We start with one

Publish date 24-06-2021

by Max Laudadio

When I work I live in Milan, in a street that has changed its appearance over the years and which, thanks to the opening of dozens of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, is slowly attracting the Milanese nightlife.

Raul lives in front of a small supermarket, which is almost always open. Or rather Raul works because given the ethnicity I suppose that when the market closes the shutter he returns to some nearby Roma camp.

Raul does not speak Italian well, he can barely greet with a shy hello, but I do not think that this conditions his existence because hardly anyone stops to talk to him. Raul smells a lot, like all those who live on the street, but fortunately not of alcohol anymore for the few showers that he obviously allows himself. Raul earns a few euros a day, the ones that someone leaves in the jar, and I don't think I want to really help him. Raul, however, does not give up, he is always there, day after day: with the rain, the snow, the sun, and even when the lockdown imposed for the covid would prohibit going out.
Raul has a swollen arm that seems to explode at any moment, and his hand is so purple it appears rotting.
Raul always has sad eyes, his gaze is lost in the void, and perhaps nothing can change it. To tell the truth, I don't even think interests. Raul is one of the many invisible men who live in Milan.

One day I decided to stop by him, I don't know why but I did it. He was very suspicious and he didn't even look up to understand who the feet next to his precious jar belonged to. I didn't give him any money but I asked him if he was hungry. He gave a negative nod with his head. So I raised and asked him for his name but he didn't answer. When I left, I felt useless, drained, and I blamed myself for not giving him even a single euro.

The next day Raul was always in his place and when I saw him I greeted him warmly but for him it was as if I didn't exist. He did not see me or did not want to see me, the fact remains that the result did not change: zero answers. For about two or three weeks the scene was always the same; my greeting fell into emptiness, as his gaze continued to be emptiness. Then, one day, Raul raised his head and after covering his sick arm with a worn jacket, he stopped me and asked my name.
He will seem strange but that question has upset my day because that man so lonely, destroyed by life, probably devoid of any dreams, had decided to open his armor and trust me

It took two months for Raul to add something more to the usual "Ciao Max", and two more to find the courage to ask me if I could help him. He didn't ask me for money but for the possibility of meeting a doctor. Raul confided to me that every time he tried to go to a hospital they didn't let him in, because he was undocumented and no one could vouch for him. But also that his life had no value because he was a gypsy, and that he did not expect anything from anyone always because he was a gypsy, and he concluded by emphasizing that "no one loves gypsies".
It is easy to understand the reason for Raul's words but it is always strange to hear phrases that do not include hope. I want to be very honest, I too pay attention when I am in front of a Roma, but not because they are gypsies, thank goodness racism does not belong to me, and moreover I respect the nomadic lifestyle, but only because several times with my work I found myself opposing the illegality of some of them and also personally risking dangerous repercussions.

But I trusted Raul, without thinking twice, and keeping in mind that mercy passes through words before becoming concrete and risks becoming sterile if this does not happen. We went to the hospital by motorbike and we also laughed a lot. I don't want to dwell on how they treated him, because I believe my presence influenced their attention, but rather on what happened after the long hours spent together in the emergency room.

Raul every time he sees me he gets up from his paint can and comes towards me to greet me with that joy that seemed not to belong to him. When I'm not passing by for a few days, he stops my wife or daughter and asks them if I'm okay or if they need to worry about me and, every time, he asks to say hello. I cannot swear that Raul is not a criminal, nor that when he returns to the Roma camp he does not do something illegal but, when I see him, I always ask myself the same questions. How much does mistrust affect our life? And wouldn't a little more kindness be enough?

Max Laudadio
NP march 2021

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