I want to know again the school boy, who stared at the map and wished – but never truly believed – that he could come here, who thought the toe of the Italian boot must be a strange place to be, and funny that people might actually go there, live there. I want to know that boy again, who might be able to zoom down into the map and see this car, half-filled with his older-self, winding its way along the E45 toward Villa San Giovanni.
This last part of the highway is a constant contrast from dark to light, and back again. Tunnels have been bored through the rock of the precipitous mountains that our vehicle clings to, and appear every kilometre or so on the journey back down to sea-level. As we come out of the final one, the sun is blocked by the mountains rising sharply to the left.
Suddenly – the sun shining on it as it comes into view around a corner – Sicily looms into our lives. It is so close to the mainland, the promontory of the island curving around Italy’s toe – supposedly within range of an ancient arrow fired from the opposite shore. We know each other now.
We come down to the edge of the water, and wait for the ferry to carry us safely between Scylla and Charybdis, to the shore opposite. As we cross, I take the rainbow touching down where the whirlpool of Charybdis should be, to be a good sign.
There is moisture in the air, and the heavy clouds hang low, close enough to touch. God’s fingers shine through, variously upon the city opposite, the ocean itself, and the ships crossing it. The rain starts to come down, a cleansing rain, the last rain we see until the day before we leave the island. Decks are swabbed, gutters cleared of garbage. Roof tiles are slick, windows cleaned, tear-stained cheeks run clear, tarmac polished – Sicilia is positively gleaming as we approach.
Our ferry pulls in to the ancient city of Messina, and as we are about to get into our car again, I look to the mainland and connect back with the boy, to ensure he is watching. Hopefully he can see his future-self placing a foot on the island, and finally he might believe.