This week’s edition to our Olympia Extracts is a very special one, we’re going to show you an entire chapter of Gino Marchiori’s The Boy With Golden Wings, we hope you enjoy!  









He was different from the other boys because he was the poorest. His family was also the poorest in the area where he was born. Being poor was not a crime, especially in those days when rich people were an oddity to look at with awe and suspicion. Although he was born in the same year when Adolf Hitler visited Italy for the first time, his parents seemed unconcerned by what some people considered a great historic event; instead they worried about food, and above all milk with which to feed their latest offspring. His father, Andrea Moretti, tall, lean, with a short moustache, exactly like Hitler’s, had been a farmhand since his late father had lost their property because of huge debts. He knew almost everything about farming, and how to raise domestic animals and to apply the right amount of manure to the right crops. But his farming skills and knowledge proved to be useless against the harsh reality that he owned no land, and that even the old stone house he shared with his wife and children belonged to the farmer for whom he worked part-time in exchange forfree rent.

His two older brothers and two sisters did not earn a steady income either. They all worked part-time as labourers for anyone willing to hire them for low and casual payment. Only his sister Irene, who washed and scrubbed for a doctor’s family in the nearby town, brought home some money and the occasional parcel of food, the latter being a gesture of sympathy or pity from the doctor’s wife. The milk the family drank was heavily diluted with water obtained from a fountain nearly a kilometre away from the Moretti’s house. But in winter the water running through the copper pipe turned into ice, and so Signora Moretti was forced to melt the snow in a bucket before using it for cooking and other household necessities.

The small house had no toilet or bathroom. A large and

round wooden container served as a bath for anyone eager to clean himself. Only Signora Moretti, her two daughters and Marco, the latest new member of the family, used it regularly.

The staple diet for the entire family was polenta, maize mixed with boiling water; meat or poultry were unknown, and only on rare occasions Andrea Moretti was given some eggs by the farmers he worked for. Fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, were plentiful; not because they were bought or given freely, but because his two older brothers stole tfrom the farms in the area.The thefts were usually carried out during moonless nights, or when it rained; none of the boys felt guilty about it, though they had to lie to their mother, who, although incredulous and suspicious of her sons’ veracity, could not prove otherwise.

Unlike many other children, Marco was born in the middle of winter and in the middle of the night; outside it was snowing, and the chilly wind blowing down from the nearby mountains easily penetrated through the numerous holes of the uneven laid stonewalls of the house. The hospital was too far away and, besides, there was no means of transport to reach it. Signora Moretti and his daughter Irene had spread some clothes on the stony kitchen floor to facilitate the birth of the new baby. The clothes resembled rags, and before using them Irene had checked thoroughly that they were not infested with lice. Despite several attempts to get rid of them, one of which was to shake violently the mattresses and shabby blankets out in the open, lice and fleas were abundant and their numbers seemed to increase with time. Only in winter there was an illusory break, perhaps because of the cold weather which made them lethargic and slowed their movements. Nevertheless, Signora Moretti and Irene kept a constant vigil, examining regularly the hair and clothes of each member of the family. At times Irene got angry and fed up, realising that those indestructible insects were sucking the blood of poor and defenceless people. And nobody, least of all the local City Council, seemed to care about it. When Signora Moretti lay supine on the cold stony floor, her distorted face expressing pain and agony, waiting anxiously for the arrival of the new baby, she smiled patiently at her daughter’s remark that probably the new brother or sister would be born with a strong backache.

Marco’s arrival into a strange and unforgiving world, though supported by his parents’ and sisters’ affection, coincided with a heavier snowfall than usual. It snowed for days and weeks, forcing the Moretti family to use up the heap of potatoes stored in a corner of the kitchen floor. Luckily for the baby, his mother’s breasts provided him with sufficient milk which otherwise was impossible to obtain during those harsh and cold days, when the entire countryside was covered with a metre of snow and the dense, grey sky promised more to come. But he caught a cold which developed into pneumonia.

At the beginning his intermittent cough and sneezing appeared to be innocuous, and Signora Moretti tried to keep the baby warm with anything she could find in the house, including her own woollen jumper; but when she became increasingly worried, her husband, though it was in the middle of the night and the snow was still falling, decided to walk to see the only doctor in town, a mere six kilometres away.

The doctor, an ex-army officer, wearing an army overcoat and carrying a briefcase, made his way through the snow with Signor Moretti and they arrived at the house early in the morning. Knowing the Moretti family’s plight, and being a practical and compassionate man, he carried some medicines in his briefcase which he gave to Signora Moretti to administer to the baby. He also told them to contact him immediately if Marco’s condition did not improve within twenty-four hours.

Doctor Bertollini was one of the few doctors that the Moretti family would trust and remember with deep gratitude in the years ahead.

Marco’s condition deteriorated before it improved. Signor Moretti collected some snow outside and applied it to his son’s forehead when the latter’s temperature rose. Then one of his sons, Guido, unexpectedly brought home some bottles of milk which he said had been given to him by a sympathetic grocer in town.

He couldn’t remember his name, nor his address, and this made his parents suspicious about it being a gift. A few days later, Guido told his sister that he had stolen the milk. Both Irene and Maria nearly killed herself laughing.

Spring and summer brought some respite to the Moretti’s problems. Although it was low paid, casual work became available on small farms throughout the area, and food became less scarce on the Moretti’s kitchen table. But the family’s general economic situation remained unchanged.

Watching his family suffer abject poverty, and realising that things would not improve unless something drastic was done, Guido decided to enlist in the army, nearly two years before he would be called to do so. He thought that at least he would be fed and clothed, and given a steady income with which he could help his family.

Irene was the first to think that her brother had gone crazy. While she agreed that the military was necessary to defend the country, she had never thought her brother, wilful and independent, and intolerant to any restrictions to personal freedom, would be able to cope with rules and discipline enforced in the army.

You’ll be lost there. You’ll last only a few weeks. Then you’ll drop your army uniform and return home,” she predicted, laughing. Her mother, holding baby Marco to her chest, watched the two with anxiety. She didn’t want her eldest son to leave home, though reluctantly she understood the main reason behind her son’s decision.

“At least I’ll have regular meals and a bed on which to sleep,” Guido said.

“Yes? You’ll become another of Mussolini’s tools to be used in his ambitious plans. A puppet, that’s what you will be,” Irene said, trying to remain serious.

“I will serve my country. I will never become a fascist."

“Poor naive boy,” his sister said, glancing at her mother. “They will make you swear allegiance to Mussolini and fascism. You won’t have a choice.”

“So, what’s wrong with fascism? Mussolini’s doing his best to make Italy great again, similar to ancient Rome.”

Irene’s smile turned to laughter.

“We’ll be great with no food and no toilet in the house, and countless lice and fleas devouring all of us. I’d never thought you would be so foolish and crazy.”

Their father, entering the house carrying a canvas bag full of corn flour, heard the conversation. After having placed the bag on the kitchen table, he kissed his wife and Marco before turning to his daughter.

“Guido’s old enough to make up his mind. Of course we’ll miss him very much. But I’m sure he’ll visit us as often as possible.”

“He’ll get killed if war breaks out,” Irene said.

“If they start a war, every one of us will run the risk of being killed,” her father said. He had taken the baby from his wife’s arms, and held him close to his face, smiling and looking into his eyes. His wife Vera was quick to adjust the light blanket wrapped around their son.

“But he will be the first to die,” Irene insisted, visibly annoyed by her parents’ lack of concern. Signora Moretti approached her daughter and put her arm around her shoulders, a big smile on her tired face.

“Don’t worry, dear. Guido knows what he’s doing. We’ll pray that God will take care of him. I don’t think war will break out soon. Let’s hope we will be in North Africa by then.”

Guido looked at his father.

“Have you received any reply from the authorities to your application to migrate to North Africa?”

“We’ve received news just the other day,” Signor Moretti said, still holding Marco. He exchanged a secretive glance with his wife.

“Well, what did they say?” Guido asked.
“We’ll leave before next autumn, if everything goes well,” his father said. “They have the names of all the members of our family, including yours. I’d suggest you think twice before joining the army. You might miss the opportunity of going to a place where it’s summer all the time.”

“And where the poor Arabs are treated like slaves,” Irene remarked.

“Those Arabs you mention are better off than us,” her father said. Sometimes his daughter’s volatile and rebellious character tested his patience to the limit. He felt certain that he had made the right decision to apply to migrate to Libya with his whole family. It was an Italian colony, and the Italian government encouraged young families to migrate there and start a new life. Large portions of land and new houses were awaiting the new settlers; what they would be asked to do was to cultivate the land and produce wheat, corn, and other essential crops to be exported to Italy. Signor Moretti, who until then had been employed by other farmers, could hardly wait to work his own land.

“How do you know that they are better off than us,” Irene said stubbornly. She could not understand why her parents, and particularly her father, refused to acknowledge that their economic situation was one of the worst that anyone could imagine. They lived in a rented, small, dilapidated house, with some shabby and worthless pieces of furniture, with no assets to their names and no regular income, let alone insurance which was totally unknown to them.

Without a formal education and no skills, they were among the poorest and disadvantaged people in the country. Still, they naively believed that their poverty was not so bad when compared to others’.

Irene, outraged by what she considered her parents’ complacency and stupidity, wanted to scream and, in extreme cases, hit their heads with something hard until reality and common sense prevailed.

“Don’t forget that Jesus, too, was born poor,” Irene’s mother humbly commented, her perennial smile accompanying her humble statement. The girl closed her eyes and clenched her fists. For a few moments she imagined to be surrounded by some dumb people who didn’t know what was really happening around them.

“I’ve heard this story of Jesus a thousand times. It has nothing to do with us. You don’t want to live and die like Jesus, do you? It seems to me that’s what you want to do. But please, don’t expect your children to follow you.”

The sound of Guido’s laughter reverberated through the stony walls of the house. His sister’s dry sense of humour, and her no-nonsense approach to life, never failed to ignite a smile or laughter in him. Even their mother’s smile got wider, while Signor Moretti tried to focus his attention on his little son who, staring gleefully at his father, was still unaware of the world’s complex problems.

“Well, how about forgetting the army and coming to North Africa with us?” he asked his senior son. Guido remained pensive for a while.

“That’s a deal. But once we’re settled over there, don’t expect me not to become a soldier.”

Irene shook her head, gazing at her brother as if she felt sorry for him.

“First he wants to see North Africa; then, after soaking up a bit of sunshine, he will become another of Mussolini’s puppets. Trust this lanky young man.”

Both father and mother laughed at their daughter’s remark. Only Marco, lying placidly in his father’s arms, remained silent and perplexed with childish innocence.




If you liked what you saw, why not get yourself a copy of Gino’s book, here!