White Nights at The Vatican

by Ersi Sotiropoulos

photography Daniel Area Wakahisa

Issue IX

I am the slave of love. This keeps me awake at night. When it all began, last summer, I was about to go away on holiday. It was a Friday, July 22nd, and till Monday noon I didn’t sleep a wink. During the heat-wave, every other night was a sleepless night. The holiday trip was cancelled and my friends shrugged and washed their hands of me. Though I didn’t realize it then, love was eating up tiredness. No trace of drowsiness. It came to the point where I slept about ten hours a week. I’d never felt better.

From the feast of the Assumption on I took to the streets. As soon as the lights appeared on the bridges of the Tiber, the love craze pulled me out of the house. Off I went, off to Trastevere, wandering for hours through the narrow streets, bored to death. I’d cross the Garibaldi Bridge once again, then I would walk round the ghetto, drink coffee in Piazza Navona. Leaving the piazza I’d tell myself I would never go back there. I didn’t go back there. Every spot I went to seemed to expel me, every night I chose another itinerary. Love pursued me uphill to Trinità dei Monti and at the same time sent me headlong downhill to Trajan’s Column. Breathless, I crossed to the other side of the street. I went back to the Tiber. Still sleepless, I ran all the way to Ara Pacis, I ran to the Baths of Caracalla.

When autumn came, the situation worsened. Insomnia became invincible, the streets of Rome couldn’t hold my love any more. So I moved to the Vatican. I rented a two-room apartment near a square called Santa Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci. It was supposed to have a good view of St.Peter’s from one of the windows. It is now November, and my life ploughs on, moving steadily against sleep.

So I live in the Vatican. Most of the tenants in this block are taxi drivers. Now my nights are entirely sleepless. I sit up in bed in the dark, staring at the lighted hall, and I count kisses. One, two, three, ten…twenty kisses. Kisses, kisses, I want more kisses. There are never enough. Some of them get lost somewhere along the walls. Others race incessantly or remain stuck to the electric bulb in the hall. Come back, come back to me, kisses … One is hiding behind the bathroom door. I take quick, short breaths. My lips have gone dry. It’s cold, when I moved here I forgot to pack any blankets. I press my back against the wall, I wrap myself up in the sheet like a mummy and wait. One by one the kisses come to me and die away. Kisses, kisses, I can’t have enough of them. When the bells of St. Peter’s ring for matins, I’m still there, frozen stiff, still counting. One thousand, one thousand two hundred kisses… Never enough. In the end they all come back and descend on me in a great rushing heap. A single night may hold as many as three thousand kisses.

On Sundays after the football match, there are fewer kisses. But if the whistle blows for a penalty, I have time to count up to twenty-five. The taxi drivers are crazy about football. When my sciatica bothers me, on those evenings with a fine invisible drizzle, with the damp rising from the Tiber and sticking to your skin, I go out and limp over to the “Cardinal Lualdi” bar. A coffee, a glass of water, a sweet roll, I mutter, and sink exhausted into a chair. The waiter has already turned away, he knows my order by heart. And that’s the end of it. Impatience gnaws at me, my nerves are in shreds, I want to get back home and count kisses. Before the tray with my order arrives, I fling some money on the table and get up with an effort. I run, I run, it’s begun to rain hard. How fast can a lame person run?

The other days are like today. I stay at home. Why should I go out? My leg no longer hurts. Time passes, and I make a note of how sweet slavery is, and how much I like kisses. I wait for the television anchorman to shut up. At eleven o’clock precisely the neighbors turn their sets off. At midnight I begin counting. All is quiet, very quiet. Not a sound is heard. The water is running in the bathtub. Every now and then the refrigerator motor starts humming. I miss you, I have been missing you. I miss the kisses. Many kisses, more kisses, innumerable kisses. My throat’s gone dry. I gulp in the dark. The water has filled up the tub.

translated from the Greek by Kay Cicellis


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