The Temples of Juno and Concordia, brown and wrinkled like the fingers of old men, stand on the hills overlooking the village of Porto Bianco. Where the column meets the cornice, grass grows, as hair out of the noses of the old men in the village beyond. Below, half hidden as if ashamed, rise three slender columns balancing the remains of friezes, all that is left of the Temple of Diascuri.
The sky was blue. The sea was green. The soil was red and parched and the village was a gunpowder grey. Carlo watched his flock spill over a fallen column as he whistled softly to himself. A soft wind arose, rustled past the purple artichoke blooms, whispered through the Temple of Juno. A flutter ran through the flock as the wind blew out to sea. Suddenly Carlo felt an immense love and contentment and he wanted to cry. Instead, he whistled softly, so softly that only a “ffffffff ffffffff ffffffffff” was heard.
Now Carlo loved his sheep more than he loved any human, for he had spent more time tending the flock than in the village among men. Indeed, Turidrew, the shepherd who tended the flocks of Baron Sicurella, was the only person with whom Carlo had ever lived.
Carlo was six when his father and mother were killed in a feud over a piece of land in which had been found rich deposits of sulphur. Carlo’s father had refused to accept money to drop his litigation. Nor did the notes signed with a crude black hand, threatening his life, dissuade him. No one knew where the offers of money or the notes came from, for they were always delivered by (as the villagers called them) the men with the moustaches.
It happened two days before the village feast to the Virgin Mary. Carlo’s father was preparing to ride into the village when two men with red handkerchiefs tied around their faces walked into the house. The first volley caught his mother as she rushed to her husband. The second volley hit Carlo’s father as he knelt to his wife crumpled at his feet.
In the evening when the Carabinieri arrived, they found Carlo squatting on the floor, staring at his dead parents. Now, children have strange ways of thinking, and at six Carlo knew that it had been the Carabinieri who took his mother and father away, and they never came back.
The disputed land was bought by Pepi Porelli and no more was heard of the case. Of course, no one ever found the assassins of Carlo’s parents. As for Carlo, he was given to the service of Baron Sicurella. The boy was sent to gain his bread to Turidrew, to help him tend the flocks.
The life of a shepherd is a lonely one, self-incestuous, and breeds a strange race of men. Carlo spent three years in the company of Turidrew. Their conversation in all this time might have filled a paragraph.
Carlo learned to love the solitude of the higher hills and above all, he found a great love for his sheep. If ever the old man and the boy wandered near fields at harvest time, the peasants changed their chant and sang:
“The shepherd when dressed in silks
Will still smell of his sheep.”
It was a slow, wailing melody that lingered in the air long after it ended. They repeated it until Turidrew and Carlo left. As they wandered away, the peasants bawled, “Baaa... baaa... baaa...” after them for many peasants believe that shepherds are born from sheep and only understand sheep-like sounds.
When Turidrew died, Carlo was almost ten. He was given the flocks to tend alone. Carlo grew into manhood in solitude, away from men who mocked him. For nine years he tended the flocks, coming down to the village once a month to replenish his stock of bread and wine. Slowly he descended, stopping from time to time, when the sheep found a spot of greenery or shrubs.
Carlo was still whistling quietly when a car came down the road to Segesta, its horn wailing sporadically. As the car approached, it did not slow down, but the horn became more persistent. A flutter ran through the flock. Frightened by the horn, they tried to reach the higher ground across the road. The car quivered as it rammed into the massed sheep. Two lambs crumpled under the chassis. The rest of the flock scattered to the wheat fields. Then it was quiet. The wind rattled the high dry wheat. A sheep bawled.
Carlo seized his staff and rushed to the stalled car, gazing at the two lambs under the wheels, their heads and limbs in grotesque positions. The Carabinieri never left his driver’s seat.
“Stinking shepherd! Idiot! Is this how you tend your flocks? Now drag these two beasts from under...”
Carlo cleared his throat and spit in the face of the Carabinieri.