"There's nothing like poverty to get you into heaven…"

February 20, 2015

 … a verse from "Poor's man house" by Patty Griffin

He was a man of few words. And one of many shouts.
He came to us out of the blue one bright and cold morning, at the homeless refuge I was volunteering in Naples, Italy.
After a few days he became to everybody "four wheels drive Tony", because he was amazingly able to go everywhere with his wheel-chair, even down steep stairs.
Both his legs were gone in some kind of accident years before, we never found out anything about it.
He probably was one of the many psychiatric patients that were discharged by a hospital after the approval of the so named Basaglia act. This important law abolished the chronic hospitals for mental disorders and instituted day-hospital ambulatories, in the belief that families and communities were better and healthier solutions than segregating. The problem is this last part of the law was never fully funded and activated.
Antonio was dismissed by the hospital, but his family was nowhere to be found. And so, armed only with his wheel-chair, he moved out of the hospital gates and got lost into the gorge of the slums of Naples.
He was a chain smoker and begged the money for it and some food on the streets. Somehow he took to unlit the cigarettes on a circular scar he had on his right thigh. It progressively became deeper and deeper assuming the resemblances of a flesh ashtray. He kept it full of half smoked cigarettes. 
We’ll never know what kind of sufferings he faced before arriving at the refuge. He never used many words and even those few were just fragments, interspersed with wild shouts and spits.
I used to have some spaghetti with him at lunchtime, trying my best to have a chat. He seemed to tolerate my company, but never gave it for granted. It was a fresh start every time, like there has been no yesterday and there would be no tomorrow.
He was assigned a room with other people, but never really used it. Even if it was wintertime, he enjoyed to sleep on the concrete floor of the courtyard, barely covered with an old blanket, stars above, ice cold concrete as mattress.
 
This image is from one early morning, one of the last he spent in the refuge.
I suppose, something in his head told him he was done with us.
He just slammed open the gate and flew.
We never saw him again. I roamed the streets for several days looking for him, but he was simply gone.
 
This picture is to me both the image of the close intimacy and of the sidereal distance we as humans may be exposed to, sometimes without a chance of understanding…
His story remains untold, his destiny unknown. And, by the way, what a common and extremely human reality this last phrase depicts…
Well, at least, even if obscurely, a small part of that story was told here, Antonio…

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