We included this story in a postcard book (PDF) we published in 2009, as part of a campaign against the politics of fear. Back then, the Italian migration policies and media hypes were already creating a shroud of fear around anything that wasn’t “normal”, “regular”, “respectable”, “decent”. And already back then, the government decided that rescuing boats full of migrants that went adrift in the sea should be made illegal. This atmosphere of fear and distrust created the foundations of what is happening today, with refugee camps rising along the borders of our brave new world and dictatorships, campaigns of terror, famines and droughts devastating the rest of the planet.
In the face of all this, we felt the need to translate and republish this story, a dystopic picture of the long-term effects of the way our rich world is treating the human beings who didn’t have the luck to be born among the “rich” and the rest of the world that didn’t happen to be born human.
“Gramp, look, I caught two urchins!”
Holding the two spiny globes with care, Edo emerges from the water and climbs onto the boat, waking up the old man.
Without turning around, the man looks at the bucket next to him: a sardine, some seaweeds, nothing more.
“Today is another day when we will put something in our stomachs”, he says. “But if things go on like that, we’ll be bad off. Just think that in the open sea the water teems with fish…”
“In the open sea? So you have been there! They say there are wonderful creatures out there. They call them sirens…”
“Sirens are terrible beings. If you hear their shrill cry, stay away!”
“They cry, gramp? Why?”
“They cry, yes, when they see the ghost ships or, worse, the Moors”.
“The Moors? Have you ever seen them? Are they really scary as they tell?”
“When I was your age they lived here too. We lived well, then, all together, whatever the colour of our skin and the place we came from, and we went out to the open sea with fast boats. We darted among the waves without using oars, think of that!”
“What about the ghost ships — do those use oars?”
“No, ghost ships don’t: those just float adrift. But they once were simply the Moors’ boats, fast and resistant like few others.
“Shipwrecks happened back then too, to be sure, but this sea is not that big: sooner or later someone would always rescue you. We used to sail without fear. We went far, to the lands beyond the water and even further.
“Then sirens arrived, and the damaged boats and the rescuers fell prey to them. So now the sea is not the same any more: it only carries corpses, and wrecks clog the routes. But at the end of it all, with these oars you can’t really get anywhere. After less than a mile the sun’s already setting!”
The old man turns the boat toward the small harbour. Behind him, the kid stares at the horizon: in the setting sun a ship, its torn sails rolled out, is drowning in the night.