The crescent moon seems to have risen higher, amidst the shimmering stars that darted the sky. The never-ageing luminous mistress, its light grand amidst those of the twinkling envious stars that spread beyond the plain of esdraelon. Majestic in declination.
He readjusted to perch on the col: lower stone between the twin cap of mount tabor, so as to lay his back against the side stone and to hide his shadow in the vast darkness beneath the night sky. The beautiful pacification of his disposition made his head lighter and devoid of any anxiety attached to the life of a bandit whose head has a huge sum attached to it by the government.
Up, barely above, with the faint fluorescent light of the moon he saw the clouds scudding through the sky in lazy motion. Over the blackness of the earth, and of the weeds and flowers that clothed the vast jungle, dispersely scattered on the mountain of Tabor, where he sat hundreds of feet above ground level.
He felt the small American flag in his pocket, reassuring himself of the great delight Domenico would think of the particular flag. Fondly in his artistic mind, he animated the clouds. A lover’s agonizing face chasing after the trail of slithering flowing Ball gown. Somehow he hadn’t lost his avid mind cropped with fantasies. Even after seven years of banditry. Even after a thousand souls have been sent to hell by his willed act: of his command and at critical times by his lupara and short guns. Hands would fall apart, bodies explode, flying off on impact, skulls shattered and feet would collapse to the floor. Rarely does any enemy of his escape the bluntness of his crude wrath, hundreds of police men and armies of soldiers.
He led a band of four hundred strong men, but almost a thousand citizens of Sicily are his loyal, some of whom work for him as informants and hired help when needed to combat the government and meet the cunny strategy he planned with all of his operations. But he was more than an ordinary bandit, he was regarded as a prince of the land, for he freely shared half of his loot with the poor citizens of Sicily after any of his operations. And the poor citizens need not be alarmed, he only steals from the extremely rich and wealthy, and never does them harm if cooperation is rendered. A Robin Hood.
Every death had been necessary, he would console himself. His anger was magnanimously directed against the brutal dominance of the government who maltreated the citizens and controlled all obusiness in Sicily. The peasant citizens’ labour was hard and only received meagre payments. Their life was made tougher by taxes that outweighed their income.
With the process of time, lawless political giants were strategically murdered. Valentino easily gained the trust of the peasant workers. Moreso, many of them suffered dehumanising acts, inconsistent payments and were obliged in servitude by threats by their politician employers. And so many voluntarily stabbed their rich employers while they peaceful lay in bed, mixing poison with their best delicacy, and a number of them had there necks snapped and strangled. Only a few times did Valentino himself use his gun against their fattened stomach or simply have their brains spilled out in their barber’s shop, brothel or social outings.
Concurrently, many political leaders never again showed their faces in the streets of Sicily. The death of his parents in jail, where they were locked away by the authorities, made his hatred towards the government irrevocable. For the citizens of Sicily he was their messiah, their salvation and an unfortunate damnation.
Truly it was only on moments like this, when he hangs from the mountain, looking over the town below. And the tiny black dots of people going into the countryside to work their little pieces of farmland,that he allowed his conscience to fill his mind with any morality of his actions as a bandit.
Valentino was born of graceful gentle nature. The son of contented peasant farmers, he had no siblings. As a boy, he had relished fairytales and his child mind had been filled with fantasies. He excelled well in school and participated in sport. He grew to be tender and kindhearted and so it was not unusual for him to appear at the doorstep with a pathetically looking tiny cat or strayed puppy. His father had understood him early and so never complained of the caged bird and wretched dogs and cats that he housed under their roof. Their mind had never for once grazed on the thought he would grow up to be anything but law abiding. Truly, that he had turned out to be a Bandit was a thing wielded purely by destiny.
And so it happened, when he was but nine years old. On a fateful day, just about dinner time, that he led home by the arm, a poor blind boy about his age. His parents exchanged glances of awe, shocked beyond words as they watched Valentino lead the boy to the dinner table. The sight of Valentino filling and refilling the boy’s plate with hot dishes of spaghetti and tomato sauce, suspended their own spaghetti filled forks, filled with pride at the vibrant display of compassion and love. The boy ate it all, his tongue making sounds like a dog lapping water. And though he was blind, his face beamed and was such a sight of joy, the satisfaction of which shut every word of impending complaint.
The blind boy was from a distant place and had never known his parents. He had grown up with an old relative and they had been unfortunate in their journey and had an accident. Though the boy escaped with his life, he had a few bruises to the eye from pieces of glass. The eyes deteriorated and he was left blind roaming the streets and sleeping in hallways. The matter was never discussed and it happened just so naturally that the boy continued to stay in the house. Valentino’s father paid doctors to perform an optic surgery on the boy and was no longer blind. The boy’s name was Domenico.
Long ago he and Domenico loved to visit the mountain to play. Their house was less than ten kilometres away and they would climb the sun heated mountain bare foot believing they were escaping some dangerous gun men, and were a sort of movie hero, in there childish minds. They would then go deep into the narrow space between the mountain, seeking treasures- they would call it.
From the top of the mountain they took turns joyfully waving the American flag at the town below. They ate hard bread from their backpacks for lunch in the caves. When they ran down the mountain into the trees, they would find shade and tell poems. And it was their foolishness of overindulging themselves in the sheer ecstasy and fun of the mountain adventures that they stayed a night, which made Valentino’s parents make it their last mountain adventure.
With the cold breeze that wrapped around his body and blew inside his flappy shirt and armpit he began to feel an overwhelming melancholy yet at peace with the nature that surrounded and graced his inner mind.
That morning, when his men came with the news of the Military men that had started to invade the jungle and mountains against his territory, he was mad with rage and ready to kill dozens of them. He commanded blood-thirsty Domenico and his band of eighty ferocious men to stay guard behind, against a surprise overtaking by the fast approaching army. The jungle spread over thousands of kilometres, so he only had to move deeper into the forest to set a new place for their hideout. The numbers of military men didn’t matter, they would all be brought down one after another if they were foolish enough to tail Valentino and his army of wild men deeper into the forest. There was hardly any escape. The forest of Montelpre was deep enough to swallow even ten thousand well trained military men. It was a sure trap.
Suddenly gun shots and machine guns registered ahead. Some of his men dived for cover behind large rocks and trees, though many valiantly stayed uncover replying the military shot for shot.
The military had outsmarted them and strategically mapped out a semi circle portion that covered their territory and blocked the exits between the mountains with hundreds of soldiers. He was more surprised that even the plan had eluded his informants at the barracks. Though he escaped, several of his men lost their lives. The tides of time were rising against him. Surely, defeat was soon to come, if he continued to stay in Sicily.
But as a final assignment, betrayal was unforgivable,especially when it was by the people he believed to be fighting for. He had sent spies to fish out the citizens that had betrayed him, and given out his hide out and escape route. Domenico volunteered to have them all killed, and on each of their lifeless bodies he had these words pasted “A soul that breeds betrayal of Valentino, is a soul that should breath no more.” But each of them, about the time they were rallied by Valentino’s men, would want to say a word. And it was this time that Domenico’s bullet would catch them in the midst of speaking; and they would be silent in death.
He had sent the surviving members of his band away hours ago. Tonight was going to be his last night in Sicily. But even if he was able to escape America and escape the governments of Sicily and Rome, there was a certain regret, that he had no power of escaping from. The agonising face of a young boy he had to murder. The boy watched as Domenico shot his father three times: twice in the head and the last in the neck. His father was a military spy. But they had underestimated the thirteen year old boy, when suddenly, swiftly like an eagle, he pulled a gun from the waist of a member of his band and aimed at Valentino. But he missed, and hit Carlo, one of his bravest commanding officers in the head. By reflex, he poured the three remaining bullets in his lupara into the boy’s chest, with which he had earlier killed the father. Afterwards, he continually resented his actions. The boy’s eyes filled with tears, his face a mask of pain stamped on his mind. The face that would awake him up during the cold nights in the mountain. His doom of looming death and defeat: the subject of his nightmare.
And when finally out of the dark scrubs; low and teetering towards him, a dark figure at first. He pressed his hand against the cold gun by his sides, just in case it was not Domenico.
“Am sorry, am late” Domenico said faintly, still trying to catch his breath from the rough ascension he had just made up the mountain. Though very near Valentino couldn’t see the evil smile that was now playing on Domenico’s face “Come and sit beside me,” Valentino reached out his hand, “And maybe we can talk for a while.”
He could forebear Domenico’s lateness as he was truly happy seeing his friend: his brother not of blood but of soul. Domenico’s face flushed with relief, that he hadn’t asked what kept him late. That he wouldn’t have to commit yet another sin. That he wouldn’t have to lie that he had met and rubbed hands with the Devil by meeting with the Don of esdraelon: their most sworn enemy and the Minister of Justice.
Valentino’s eye caught the gun in Domenico’s hand pointed straight at him, Valentino shocked to the unbelieving. But he could not mistake the grave intensity that shone in Domenico’s eyes even in the darkness. The undoubted look of the Devil’s possession of Domenico that made him the cruellest of the two. That had made him kill on operations, when blood was not necessary. That had made him do the other things he had forgiven. “Domenico, were you the Judas of us? Was it you who let the government crush our men Domenico, my friend, my brother” it was on this last word that Domenico pulled the trigger, forcing three bullets into Valentino’s abdomen.
Domenico took off and fled, running until his streaming tears were whisked away by the side of his temple. Valentino slowly got down from the rock, holding his bleeding abdomen and took a few paces in running after Domenico until he fell, dying.
But as he fell, his back hit the hard earth. His mind finally relieved of the terror of living as a bandit, he saw the agonising face of the boy he had killed in the scudding clouds, and was pulled up.
Not realising that his mortal body lay lifeless on the ground, he and the boy ran and ran, until they vanished into a golden and shimmering celestial light.