I’m woken from my nap by a group of boys yelling as they race into the water. They splash around, pulling macho poses and making showy, unnecessary dives – the water’s only a foot deep and as smooth as oil. One of them, however, hesitates at the water’s edge. He’s paler than the rest of them, with the whiteness that comes from being out of the sunshine for a very long time. Even this redheaded English girl is browner than he is. He’s got a shaved head and wears baggy turquoise shorts, emphasising the thinness of his legs and the whiteness of his skin. Around his neck hangs a rosary. It’s made from fluorescent plastic. I look across at the other boys in the group. They’re all wearing them, too.
Further down the beach two men play beach tennis at the shoreline. They look to be in their early to mid-20s, fit and healthy. One of them, in turquoise speedoes, sports a traditional wooden rosary. They count as they bat the ball back and forth. … sette … otto … nove … ottanta! They don’t reach 81, as turquoise speedo guy is distracted by a small boy tripping over and takes his eye off the game for a moment. The ball drops into the water and the little boy darts into the sea with a gleeful shout. Turquoise speedo guy catches his arm to stop him from going too deep and chastises him gently. Little brother or son? Either way there’s a family bond.
The noisy boys in the water galumph out onto the shore, bantering and pushing each other as they do so. They charge back to their chosen spot on the beach, where a lone girl sits with a cool bag. It looks like she’s the girlfriend of the loudest, brashest boy. He’s wearing white speedoes and has a shaved head and a big, lolling grin on his face. He reaches for the girl’s hand as he approaches her, but she’s looking the other way and doesn’t notice him do it. Bravado punctured, his face falls and his arm drops to his side before he plucks up the courage to try again. This time she takes it gently, smiling at him as he strokes her hair. A moment later he’s back to being one of the lads, delving into the cool bag and grabbing the biggest sandwich with a triumphant cry. He peels back the endless layers of cling film, paper napkins and tin foil that some devoted Sicilian mamma has wrapped around her carefully crafted panino and then passes it to thin boy.
They look like brothers, with the same wide-mouthed grin and shaved heads. Looking closer, though, the thin boy’s head isn’t shaved, it’s bald. His sunken eyes have neither brows nor lashes to frame them and his skinny legs are equally hairless. The matching rosaries begin to make sense. It’s not unusual to see people wearing wooden ones but these fluorescent plastic ones seem to indicate a less deep-seated religion. The kind that may have been resurrected after many years of neglect when a friend or family member falls seriously ill.
There’s a wail from further along the beach. The little boy from earlier is being dunked in the sea to get rid of sand and he’s not at all happy about it. Turquoise speedo guy – who it would seem is the little boy’s dad – is abject with apology. Little boy’s mamma, pregnant with another one, blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, disappears back up the beach leaving dad and son to it. Dad gently rinses every vestige of sand from little boy’s skin, even dipping his hands into the water and wiping around his son’s ears. The wails intensify. Mamma! Mamma! Dad looks stricken, but continues his fatherly duties. Mamma reappears holding a Spongebob towel; the kind with a hood that is perfect for wrapping little kids in after a day at the seaside. Dad hauls his son, still wailing for Mamma, out of the water. Mamma, in a practised move, gathers the sides of the towel and drops it neatly over her son’s head before reaching her arms out to take him. Now that he’s no longer being splashed with cold water, however, little boy decides that Papa is all right again and snuggles into his shoulder with one last Mamma. Dad grins down at him, rubbing his hair gently dry with the hood as he walks back up the beach.
The noisy boys are still eating. Every so often there’s a roar from one or other of them, caused by the thin boy. He’s dancing around kicking sand at the rest of the group while tearing off great chunks of panino with his teeth. He ducks as his brother hurls a napkin at his head and laughs uproariously as his rosary swings around his ears. The four Fs of life in Sicily – Family, Friends, Food and Faith – encapsulated.
JULY CARNIVAL OF EUROPE
Have you got a good European travel story? Why not submit it for inclusion in July’s Carnival?
On 1 July I’m hosting the event, set up by Andrea of Destination Europe. Details of how to submit your entries can be found here, and you can also follow Andrea on Facebook to be kept updated on all future Carnival news.
I look forward to hearing from you!