I lay on the hospital bed, while the cold wind buffets against the door, and the trees outside the back window shake so violently I can hear the branches crack through the thick pane of glass. But it's not the storm outside that is keeping me awake. It's the storm inside. The thought, the regrets, the memories. Francesco is still lying unconscious on the bed next to mine. And you're dead Zacharia; you, my best friend, are dead, and there's nothing I can do to bring you back. How could it happen? How could they murder you, right in front of my eyes? Why would they? Just because you were black? And, as I listen to the soothing bleeps and clicks of the hospital's machinery, it all comes back; all the memories. Sharp as the moonlit blade, overturning the morphine's dizziness. It started as a normal Saturday evening out with friends. We picked you up right after your long shift at the restaurant ended. You enjoyed working there. “It's my art,” you always said, smiling. “I can prepare a Heaven-worthy meal for the mortals”. And it also helped make ends meet for your family. “Next week it's my mother's birthday!” you said as soon as you got in the car. There was a certain glint in your eyes, the shiny energy of a million stars. “This time I want to impress her. It's her 50th birthday.” Francesco floored the accelerator, and the old Citrus jumped to life, letting out an unimpressive roar. “What do you want to buy her?” He asked. “I still don't know. I've been putting away all my savings for the last eight months. It has to be memorable, you know? We couldn't afford a decent present for the last five years.” “What about a robot vacuum cleaner?” I suggested. Bracing, cold air rushed in from the cracked windows, mussing up my hair, making me feel unstoppable. God, if I only knew. “It could be a nice idea. I'll talk about that to my sister.” And we dropped that conversation there. We were chatting and walking along via Pia to reach our favorite Pub when we heard the tires screech on the road, the loud thump of doors closing violently, some incomprehensible shouts. And then they were there before we could even make a move. “Il Branco” (The pack) as they are known in the city. All four of them, all bigger than us, all trained fighters. “Where are you going, rats?” They wanted to take revenge on Francesco for not paying them the money they had asked. One of them pushed him against a corner and started punching him. That's when you intervened. You threw your skinny body between those punches and your friend to defend him from getting mauled by those animals. And then you became their prey. They were raging with anger; incapable of grasping the strength and nobility of your soul. How dared a black son of immigrants stands in the way of four white, “strong”, Italian men? I could see the fury in their eyes, their deep desire to make other people suffer, and it was so inhumane that I felt completely terrified. The first punch landed on my face, throwing me to the ground. For a moment it felt like I was flying, and then – before I'd ever fallen – I vomited. The pavement was strangely warm to the touch, almost like a blanket, and for a bit, I couldn't think of anything else but the pain radiating from my head -- and then, the numbness spread all over my body as one of them repeatedly kicked me. Later on, the cops will ask me how much time I remained there, laying on the pavement, and I won't be able to answer them. All I know is that I was still on the ground, crouched in the fetal position when I heard it: your last cry. It was terrible. The physical pain was replaced by something far more raw. An agonizing sound that pulled at my insides, scarring my soul with sharp glass shards, making me want to stop existing. I stood up swaying, while the world around me pulsed slowly, like a giant heart. Shouts and screams filled the summer air, increasing the pain in my concussed head. As I staggered and stumbled over the pavement, barely avoiding another punch, I saw you. And I saw blood. You were in a pool of blood, unconscious, the clothes ripped off your tiny frame. I almost blacked out then. All I remember is the expression of pain in your eyes – the faith you had in humanity shattered by a pack of monsters. And I can't tell if I imagined it or not, but there was also a tiny glint of light and hope in those eyes, something unbreakable -- the last remainder of that million stars' energy. Maybe it was the light of someone who knows he lived and died as a hero. Thomas Edison's last words were: “It's very beautiful over there.” I don't know where it is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I'm sure it's beautiful. Note: I changed all the names for privacy concerns. As I finish writing this story, I can't stop crying. My keyboard is full of tears, but writing helped me unburden some of the pain. If you're looking at me, Zacharia, just know that I love you. Rest in peace, Angel. (20/10/1999–06/09/2020).
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