18 April 2017

for :   Pompeii

We struggled through the darkness, our bodies beaten by falling stones, our faces smothered by the drifting rain of ash. Pillows covered our heads, their corners tied down with long scarves under our chins. Other cloths covered our mouths and noses, with only a slit between cheeks and forehead. Even then we could hardly see, so thick was the ash, so black the world around us, covered in darkness, full of the utter absence of light – it was like when you go into a small room at night, without a lamp, and close the door behind you. Except the air was thick with ash and stones and the screams and whimpers of women, children, and men, crowding around you, struggling together toward the gate of the city.

All the while the falling stones pelted us. Smacking on our arms and shoulders, thudding against the pillows covering our heads, clattering and splattering on the walls and rooves around us. We struggled on. Somewhere, somehow, we got to the gate, shoved our way through, and staggered out into the open countryside, almost losing the road.

In that dark, there was only the sputtering of other people’s torches around us, and the faint, helpless glimmer of oil lamps – which were constantly snuffed out by the falling ash… yes, strange, but to this day I can still hear that one woman begging for a light from a nearby torch flame… well the gods only know why that one voice sticks in my mind… and so I wonder what became of her? Did she make it all the way to Sorrentum? Or like so many others, did she give up, hide somewhere, trying to rest under a roof, out of the falling stones and choking ash, and then find herself smothered in the next morning, by that horrible cloud of burning flame and smoke that came down from the mountain, just as dawn was finally bleeding in from the east, somewhere, in those thin, feathered cracks under the dark cloud….

No. I don’t know. I don’t know what became of her. But I can still hear her voice, begging for a light, a bit of flame for her small lamp.

We almost lost the road ourselves. But I knew it too well. The last few years, after coming home, I have followed that road many times, walking or riding back and forth between Pompeii and Stabiai, and often further on, to Sorrentum.

But I never traveled it like we did that day and that night.



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