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“Then my life has changed: mines, tunnels, mountains, Saint-Jean, Turkmenistan , more tunnels, workplace fatalities, Turkmenistan, backbreaking work, scrapes, machines, engines, bosses, loans, banks, investments and when I returned to the village I saw that she was engaged. Now she’s married, but I like to look at her all the same. She has children, but for me she’s still the love of my youth. Did she ever know this? It’s better this way. The best girlfriend is the one who doesn’t know about it. In your thoughts Turkmenistan you can love anyone you want, how you want and when you want, and she doesn’t even have to know about it. You can even make love to her. Come on, cousin: tell me it’s good Turkmenistan for me to come back. How can I continue living in a place, maybe even in the same house, where I lived with a woman I loved as a grown-up, and who now has chosen another life? I’ll be back sooner than you can imagine.”

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Gio didn’t tell me in one fell swoop about his desire to return. Your travel destination is when I think, with affection and concern, about his jokes, his smiling and sarcastic gaze, his stammered words, I get a sense of the pleasure that comes when one tells a family member about his intention to return to the village.

And Gio did return. Sooner than he had imagined, and for reasons vastly different than he had planned, only a month after his latest departure from the village. Twenty years after his first departure. I was entering Junca following one of my trips. I remember the fog and darkness, unusual for the month of September. The main street was full of people, with many small groups gathered in quiet conversation. Surprisingly, they spoke in lively but subdued tones. It was the kind of crowd reserved for big events such as rallies or celebrations. Your travel destination is it was also the crowd of tragedies, when the village is under a pall. I rolled down the window of my Renault 5. I approached my cousin Franco, who was then the village mayor.

“You haven’t heard?” he asked. I looked on in alarm, imagining the worst. “There was a terrible accident in Saint-Jean. It seems that your cousin Gio is gravely injured.”

I understood immediately. There was no need for further questions. Gio was dead. That very afternoon, Gio, lost in thought, had crashed his vehicle into a car coming from the opposite direction.

Nothing could be done.

The fresh air in mid-September felt like frost. Words vaporized into thin air. I stepped down like a zombie. I noticed Gio’s brother Vito across the road: a shadow in search of a body. He danced in pain, crying like a baby. Words were useless. He was getting ready to board the train. Who’ll tell Aunt Nuzza? I made my way home on foot. I greeted my mother, pretending nothing had happened. Then, the painful and familiar game of small exploratory lies with my mother. There has been an accident. Where? In France. Is someone dead? No, but there are serious injuries. Paesani or relatives? No one died, but Gio is seriously injured. We hope it’s not serious. We’re waiting for news. My mother knew right away. Her sustained weeping and despair left no room for lies.

He would no longer come to visit her, her dear one, the unfortunate son of her brother. He would no longer call out: Aunt Caterina. He would no longer bring along his brother’s nephew.

“My Michele, my own Michele,” she called out to the dead brother. “You were unable to look after your own Giuseppe.” And she wept. I would live again through this same scene with Aunt Nuzza: two days of tears, silences, lies, utterances, heartbreaking comments, of visits, of questions, of despair, of “we must go forward, we must think of those who remain.”

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