*Note to reader: some parts of the short story are quotes from books and songs including works such as The Color Purple by ALice Walker and the song “Sun Hands” by Local Natives. The rest is all original work of the author.
The Hope of Suffering
Jeovanni Oliver Benedetto had been a prisoner of war for six long years. During his time in the Monaco “pint”, as the other prisoners called it, he had been abused and exploited in every possible way, his skin battered and bruised, and his spirit abashed and crushed, testified of the horrific time he endured at the prison in Monaco. And now, because the second world war was over, the middle aged man, once young and full of life, ponderously dragged his feet as he walked away from the cold prison cell, and towards the forgotten warmth of the sun’s rays, finally savoring his first taste of freedom in half a decade. It was the first day of spring, and James could not help but cry at the idea of finally seeing his beloved wife and three children again and returning to his ranch in Potenza. Philippe Esposito also cried, except not for anyone, but for the beauty of the French countryside in the distant hills.
Philippe had become very good acquaintances with Jevanni while in prison, and he also lived a few miles north of Jeovanni’s ranch, so he tagged along with him in pursuit to return home. The men walked to the centre of Monaco adjacent to the prison in the surrounding countryside in order to find a way home and prepare for the journey. Once they reached the city the men ate a quick meal and purchased two shotguns and a regional map with the money they had saved from before the war and the stolen I.D badges of the guards. After making a plan and reading the map, the duo calculated that it would take them three days walking through mostly dense regions of forest and mostly through the jagged backbone of Italy, the Alps, in order reach the ranches. To save money, the men would only eat what they could hunt, catch, or pick from the earth. The men camped outside the city, on a hill overlooking the coast. The men arose the next day with the sun and picked their breakfast from the fig trees on the hill where they slept.
The men made their way from down the hill and into the thick forest in the valley. After having only walked about three miles into the woods, Jeovanni could be heard rattling his gun uncontrollably; he had developed Parkinson’s disease while in prison and his condition had now intensified to the point of complete disability at times. Yet, neither of the men wanted to address the issue as a possible setback for the trip home. Instead, Philippe broke the silence with a simple question which had an obvious answer, “so are you excited to go home?” Jeovanni’s delayed answer confused Philippe and finally he responded with choppy rhythm in his voice, “Yes. Of course. Are you?” Philippe quickly replied “I am certainly looking forward to a new beginning.” Although the men had been close acquaintances during the war, they remained quiet for the rest of the day and at night when they camped, perhaps both their minds preoccupied with the surrealness of their freedom and journey home.
It was not until the next morning when the men were entering into La Spezia that the first words were spoken, or rather howled, in nearly twenty four hours. The Marsican bear attacked from the side of the mountain and wounded both men severely. After trekking through the woods to pick wild berries, the men found their way back to the trail only to be followed by the enormous sow who attacked from in front. The bear first charged Philippe, moving with the momentum of a train, and he, as thin as a young child, lost hold of his shotgun which happened to fire into Jeovanni’s left foot. While Jeovanni wailed in pain, unable to help Philippe, he made every effort to fight the bear off but his attempts were in vain, for the bear was three times his size and boundlessly stronger. After being mauled for almost a minute, Jeovanni was finally able to grip his gun tight enough to fire at the sow and scare it away, despite his ceaseless tremors. The scene was horrific. Both men laid exhausted on the rocky ground, sobbing uncontrollably from the traumatic experience, each one surrounded by a vibrant mix of crimson and green. Jeovanni had lost all five toes, his foot a bloody stump, and Philippe was missing both his thumbs. Hours later, they managed to hike through the forest of La Spezia and sojourn at the Magra river for two days and nights, recuperating their lost thumbs and toes.
On the last day they rested at the river, the sun out of sight, and the moon high above surrounded by the star-pierced sky. Jeovanni sat resting his back against a tree, his feet dangling in the river, and Philippe kneeled near the campfire, attempting to gut a fish with a knife, without thumbs. After two days of silence, Jeovanni’s voice seemed to boom like thunder within the silence of the wilderness, as he finally said “It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing. Look at me.” Philippe, reluctant, could only bring himself to look around the man, at the river or the forest behind him but not directly at him. “Look at me! I can’t go on. I keep trying but for what? I have had my dignity stripped of me by soldiers, animals, and the misfortune of this life and what have I done to deserve any of it?. Every time I have been struck with misfortune and I suffer, I, foolishly, have told myself to keep going, to not give up because it is simply a valley in the mountain range. But you know what I have recently learned in the school of life? I have learned that this life of mine has been a never ending valley which will cease to ever rise into a glorious mountain. All this suffering is meaningless and there is nothing to show for it. So, even if I can help it, I am just going sit here like a duck, waiting for the next tragedy to strike, to see what else I can loose. Tomorrow morning, when we planned on leaving, you go on. This life has gotten the better part of me and now I have nothing to give to my family or this world, so just let me disappear. I will no longer be fortune’s fool.” After his harangue, he was all shaken up, weeping and shaking from anger and Parkinson’s disease.
Philippe, patiently waited a few minutes for Jeovanni to collect himself, and, finally, he composedly said “You have been a brave man to continue this far, and, as you said, a fool..” He paused, cleared his throat, and continued “You have been a man stricken with grief, tossed and turned by the waves of life, with countless losses, yet you are not a fool for continuing this far, but for viewing your suffering as malevolence. Every time you suffer is a lesson life is trying to assure you learn so you can be a wise and learned man. But you have been too blind to see this, too self absorbed to wonder what might be the greater cause of this suffering. Maybe that is why you keep suffering, life keeps trying to teach you the same lesson and you refuse to learn it. I learned the lesson years ago after I was bereaved by the loss of two of the dearest women I loved most, my wife and daughter. For a while, I thought like you, but after some time I realized what there was to learn amidst the tragedy, that is, suffering teaches you to be humble, trust others, and just appreciate life and every moment, whether good or bad. No one deserves to suffer but life is kind enough to make us in order to be better people and live to the fullest. When you walk through the mud you get tired and can easily slip and hurt yourself. But if you keep walking you gain strength and are able to hold yourself with more peace over time and worry less about falling and more about reaching your destination. Don’t be so absorbed in your misery. Take a moment to realize the beauty of the transformation suffering is making you into.” He stopped abruptly as he saw the breaking dawn, beams of light illuminating the surrounding fields of lavender. He started again, more withdrawn, his attention focused on the surrounding wilderness, “A wise woman once said, ‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it’.” Philippe turned his full attention back to Jeovanni “you and I have both suffered a fair amount recently, endured many similar hardships including what happened a few days ago. We have had countless losses, but in addition we have also had countless chances to learn. I have suffered a lot, and I have tried to learn each time, and I suppose life wants to keep teaching me. As for you, you also have much to learn and live as well. I hope now you realize this is all for a reason. Suffering is a virtue.”
Philippe stood from where he kneeled, grabbed his gun and basket, and said “You can stay, if that is what you really want, but I hope you are as much of the man as I know you can be.” Jeovanni wiped his tears and remarked “help me stand and I will follow you.” The two men found the main trail again, and in the distance the trail lead to the great snowy Alps, seeming insurmountable. As the men walked up to the mountain, Jeovanni began to hum a song he had heard while in the prison, which personified happiness as a woman.
I climbed to the top of a hill
But I had just missed the sun
And although the descending arc was gone
Left behind were the traces that always follow along
The most beautiful colors chase the sun
They wrap her trail in a taunting gesture
That seems to sing out loud,
"this is what you're missing"
I'll endure the night
For the promise of light
I want to lift my hands towards the sun
Show me warmth
Baby, won't you show me warmth again?
And when I can feel with my sun hands
I'll promise not to lose her again
And even if the morning never comes
My hands are blessed to have touched the sun
And when I can feel with my sun hands
I promise not to lose her again
When the two men finally reached the foot of the mountain, Philippe, tired and head tucked, quietly announced to the world “With what strife and pains we come into the world we know not, but ‘tis commonly no easy matter to get out of it.” And so they marched on, determined to reach their ranches in Potenza, and forever fortified by the hope of suffering.