The crowd cheered at the colourfully dressed actors. Lansquenets with their typical "torn" trousers, striped in red and white or yellow and blue, with iron helmets, decorated with bushy feathers. They stomped through the streets, whirling up great clouds of dust, for it hadn't rained for a long time. The noise was deafening when the trumpets gave their high-pitched sound and the low beats of the drums matched a steady heart beat.
Luca, Giano and Tino heard them from far away. Since they had family members in the team of the Quartiero of Santa Croce, they had been able to get seats in the stands which framed all four sides of the square in front of the gleaming white church of the Holy Cross. Banners were blowing in the wind: a golden cross on blue background for their own Quartiero, and a temple upon a green background for the other.
Green was also the colour Sandro would wear. Luca sat next to his mother who still hadn't said a single word to him since they had met up again, fighting their way through crowds of curious tourists, armed with cameras, and camcorder, with little flags and hats against the sun. Luca knew that at the end of the match all of them would be covered in the swirling sand, although it had been watered.
The procession arrived, and the horse riders parted to make room for the military band. The banner wearers entered the field with the flags of companies; Luca saw golden and black lions, green dragons and red carriages. His heart beat loud and painfully. What would happen? Would Alessandro be able to escape Dante's unmistakable scorn? Broken limbs were normal for this match, but for Luca would this be a lucky day if Alessandro only had a broken leg. What a stupid idea of his boyfriend taking part.. He heard Franco chatter behind him. "That's not football, it's rugby or something", he explained to Claudio. "It was invented in the military encampments where the soldiers resting between battles would have lost strength without exercise. It was a game which developed arm and leg muscles in a real hand to hand struggle for what was the size and shape of a cannon ball. It was first played here in Florence, not so much as a sport as for training young men in the art of combat."
Franco nudged him. "Didn't work out. They had to admit defeat in the end."
A loud shushing was heard and the audience fell silent. The mayor of the town, Alessandro's uncle Emilio, gave a short speech, dressed in doublet, a long cloak, and a Mazzoccho - a cloth, wrapped around his head, with a long point falling upon his shoulder.
And then the fiftyfour members of the Quartieri entered the battle field. There was a roar of cheering and banners and flags were waved. Luca slid around to find Sandro. He looked good in his green clothes, with his trousers and boots. He briefly remembered Sandro's laugh when he had showed him his sack-lifter, a pouch, protecting his private parts. Luca hoped he would take care of that sensitive part. It had been squashed before.
Giano pointed to the field and Luca detected Dante with Marcello next to him, dressed all in blue. They looked like bulls, pawing with their hoofs.
In the middle of the lined up teams, was led a pretty, light brown calf. It had a green garland around its neck.
Again the trumpet players blew their instruments and the drummers whirled their sticks. A multi voiced "Viva Firenze!" echoed over the arena and then it started.
Luca looked at his watch. An hour of battling. The ball - well, more of an rugby ball egg shape - was thrown high in the air and everybody was jumping at it. He saw that Dante had thrown away his shirt over the fence that protected the audience and was now running like a sweat-glistening bull. The people moaned, cried and shrieked with excitement, standing up when their favourite team had the ball, hissing, when it was the wrong team.
He nodded and a stone, as big as his lapis lazuli, seem to fall off his heart. He nudged Giano and whispered "Mamma seems to be all right."
Giano beamed and bent forward to see his mother. She winked at him.
Luca and Giano had jumped up too, but were down quickly again since it was the wrong Quartiero they were cheering for. Both earned suspicious stares, but that didn't bother them.
They followed the struggles, attacks and scuffles until everything was a blur. Most of the players had taken off their shirts, only to be distinguished now by their trousers. Their bodies glistened in the sun with sweat and oil, and soon they were covered in a layer of sand.
Luca followed Dante's ways. He constantly tried to cross Sandro's path, fighting desperately for each ball and to make the draw for Santa Croce. Sandro couldn't stop him, for as he tried, another lad from his own Quartiero crossed his path and tackled him, so that he was falling all over the place. "Ouch", Luca said. "that was Raniero. Shit."
Raniero belonged to Sandro's team, so Luca couldn't grasp why he should tackle Sandro. Possibly Raniero was even more stupid than he'd thought.
After the first half of the match the score read 10 : 9 for San Giovanni and Alessandro had made four goals. The crowd was cheering "Gon - di! Gon - di! - at least the fans of his Quartiero were and Luca suddenly felt terribly proud. As if in honour of his surname Lucertola Sandro slid through the massive bodies of players who bumped and clashed with each other instead of wresting the ball Alessandro was carrying.
Luca couldn't recognise any of them anymore. He saw Sandro's mop of brown hair, covered in sand and sweat, and Dante's broad back stomping after him. Ten minutes before the end Sandro was blocked with the ball crammed under his arm. His naked upper body looked like it was made of sand and water. He received a shoulder charge, toppled over, but came to his feet again. From the other side it was Marcello cornering him at the fence, but Sandro broke free. The rest of his team was a tangled heap of bodies in the sand, trying to block the others. Alessandro saw a dumb looking guy with narrow eyes running up to him, from the other side he saw Dante. He ducked away, but his boots buried themselves into the sand which stopped him and he fell over onto the ball and gave a cry. "Get him!" Dante shouted, and Raniero was over him. A screaming whistling and booing answered; people had noticed that Raniero was attacking his own team member. But that was part of the fun.
Dante jumped upon Raniero and Alessandro felt all breath escaping his lungs. He heard something breaking and hoped it wasn't his back. And then his consciousness started to flicker.
Luca had jumped from his bench and was clenching his fists. He couldn't see Sandro anymore, he had vanished under a heap of bodies: team members coming to help, fighting uninhibitedly now with the opposition until the sand was bloody like the once olden days in the Roman Colosseum.
A sharp tone from the referee's whistle sounded and helpers tried to untangle the enraged men. At last they revealed a trio of bodies laying motionless in the sand: Alessandro, Dante and Marcello. The crowd groaned.
Clarissa took in a sharp breath and clutched Niccolò's arm. He spoke soothingly to her. Luca clutched Giano's hand and his face was pale like a nightly ghost. The first aiders cared for them, sprinkled them with cold water and patted their cheeks. Luca saw blood upon their bodies. While Marcello woke up quickly, his brother and lover were heaved up on stretchers and carried away.
Luca sat down. He couldn't see anything for the audience was still standing. He knew the calf was now taken by the team captain and carried proudly away. "Come", Giano said and struggled through the seats, following the first aiders. The Montori's followed. Alessandro had been placed in the shadow of the houses, still laying on the stretcher, but he was awake. He tried a grin already.
Luca gulped. Alessandro's face was covered in blood, seeping from cuts in his eyebrow and from his nose. The ambulance man had pulled off his boots and Luca saw blue toes.
Clarissa gave him a punch. "That's all you can say when your brother's dying?"
In all the jumble of limping and bleeding players coming for first aid Luca found Tristano by his side, tapping his shoulder. "Everything alright? How crap you didn't win. What's up with him?"
Luca shrugged and turned to Alessandro again. "You did win. But Dante got you in the end."
Niccolò nodded absentmindedly. He didn't know what to say anyway. This day had blown him away completely. He still chewed hard on the declaration of his youngest sons. Homosexual for Christ sake. He hoped this was just a temporary glitch and everything would return back normal. Now the injuries to his older sons. Marcello looked somewhat all right, but Dante didn't seem to be waking up. God knew what the Gondi-boy had done to him. Niccolò's stomach clenched.
Coppo dragged his friend away from the jumble. They were standing in the way anyway. Niccolò shot a wary glance at Giano who was besieged by Luca's school friends, visitors to the spectacle doubtlessly. Giano's "boyfriend" was standing to one side. A bitter taste filled Niccolò's mouth.
Coppo leaned against a pillar of the portico and enjoyed the coolness streaming from the stone. The crowd was still dancing around, embracing each other, waving banners, hooting and shouting. The costumes of the musicians were colourful drops in the distance as they marched away, accompanied by tourists who incessantly shot pictures of them.
Niccolò stared over to the blood soiled sand. "A bit animal like, don't you think", he mumbled, and Coppo nodded. An amused grin spread over his face. But then it fell when he thought about Raniero, his pupil that he couldn't get rid off. He hadn't the slightest idea why Raniero had played against his team mate Gondi. He cleared his throat. "Nico, one question, please."
Niccolò turned to his old friend.
Coppo's face twisted. "Unfortunately that wasn't enough of a reason to dump him. He needs a chance was all I heard. The whole palette of excuses: Art is improving his character. He needs to be socialized before he goes more and more downhill. Get rid of the bad company he keeps, et cetera, et cetera. Well, what he did today wasn't exactly bright. He fought against Gondi and this was his own team mate. Any idea why?"
Niccolò stared absentmindedly. In the distance he recognized his son Marcello who had received a tape around both wrists and been given a paper sheet. Marcello nodded depressed. And suddenly he had the faint of an idea about the cause. Dante obviously had known about Luca's state. His homosexuality - Niccolò forced himself to think. No, his temporary confusion. Hadn't they done naughty and careless things together - he and Coppo - too, when they were young? Anyway. Dante had known but never said a word. But hearing that there was Giano too who shared this atrocity had been too much for Dante. Apparently everybody knew... possibly even Raniero. "My youngest claims to be homosexual", Niccolò mumbled, his head bent down. Then he pulled out his pipe from his trouser pocket and a packet of tobacco and started to fill the bowl of the pipe. Coppo stared at him. "Scusa? Can you say that again?"
Coppo must have pulled a pretty funny face when the pieces fell into a perfect picture. "And what is your problem exactly?"
Coppo's mouth grimaced in pain. He was deeply hurt. "I didn't think that you thought that way. You think my lifestyle unworthy, right?"
More smoke clouded Niccolò's head as he was puffing away. Deep down he knew that Coppo was right.
Niccolò's pipe was out. "Ok. Gay. My sons are gay. Satisfied?"
Niccolò shrugged. "Nothing. Like me. Speechless."
Coppo grinned and shook his head. "Dear Gods, you really act as if one of yours has become sick and is doomed to die tomorrow. I can't understand you hetero's, really. What are you afraid of?"
Coppo hooted with laughter. "That's not seriously meant, is it?" He closed his eyes and ran his hand over his almost bald head. He had to tell this to Bruno when he got home. Bruno hated this bloody rumble on the sand. Too much of the testosterone, he said. And then he would provide Nico with an education, with a pile of books like "My son is gay - what now?" Certainly the Montori's were in need of that.
He took Niccolò's elbow and with him crossed the short distance to the still blue-blinking first aid cars. Marcello was chattering with his buddies. "I hope his hands are alright", Coppo said, looking at Marcello's bandaged wrists. "Luca, by the way, is pretty good at inventing motifs. I'd like to see if he's that skilful at cutting his own stones."
nothing, but inwardly he smiled.
Marcello peered up to his master, but said nothing. Coppo and Niccolò shared a look. "Your mother's gone with Dante. I'm coming with you."
Again Marcello gave Coppo a look, but he nodded finally. "Thanks", he
Luca waited outside the examination room and sat on one of the black chairs in the small visitors room. Alessandro didn't give the impression that he was seriously hurt, except the many cuts from which he was bleeding. Though you never knew. The whole crowd had piled upon him and his brothers. What happened to Dante he didn't exactly care.
He heard quick footsteps in the hallway and got up from his chair and bumped into an absolutely desperate girl that he recognized as Leoni, the fellow student and old friend of Sandro. She still had the green and golden blocks upon her cheeks, the sign of the team she was supporting, smeared with tears now. "Where is he? What's happened to him?" she shrieked at Luca.
Luca blinked and struggled free from the hands she had tightly grasped around his shoulders. "He's all right I guess", he stuttered. Over her shoulder he recognised Sandro's uncle. He frowned when he saw Luca and tried to pull Leoni away.
Leoni did as she was told, rummaging in her bag for a package of cigarettes. Arrigo eyed Luca whom he recognized as Alessandro's friend. "Any information, boy?" he asked.
Luca shook his head. "His toes didn't look too good", he mumbled, then he sat down, far away from Leoni who was puffing nervously away. He didn't know what to think of this. Why was she here and what made her so upset? Was there anything going on that Sandro hadn't told him?
A male nurse peered into the room. "Luca Montori?" he asked. Luca jumped up.
On days like today there would be a lot for him to do, Luca thought oddly as a wave of relief washed over him.
Ash fell from Leoni's cigarette when she jumped up "Wait", she called after the nurse. "Can we see him?" She hurried around the corner and vanished.
Luca looked at Arrigo who followed her. They would find out surely enough; he decided to wait.
She turned. "Why?"
He took her for a coffee into the cafeteria and watched her stirring the milk foam until she sipped at the cup. He had known Leoni since she had been a child. The da Firenzuola's and the Gondi's had been friends and Sandro and she attended the same school, in the same class. He knew that Leoni had always been helplessly in love with his nephew. And there even had been a time when the family thought they could make a bond of marriage with the two families. But Sandro had turned to different ways.
Leoni was puffing grey smoke and sobbing occasionally. "Why does he have to do such stupid things?" she asked.
Arrigo twisted his mouth. Hysterical women had always been a horror for him. But perhaps he could help her to make her and his own wishes come true.
She nodded and sipped at her coffee cup. Her make up was smeared and she looked pretty deranged. What would she say to his offer?
Leoni looked at him without comprehension. How was that for an odd statement? Leoni wasn't stupid enough to believe that it was a woman's fault that a man was gay.
Leoni shook her head. "Well, Sandro's rich now, that's all I know."
Arrigo smiled thinly. "He could be rich. But there was a clause to the last will. As far as it looks now we'll lose some millions if Sandro continues to ignore it."
Leoni hiccupped and stared at him. "What do you mean?"
Leoni almost dropped her cup and stared at Arrigo with huge eyes.
Leoni hadn't enough of life-experience to agree. On the other hand... there were enough handsome guys at the university she could imagine sharing the bed of. After all she wasn't a virgin anymore. Sandro had made sure of that in the past.
Now Leoni understood. Arrigo wanted to buy her. And she could do with a bit of extra money since her parents kept her short with that, those skinflints. Typical Florentines, she thought. Save money for later, so you'll have it when you're old. But Leoni was young and wanted it now, not later.
Heat welled up within her, reaching her cheeks. The idea of being Alessandro's wife made her glow. All the girls would envy her. She knew how they spoke about the most attractive guy of the university and there was no one who wouldn't like to have him in her bed. She stared into her empty coffee cup.
Arrigo's grin spread slowly over his dark face. "It's up to you. Either you succeed with seducing him... or if that doesn't work, you can tell him, Arrigo has found the suitable woman for him. He will know what you mean."
Arrigo nodded. Leoni calculated roughly how many attempts she would need if the first child should be a girl. But it was worth a try.
Alessandro was wheeled into the visitor's room and the nurse left him. Luca beamed.
Luca shook his head.
Alessandro turned in his wheel chair and grinned.
Luca remembered that there would be a gigantic fireworks display over Firenze that night and he sighed inwardly. He would have to put up with Sandro's friends. Perhaps that would distract him.
Leoni appeared behind Arrigo's back.
She smiled sugar-sweet at him. "Surely I wouldn't miss the opportunity to see my hero playing."
Alessandro gave her a quizzical look that Arrigo found highly amusing. The
game was on.
Chrysanthemums of fire exploded over night time Florence, shooting up from the highest point of Piazzale Michelangelo. Inhabitants and tourists watched it from the river banks and Ponte Vecchio that was overcrowded.
Flashlights hit the warm air. Chairs and benches were full with people, eating, drinking and celebrating. It was the end of an eventful day, but Luca didn't listen to the chatter of his friends. He had brought them all together: his friends and Sandro's and they hit it off very quickly. Luca asked himself why he couldn't be happy tonight. It certainly wasn't because of Dante's broken arm and his concussion, nor because of Marcello's black eye and sprained wrists. Not because of Raniero's missing tooth and injured back. Not because the discussion he would have with his parents that he still avoided by simply not going home.
It was Leoni's malicious grin when she said 'my hero'. What did she want from Sandro?
The lights made Rosso's fire-red hair blue. "Are you still sad about our Quartiero's loss? So what! It was a great Gioco. Gondi was spectacular today. I hadn't thought that he would play that well. Or is it about your brothers?"
Giano eyed his brother. He was reserved himself, despite his outward joyfulness. The quarrel with his parents and brothers he could feel was still stuck in his bones. He wasn't mad with Tino who was the cause for all this; somehow he felt that it was time to let out all this. For his coming out. He was almost nineteen.
Giuliano and his new girlfriend were snogging behind Rosso's back. Or as he'd say better; his one-night-stand to be. Giuliano, the Italian gigolo with dimples and black, gelled hair, had made another conquest and Rosso playfully rolled his eyes at them. He winked at Luca and sighed. Then he was looking expectantly for an answer.
Giano was listening while in the distance the fireworks exploded into a last final, colourful clash. He felt Tino taking his hand and entwining his fingers with his own. Instantly a warm feeling washed over him.
Rosso turned. "Certainly. Perhaps he's colour-blind!"
Everyone was laughing. Tino pulled Giano aside into the darkness of the house front alongside the river. He pulled him very close and started to nibble at his earlobe. "Can't we vanish?" he whispered. "I want to sleep with you."
Giano's stomach was on fire instantly. Like his groin. Boldly he kissed Tino back; the other people were too occupied with celebrating anyway. But he was mistaken. "What the hell is that?" Rosso suddenly exclaimed, then he bit his lip instantly. He nudged Luca and pointed to the houses where Giano and Tino stood in an unmistakable embrace. Luca took in a sharp breath and heat flooded over him. He met Tristano's eyes and looked over to Carolina, Tris' girlfriend who had been silent for the whole evening. Something was going on between them; he had heard them quarrelling earlier. Her eyes grew large.
Luca looked away and said nothing. This was one of those days that would have been better if I'd remained in bed, he thought. He emptied his paper cup of wine and then something kicked in. Maybe it was the wine or the stress of the day, he said "So what, it's my brother with his boyfriend. You have a problem with that?" He stared piercingly into Rosso's eyes.
Giuliano stopped his snogging and fumbling and turned to Luca. "What are you arguing about?"
Rosso pointed his head towards Giano and Tino, who had stopped kissing and were now holding hands. Giuliano tried a grin, but it dropped fairly quickly from his face. He frowned then. "What's that? I never knew your brother was a queer."
Luca squashed the cup in his hand and threw it on the ground. Then he turned and walked towards his brother.
He darted another long glance to Tristano who reciprocated Luca's look. "And if you want to know, MY boyfriend's Alessandro Gondi." He turned again, taking Giano's arm and started to walk away with him.
Tristano was staring at him while Caro was still talking to him. He shrugged her off. On Giuliano's face was painted disgust.
Giano looked sadly at Tino and pressed his hand. "See you later. Wait for me, yes?"
Clarissa and Niccolò sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. It was around eleven but none of the Montori's thought about sleep. They had Dante and Marcello kept in hospital and the house was empty.
The smoke from Niccolò's pipe wavered through the open window and the kitchen clock was ticking away. "Nico", started Clarissa. "What are we going to do now?"
Niccolò stared surprised into his wife's blue eyes. She looked tired, but she tried to smile. "Don't you want them happy? Haven't you felt Giano's distance? He wasn't happy with us. Whenever he tried to speak about himself you blocked it."
Niccolò gave a snort but didn't know what to answer. That Clarissa took it so easily he couldn't comprehend. Words floated through his mind: ass-fucker ... shit-stabber ... camp queen ... should his sons be called that? But then, were the people that homophobic? Really? Or was it his own prejudices?
Clarissa got up and pulled another two cups from the cupboard. "Sit down and have a coffee. It's weak."
Luca looked awkwardly at his father who had stuffed himself another pipe. His face was unreadable.
Luca looked at his brother. He was chatty all of a sudden.
Clarissa poured them the weak coffee and added milk and sugar for them both. She sat down then and sighed. "Your father just fears that you won't be able to be happy in your life."
"Because you chose the hard way. Being gay is special and not normal", Niccolò said.
"We are not common, pappa, that's different to being not normal. We are normal. Geez, how many gays do you know?"
Niccolò thought instantly of Coppo.
On Clarissa's face appeared a small smile. "Of course not. That man..." she sighed with some longing.
Niccolò still said nothing. He absorbed his son's words though and tried to figure out the truth in them. Coppo said his fear of AIDS was laughable when you were careful. Niccolò thought he had brought up his sons well enough to have enough of a brain to care for themselves. Still... there was danger. Wasn't the world full of perverts? And what do you count as a pervert? Men loving men? Women loving women? Just because the pope thought so and his old fashioned thinking entourage?
Giano suddenly burst out in laughter. "You never told me!"
Laughter filled the Montori's kitchen. Even Niccolò joined in with a grin. He shook his head. He had never seen his sons so cheerful. He couldn't be mad with them. Clarissa was right. They were still the same as before. No, she wasn't right. Giano and Luca had been silent and without trust. Now they were open and perhaps for the first time he could see their very being.