of life people lived there! The same life that he too had led once! And that life was still there, it had never stopped, while he was here attached to a yoke like a blindfolded beast. He had forgotten about it! The world was closed for him, in the torment of his house, in the arid and prickly pettiness of his accounting job … But now the world was violently pouring in, into his spirit. When the moment came for him, here, in his prison, an electrical thrill ran all over the world, and he could follow it with his suddenly awakened imagination, yes, he could follow it to cities known and unknown, lands, mountains, forests, oceans... This thrill itself and this pulse of time existed. While he was living his “impossible” life here, many many millions of men on earth lived differently. Now, in the very same moment he was suffering here, there were solitary snowy mountains raising their blue peaks to the nocturnal sky … Yes, yes, he could see them, he could see them, he could see them vividly… there were oceans … forests … And now that the world had entered his spirit again, now he felt somehow comforted! Yes, abandoning, from time to time, his torment to take a breath of fresh air into the world with his imagination. That's all he needed! Naturally, the first day he exaggerated. He was drunk. All the world, inside, all the once: a catastrophe. He would gradually recompose himself. He still felt inebriated from too much air. After recomposing himself completely, he would apologize with his boss and he would start again his accounting tasks. Only now his boss shouldn't expect too much from him, as he did in the past: from time to time, he should grant him, between registering one document and the other, a quick trip to, yes, Siberia … or, or … to the forests of Congo: - It takes just a second, Sir, now that the train has whistled …
- The end -
* needs more research.