A Church, a School, and a Rug Too Big for the Room

Between Good and Evil

While Rica was too cool for me in morning classes, in the afternoon she was stuck with me. Three times a week, Rica and I wandered the empty school building for two hours, while we waited for our gymnastics class to start. Quiet as mice, we walked barefoot or in our gymnastic slippers on the gelid granite floors of the long corridors of the dusty old building. Fuelled by the scary silence, and by the faint traces of all the children who had walked those corridors since the school's construction in the 1930's, our imaginations ran wild. As we walked, we invented stories, which gradually morphed into a new, imaginary world.


I can’t recall whether I believed in that world, which was dominated by magic and time traveling, or whether I simply pretended to. Deep down, I know I didn’t believe. As a child, I never believed in anything, not Santa Claus, not limbo, and not witchcraft. But now, as I recall those memories, there is nothing that helps me distinguish what really happened from what we had imagined, except my own judgment. Rica and I talked a lot about the coven we belonged to, descending from a long line of witches that had operated in secret in the school since the time of Mussolini. Although we lived in less repressive times, as with many before us, Rica and I could not share our magic with the world, because that would unleash a witch hunt. 




On one of those lonely afternoons, we were talking while leaning on the bathroom window on the first floor, from which we could see the facade of the building’s left wing, and the high relief sculpture—a woman with a harp—decorating it. I told Rica a story that my uncle had recently told me. When he used to go to school there, the head of one of the eagles that surveilled the entrance had fallen off, killing one of the kids. A witch probably did that.” Rica told me. “Do you think we could do something like that?” she asked. “If you close your eyes, I’m going to turn the head of the sculpture the other way.” I told her. “I don’t believe you. You’re too scared.” She told me, in her usual challenging tone. “Close your eyes”, I replied. “Rica, look! I did it!” I screamed a few seconds later. Rica was quite impressed, and so was I: for the first time, I had taken control of our fantasy, and she had allowed me to. 

“If you close your eyes, I’m going to turn the head of the sculpture the other way.”


Eventually, someone found us out roaming the empty corridors, and we were confined to the little changing room behind the gym, three square meters full of coats, backpacks, and the smell of sneakers. We had been imprisoned, and Rica decided that we needed to find a talisman that would have made us invisible, so that we could roam the corridors again. Our afternoons became fun again: while I watched from the door, terrified and excited, Rica searched pockets and bags, taking the other girls’ hairpins, necklaces, and watches. 

Obviously, our little gig didn’t last more than a few weeks. When the kids started noticing their things were missing, everyone knew who the thieves were. Interrogated by my parents and teachers, disappointment filling the empty classroom, I told the truth. I was only the lookout, while she stole things. Rica had asked me to do it. She pushed me into it, I said. Again, a new story to believe in. Having recently lost her father, Rica’s behaviour did not seem to come as a shock to the grownups. 

No one doubted me. I was a good kid.