Little Anna squealed from the neighbouring apartment. “Piggie!” she said — I assumed she’d seen more wild boars roaming the empty streets. I couldn’t look for myself very easily: bound to a rolling chair, all I could see was a rooftop and the sky, blue and empty as ever.
I heard Lucia’s gentle voice admonishing her daughter. I thought to call out to Lucia — she was most of the conversation I could get nowadays, stuck in my little apartment, and I knew she didn’t get many opportunities for adult conversation either. But between her kid and our having to yell through the window, it wasn’t an ideal environment for conversation.
Their voices faded. They had probably retreated back into their apartment. And I was alone with my thoughts again. Alone with dark thoughts, and fear of death, and fear of the world’s end, and fear of being alone. Not that I wasn’t used to being confined alone — but there was a time when I might have friends visit. When I might go outside. When I wouldn’t be arrested taking a stroll around the neighbourhood, if not much farther.
I heard a cough through the walls, and my heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t tell if that was from Lucia’s apartment, or Matteo’s, or another neighbour’s. I worried, still. Not for myself — surely this disease had some earthly limits when it came to passing through walls? No, I worried for Lucia and little Anna, for Matteo who faced death to bring food and water to us all, for Matteo’s wife Nadia.
There was a time when we didn’t all fear to step out of doors. When the city did not fear a looming death as it slept.
I rolled up to the piano, and let my fingers find a chord. A D seventh, half-diminished. A tense chord. I let my voice find the key of C minor, and began improvising a sad, anxious tune. It was a necessary release.
As the sun began falling below the rooftops, I lit a few candles. I rolled one over to the window, and left it on the windowsill. Then I crossed myself, and said a prayer for the brave souls outside: the physicians, police, and clergy fighting for our citizens’ lives. The brave souls like Matteo who kept us alive and fed.
I opened my eyes and looked up at the sky. The darkness crept down through the orange glow, reminding me of death. All was quiet.
And a single voice rang out into the darkness, bouncing along the street. Bright, hopeful. A tune all of us knew so well.
And the singer hadn’t even gotten three words out before another voice joined him. And another. And I heard Lucia’s shutters swing open, and a moment later her voice joined the choir.
It was our city’s anthem: a celebration of the plaza at the intersection of the city’s districts, of the centuries-old fountain at its centre. Of the olive trees that had grown here, at the edge of the plaza, exactly one in each district. It was a song that brought us together.
I grabbed the window ledge and hauled myself up — not without difficulty, with legs that were all but dead weight. And I saw Paolo’s head sticking out his window, across the street, his voice ringing throughout the neighbourhood.
Even as death knocked at our doors, and we feared to step outside, it was a song that brought us together.
So I took a breath. And I projected my voice into the city.