Stealing Melons

[Written in 2009 during a semester spent at a Sicilian high school]

A breeze from the ocean and maybe before that from Africa was blowing over the dusty olive groves and thorn bushes, which thrive on this dry Ostro breeze. It was a beautiful evening, as the clouds had cleared earlier in the day and made way for a driving sun, the infamous Sicilian sun. The heat of the day made the comfortable night air seem so much sweeter, giving all who breathed it a feeling of contentment because they know that summer has finally arrived after a long and rainy winter, the worst in forty years, they told me.

I can’t help but feel lately like I am biding my time. In less than a week I will return home to New York to my family, my friends, and my life. To diners and backyard pools and the sweet summer sound of crickets at night. To brothers and sisters and omelets and green, green grass. I am ready to return home, more than ready, excited. The more I think about it, the more I feel that I have tied all the loose ends here, and those that cannot be tied will never be, so I might as well enjoy myself.

A party was organized by some good friends, Luciano and Davide, who sent text messages to everyone in their address books asking for five euros from everyone, for pizza and chips. Wine would be provided by some friends whose family owned a small vineyard, and it arrived in big plastic bottles tasting smoky and fresh. Davide volunteered his house in the country. It sits on a ridge between two small valleys, and is mostly the same as all of the other country houses built during the Fascist era; small, white, with one bedroom, one bathroom, and a kitchen, decorated with faded religious iconography and calendars. The paint is cracked at the corners, there is dust in the cupboards and on the stove. They are wonderful, truly Sicilian houses.

It was a great party. Lots of people came, friends, classmates, faces I’d seen around Favara, high school drop-outs stopping by in souped up Fiats and Alpha Romeos, kids with mullets and flipped up collars on their way to the discos and night clubs. There was pizza and the singing of Sicilian songs accompanied by little acoustic guitars with missing strings. The moon was bright and cast subtle shadows on the small dirt ridges between the olive groves.

Later in the night, when the majority of the scooters had buzzed away towards the orange lights of Favara, a small group of us sat on the roof looking over the dark panorama towards the ocean. The breeze slipped over us, but was warm and reassuring. I surprised myself with how much of the local dialect I understood, as it is truly a language apart from Italian, a dizzying mix of Arabic, Latin, Greek, Norman, German, Catalan, French, Spanish; a reflection of the many conquerors of the strategically coveted island. We sipped the local wine out of little white plastic cups, and talked about American politics, the importance of the country house in Sicilian family life, and the problems in Favara and Sicily. I felt sleepy, until one of the kids, a barber-in-training, said, “Let’s go steal some melons!”

So we departed from the house, leaving the lights on and the doors wide open, confident in the blind, mangy guard dog that sits chained to a pine tree next to the gate. I had no idea where we were going, but the wind felt good on my face and in my hair so I didn’t care. We scooted along the road in a pack, feeling like a biker gang. At one point they turned off their motors and lights and by the light of the moon coasted down a hill, stopping at a little dirt road leading left into the fields. Silently I followed the kids over thorn bushes, which scratched my bare ankles until we crested a mound, entering the melon fields. They are farmed under long white plastic tents, and we ducked in. The melon plants had little bristles, which cut my hands when I reached to pull out the fruit. We ducked into the dirt when a car came by, as the lights illuminated the white plastic and for a moment and gave color to the green leaves and vines.

My adrenaline was running high. The barber-in-training put two or three nice looking melons into a bag, then we scrambled over the mound laughing and trying to avoid the thorns. I looked back over the field and saw lights on in the farmhouse. I heard a car start, and we all broke into a sprint towards our drivers, who were waiting with the scooters at the end of the road. The melon farmer was probably sitting out on his porch and heard the scooters, then saw our shadows in the field. Later in the night the kids told me that last year he had fired a gun into the sky to scare them away, and that he has big mean dogs we are lucky to have missed. We returned to the country house, where our dog was asleep in the dirt.

Back on the roof we cut open the melons and ate the sweet fruit, our excitement just beginning to subside. Over and over we discussed how the car was coming to get us, in our minds crafting an idea of great adventure and bravery. We had escaped the melon farmer and his dogs, and sat eating the fruit, watching the blinking lights of the beach towns on the coast.