GREGORY ARENA - THE WILD MAN
The Wild Man
‘…. and I discussed our experience with the
“wild man” …’
Beau R. Davis, Bigfoot Is Alive!
My father warned me about the big bloke in the hostel canteen.
He was a big bearish man with a Vandyke beard. Goodness knows why he kept on staring at us.
I think my dad was quite worried he was staring at me, but I think he was staring at us.
I guess the hostel wasn’t bad. It was cheaper than the hotel near my mother’s house – months later we started staying at the hotel again since I turned 13 in the meantime and the church hostel wouldn’t give us the child discount any more.
My dad already had to spend a lot of money on LPG -- the 500 kilometre trip would be much more expensive with petrol --, meals, and tolls – motorways here in Italy are expensive, so the hostel was a good solution.
The hostel was a little creepy and the WIFI was rubbish – it only worked in the lounge and not the rooms.
Creepy because...don’t know why really. And of course we all ate together in a big canteen and since it was run by the Church you had to say grace before meals and if a church group came from somewhere you had to listen to them going on about something when you were hungry and just wanted to eat.
I suppose it was okay. But the hotel near my mother’s was better – even if the WIFI wasn’t so good. At least it worked in the rooms.
We had just had lunch and had gone up to our room instead of
chatting with the missionary priest who ran the ex-seminary converted into a hostel or the local retired barrister widower who took most of his meals there.
Sometimes it was difficult to get away from them politely. They loved chatting, but dad and me usually just wanted to watch the DVD he always brought down – usually superheroes or fantasy.
My dad usually came down from Northern Italy on Saturday afternoon and went back up on Sunday evening. He had school on Monday morning. He was an English teacher. If we were lucky and the traffic coming down wasn’t bad we usually had about 24 hours together counting sleeping once every fortnight.
Dad was really early today so we had been able to have lunch.
Now dad was sleeping. He always tried to talk a bit with me when he first arrived, but he usually just conked out.
This time he had brought me a Harry Potter Lego too.
Since there was no WIFI in the stupid rooms I fell asleep as well.
‘So how was school this week?’ my father asked me.
‘Fine,’ I replied. We always spoke in English. We had done since I was born -- even when I was still in my mother’s tum my dad had always said. When I was about 4 or 5 I realised it wasn’t just our secret language. I started twigging on when I talked to grandparents, and aunts and uncles on the telephone. ‘How was the traffic?’
‘Not bad. Almost made record time, today.’
Dad’s record was something like 4 hours and 17 minutes for the nearly 500 kilometres.
His mobile went. It was his girlfriend.
‘Yes, fine, fine,’ he said in Italian. His accent was much better than other English mother tongues. But it was easy to tell that he wasn’t native Italian even though he had been living in Italy for about 20 years.
‘That’s good. I’m glad the dog’s fine.’
She was always on about her dog and treated it like a baby.
I was so jealous of her dog when I was about 8 that I tried stitching it up by putting some sliced ham on the floor and blaming it for taking it off the table. Which was impossible since it was so small.
That was when she started becoming bitchy.
At the beginning she was ever so nice. Bought me lots of things. Taught me how to cycle without stabilisers.
When I told the social worker in my mother’s town that I no longer wanted to live with my dad and his girlfriend after I had been telling my dad and her the opposite for about a year it was the last straw.
From that moment on she hated me, but still pretended to like me.
I still remember telling my dad that the reason I didn’t want to move from central Italy back up north was because my mother said if I did she would never come and visit me.
When I was about 10 I decided it was better to stay with my mother since all my friends were there. I was only 6 when my mother took me away from Northern Italy so I didn’t really have a lot of friends. Plus my mother promised me I could play with my two cousins all the time because they lived next door.
But their parents were big managers and were always off to their chalet, holiday home at the sea, or visiting manager friends. So in the end I didn’t really see them so much.
‘Yes, I’ll phone you after supper,’ he said stretching out on the bed after his nap. He was lying on his back and looking out of the little dark room’s south window. ‘If you don’t hear from me, it’s because the resident serial killer.....’
Then he went on to describe the odd man describing how he was always staring at me.
‘Huge stonking bloke...massive. I think he’s Eastern European. He’s here with another guy. Goodness knows who they are. There are all sorts of characters here, but it’s cheap....he keeps on staring...’
‘He’s a paedo!’ my dad’s girlfriend’s voice shrieked from the mobile.
My dad seemed a bit shocked, but continued unruffled as he always did.
‘Don’t know about that, but I imagine it might be best to keep our distance...
She went on about her dog for a while then my father rang off.
Dad wasn’t too bad on his rollerblades – for an oldster. The converted seminary was encircled by a high wall and had a big tarmac area for games with a small track round it which was perfect for rollerblading.
‘There’s even a spinney,’ my father commented pointing to a tiny little forest at the far end of the grounds.
‘A what?’ I asked.
‘A little wood with bushes,’ he replied. ‘It’s a fun word that comes from Latin spina, like in Italian, “thorn”.
‘Oh.’ He always did this.
It was fun rollerblading there. There was a lot of room to manoeuvre and it was really quiet. None of the other families there used it. It was still sunny too and fairly warm even though it was October. It was just the two of us. It was like we were the only two people on earth -- like a sci-fi film.
I guess it was a bit spooky, but at least we could spend all the time we wanted together.
‘Shall we explore the spinney?’ dad asked.
We gate our skates off and trainers on and walked the fifty yards or so past the car park to the far end of the seminary’s huge grounds.
‘More like a proper wood,’ my father commented.
In fact it was a large area that circled south round the seminary building in a ‘u’ fashion. It probably was a few acres.
It was 6ish, but still fairly light. The clocks would be going back in about a fortnight.
The wood was full of shadows punctuated by columns of light where its canopy of trees was not so dense.
It seemed amazing that we were in a city and in the city there was a seminary and in the middle of it a proper forest. It was like the TARDIS, bigger on the inside.
It got even bigger as we approached walking along the gravel path.
‘This path must go all round the estate,’ my dad said. ‘Perfect. Tomorrow morning we can go for a run...’
‘Ok,’ I said, but I didn’t really feel like it. But my dad was worried I might be getting a tiny bit chubby.
‘She’s got the same robust Germanic constitution as my mother,’ my father had said a couple of weeks ago during his last trip to see me while he was talking to his girlfriend on the phone.. ‘I’ll always remember what she went through because she never ate or exercised properly.’
I had been in the bathroom and could hear everything.
‘Goodness knows what she gets up to down there in that Addams’ Family house. Godzilla (what my father called my mother) and her mother have stacks of money in the bank, but keep the heating switched off in their 4-bedroom semi-detached, her father’s hunting rifles are all over the shop, and the wiring and gas hook-ups are dodgy -- don’t you remember when she phoned me when she was about 7 and told me she had taken “some medicine” because she had a tummy ache and didn’t know where her mother or grandmother was.....’
It was dark and shadowy as we entered the little forest, the gravel on the path crunching under our trainers. We felt a little cold in our shorts and hoodies. Dad more than me. He put his hood up to protect his shaven head from the sudden coolness.
We had just entered the cool twilight of the wood when something jumped at us.
I screamed and my father jumped about a foot off the ground.
It’s him, it’s him, I thought. The big staring man –
‘What a bloody big pheasant!’ my father exclaimed.
The huge bird had squawked and flapped its near three-foot wings before fluttering up into a tree behind and above us.
A scout group was there at supper in the canteen and Don Bianchi was going on about something. He was welcoming the scouts and talking about fraternity or something.
My dad and I were always assigned the same place in the canteen’s infinite rows of long tables near Don B and the widower.
The East European bear-like chap was sat at another table with his normal-looking friend a few rows away. As usual he kept looking at us every so often.
The canteen was meant to be convivial and jolly. And I suppose it was. But the neon lights ruined the effect -- together with the strange bogey-like man.
I’m thinking about him too much, I thought and decided to try and tune into what my dad had been rabbiting on about.
‘...blue light like Philip K Dick..you’ve heard of Bladerunner? It was based on his novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. Well in another book, VALIS, he talks about this blue light......I can tell you’re enthralled,’ dad said tucking into his main course.
We made small talk with Don B and the widower. The canteen was a hive of conversations that formed a low rumbling din. It was dark now as summer was long gone and autumn was going on all cylinders.
I tried not to look in the direction of the big bogeyman, but when I did occasionally he was always looking at us.
My dad had noticed too.
‘Just don’t wander about on your own with him about, ok?’
As usual we finished our meal as quickly as possible to go and watch our DVD.
I hadn’t really noticed before, but the big broad staircase and all the seminary’s infinite corridors were spooky. During the summer we had had a lot of fun racing up and down the stairs and sliding down the banisters in the summer afternoon sunshine.
Now they were all dark and the wacko could be hiding anywhere...
‘What’s our room number?’
‘Relax, no one’s going to get us,’ my dad reassured me. ‘We’re leaving tomorrow afternoon and we’ll never see the weirdo again.’
‘235,’ I finally answered.
The automatic lights in the corridor weren’t switching on and we had to check the key fob with my mobile torch.
Twenty seconds later we were inside and I felt incredibly relieved as my father locked and bolted our door.
Then he started mucking about with a bag he had brought in from the car after he had stowed away our rollerblades in the boot. He opened the bag and pulled out the hefty tyre iron that he then leant against the door.
Dad was gobbling down his breakfast and going on about the blue light again.
‘Isn’t it intriguing that Phil (Philip K Dick) talked about a blue light from the sky just like ancient cultures worshipped the “columns” that falling meteorites formed falling from the heavens – baetyls were the holy meteorites. And then the “blue light” from tablets and such is very powerful and can ruin your eyes...we’re on to something...’
But he didn’t notice the ginormous staring man, distracted by his own natterings and the canteen’s usual racket.
He stood up and started towards us.
‘Jesus!’ I gasped.
‘What’s up?’ asked dad.
I tried to discreetly point to the sasquatch man who had been sat down again and was being talked to by his normal-looking friend.
We had gone for our jog round the seminary and through the spinney with no sign of the yeti man. Dad had had a nap -- he did an amazing amount of sleeping when he came down. He said it was one of his few chances to relax.
Presently we were having lunch and dad was once again looking forward to another nap after lunch to gird him up for the 500 kilometre trawl up to his flat in the north.
We had just started our sweet and were discussing how our epic superhero film might end...
He got up and his normal friend was holding his arm and trying to say something to him. He shrugged it off smiling and strode towards us.
‘Yeah, I see him. What’s his game?’
Three seconds later he was at our table.
‘Your daughter is beautiful,’ he blabbered out in broken Italian.
‘Sorry?’ dad replied, tense and cocked like a revolver. If he were a cat his back would be arched and his fur raised.
‘She’s the same age as mine, I think.’
My dad and I looked at each other.
‘Here’s our photo.’
As he showed us a photo with him, his daughter, and presumably wife, his normal-looking friend came over as well.
‘I haven’t seen my wife and daughter for months. I couldn’t find work in my country when I came back from military service so I came to Italy.’
He took something out of his jacket pocket and put it on the table next to the photo he had placed in front of us.
‘They gave me this medal for fighting terrorists.’
‘Just missed his daughter,’ dad said back in our room stretching out on the bed in his sleep position. ‘Understandable.’
We had just finished our film. Dad had to leave in about two hours’ time. My mother didn’t have time she said to drive the 7 kilometres to come and collect me.
At least we’d have a bit more time together while he was driving me back to my mother’s.