Mine is a dangerous business. Some would call it sordid, but I argue that it’s a righteous one, and given the economic and moral climate of Italy today, it’s a career just as ‘of its time’ as anything in website design. Actually I have an online presence. I find that certain chatrooms can be a very good place to meet the kind of people I need to meet. But I still prefer the old-fashioned way. I’ve got various friends who can help to get me into the right sort of venues in Milan and Rome. I’ll not keep you guessing any longer. I’m in the entrapment and blackmail trade.
I lead politicians and other public figures to compromise themselves with me, unaware that video and photographic evidence is being gathered. At the end of it I tell them my secret, the thing that could bring them down, whereas if I was just a normal prostitute they could carry on regardless, perhaps even increasing their share of the vote. It’s a simple secret, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me. The thing is I’m actually a man. You’re probably thinking now you should have known. There’s something a little, well, sculpted, about my face, isn’t there. Now you’ll be wanting to know about my physical apparatus, operations and so on. Well as it happens I have always had a feminine body. Slim, with narrow shoulders. But I did go to Thailand, and I did have some treatment. My chest was enhanced – and yes, I’m getting to it – down here I have the female parts, but – and this is the key – to put it crudely I still have a dick. How so? Well don’t worry about the details but I can tell you that it’s not so big and tape can do wonderful things. But that’s not what I want to tell you. You look like a curious person and I’m in the mood to talk about the past. I want to tell you a story. It begins, like many stories, one day…
…One day, desperate for popularity, I invited Magliaro’s gang up to my attic room. I was sure they would be impressed by the cobwebs draped like bunting between the beams, and the magic carpet Papa had won at cards from a Persian spice trader in the midst of the desert. I would show them the faded campaign maps pinned to the walls, and they would be so filled with awe they would immediately accept me. Magliaro smiled, idiotically, in response to Mamma’s greeting. She was mashing yams for one of her native dishes, and I felt a pang of embarrassment at the stares of the gang as they passed through the gloomy kitchen. Magliaro turned in the doorway and watched her pounding the boiled vegetable in a pestel, a movement that caused her buttocks to thrust out against the folds of her skirt. As we climbed the stairs he jabbed me painfully in the side.
‘Your mamma has a tight ass, Vantozzi.’
‘So does yours’, I said, not knowing whether it was a compliment or an insult.
The gang, consisting of ‘Minchia’ Squillaci and the Marchetti brothers, imitated Magliaro’s laughter like jackals competing to imitate the pack leader.
‘But she doesn’t offer hers to tramps for a lira a pump.’
At that age I was too young to understand that flesh could have a financial value. Mamma was valuable in so much as she cared for me; any other scale of measurement seemed impossible. So I let the laughter pass and led the little unit on, up the narrow staircase to my den of secrets.
‘So this Papa of yours was a big shot in the army?’
Magliaro was strolling around the perimeter of my attic, hands linked behind his back, an emperor inspecting some colonial protectorate. An ordinary bully would have contented himself with ripping the yellowed maps off the walls and trampling them underfoot, or scrunching them into balls and tossing them out the window into the dusty yard below. But Magliaro was more subtle than that. In class he rarely got into trouble, and most of the teachers considered him a mature and honourable character. He was the captain of the school football team. The fact that his father was the sindaco may have helped, and it would have done him no harm either that his mother cut the hair of most of the women in the village. But I can’t deny, there was something about his manner that was naturally impressive: a self-assurance in his bearing that marked him early on for a position of authority.
‘He fought in the second world war’, I said proudly.
‘That was quite a long time ago wasn’t it?’
I sensed that Magliaro was drawing me into some sort of trap which I was powerless to avoid.
‘It finished in 1945’, I said. ‘Forty five years ago.’
‘And how old are you now, Vantozzi?’
‘So when you were born he was already a pensioner.’
The logic was faulty but the accusation accurate.
‘The sperm that made you was senile,’ Minchia crowed.
Magliaro put his arm round my neck.
‘Only a black whore would take a dick as old as that,’ he said.
Later, as a teenager, I asked myself how much truth there had been in Magliaro’s jibe. I listened to Fabrizio de Andre sing Via del Campo, and wondered if Papa had been that lost old he-goat who slept with Mamma in a moment of lustful adventure then married her out of loneliness. Had I been created from a union between a prostitute and her client, from which Papa had emerged onto the street ten minutes later smoking a camel en-route to a grappa at the bar?
On a school trip to Genoa’s aquarium I slipped away to make a pilgrimage to that famous street. It was easy to imagine an old soldier doing odd bits of work at the docks, being drawn to the house where paradise is found on the first floor. And, walking down the narrow street between the peeling buildings that seemed alive like a coral reef, a fearful fourteen year old staring wide-eyed up at the shuttered windows, the thought entered my head that the same possibilities were open to me. What if I was to ask that scarred bottom-feeder selling roasted chestnuts where the brothel was, and then swim up a dark staircase to the room where girls with eyes the colour of the street awaited? And if I was to commit the act that Magliaro and the others so often talked about, emptying myself inside a strange woman to gain the all-important status of manhood? I panicked at what was possible and hurried back to join my classmates. Amazingly, I managed to find everyone clustered round the portholes of the shark tank. Prof Morelli even believed my story that I had lost them trying to get a better look at the suckers on the octopus.
It was half-true: running to catch up, I had seen a massive octopus clamped by its cups to the glass window. The sight was so alien that it made me feel normal again. Even to this day, octopi and squid have a tendency to occupy my dreams with their ink squirts and vast luminous eyes.