By Francesco Verro
I was wearing my usual purple dress and as usual carrying behind me my hat and my trusty walking stick. Sitting at the table at ease, I was eagerly looking forward to my guest. I had done everything I could to make sure that all was absolutely perfect before he would arrive because I had been waiting for that moment my entire life and I certainly couldn’t afford to made a bad impression.
The landscape around us created an incredibly unusual space for our meeting; so incredible so as to leave him breathless: desert plains baking in the sun, dunes, golden sands suddenly turning red. A landscape certainly more suited to Mars than to Earth. Only now, looking back, do I realise how improper I was in that situation because of the way I was dressed of course, but also for that absurd table set with two cups of steaming hot chocolate in the middle of the Libyan desert.
I turned only for a second to admire the fantastic landscape and, when my attention was ﬁnally directed again towards the chair in front of me, Roald was there, obviously bewildered as was conceivable. Still harnessed in his pilot suit, he immediately began asking me the right questions.
“Where am I?” he asked confused and perhaps even slightly scared.
“That is deﬁnitely the right question to start with, my friend.” I exclaimed.
“However, I have to say that it will not be easy for me to answer you. You’ll have to be more speciﬁc. You’re asking me where you are physically, in this precise moment, aren’t you? I mean, with your body.”
“Well, yes.” replied Roald without really understanding.
“I think that in the meantime, you should taste my hot chocolate, what do you say? It’s exactly what you need right now.”
“Here? In the middle of the desert?”
“Oh, but that’s the point, my friend: you are not really here now.” He seemed a little puzzled.
“Taste the chocolate.” I insisted.
Roald shyly picked up the cup and although not really convinced, had a sip of chocolate. From the very ﬁrst sip, he immediately seemed particularly enchanted.
“How is it possible?” he asked. “How can I appreciate a cup of hot chocolate in a dry and warm context like this?”
“Do you really feel all that hot?” I asked.
Roald stood for a moment in silence, as if he wanted to be sure of his own perceptions.
“No.” he ﬁnally concluded. “Now that I actually come to think of it, I don’t feel hot at all.”
“And do you know why you don’t feel hot, my friend? Because in this exact moment you’re actually laying down on a hospital bed. You had an accident. Don’t you remember?”
Roald immediately sat up on his chair, nearly toppling over my precious chocolate cup onto the desert sand below.
“What? he exclaimed bafﬂed.
I picked up my long walking stick and used it to point out to the sand dune on our right. “Your plane crashed on that dune. While conscious, you were able to get out of the cockpit and drag yourself up to exactly this point, precisely here, where we are now, sitting at our table. You collapsed to the ground and fainted.”
“Now I remember!” Roald exclaimed. “The Italians did it! It was their plane! They shot at me and I crashed!”
“Are you sure?” I asked, “Or, didn’t you just run out of fuel? Can’t you remember?” Roald placed a hand on his temple and pondered.
“No.” he replied. “Actually, I’m not very sure I remember anything at all. I remember hitting the ground, the ﬁre in the cockpit, and then nothing else.”
Then, after taking another sip from his cup of steaming hot chocolate, he suddenly seemed to realise something.
“Oh my God!” he exclaimed. “Am I dead?” This is heaven, right?”
“No, you’re not dead my friend.” I assured him ﬁrmly. “But you’ve had a head injury. You’ve lost your nose, almost every tooth and for the moment, also your sight.”
Roald didn’t seem at all reassured by my unsparing act of ﬁrmness and honesty.
“What kind of bloody place is this then?” asked the young man, nearly on the verge of crying. “You could say that we are now in a sort of waiting room. An antechamber of your brain from where you can only escape in two ways: dead or alive. Right now you’re out there, lying on a bed, ﬁghting with all your strength to get out alive. And here we are: drinking our hot chocolate, helplessly waiting for a response.”
I decided to grant Roald some long moments of silence before ﬁnally deciding to touch the most important point for me and my existence. I let him shed a tear, waiting for him to calm down, and then poured him another cup of hot chocolate.
“You have to get me out of here, my friend.” I ﬁnally said.
“What?” he asked. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t you know how long I’ve been stuck in here?”
“Here in the desert?”
“Here in your brain Roald! The ﬁrst time you imagined me you were only just a child. You attended Repton High School. Don’t you remember?”
“Repton? Of course I remember!”
“Don’t you have any memories attached with chocolate?”
“Of course I do.” replied Roald. ”There was that big chocolate factory that sent us all those free bars!”
“Exactly. They always sent those forms for you to ﬁll out. Don’t you remember? They made you say which bar you had liked most of all. You had to put a tick on the name of your favourite chocolate bar and then send it directly to the factory.”
“That’s right! I remember everything now!” exclaimed Roald, as if he had just then ﬁshed out an old forgotten memory.
“Then the company issued the most popular bar! Now I remember!”
“Yes.” I said. “In those days, you thought that anyone who could think of such a similar idea was bound to be a magician, somebody very good at understanding children. You imagined him as someone bright and who completely thinks outside the box. And you used to adore those bars. Then you invented me. The owner of the chocolate factory.”
“Really? I can’t seem to remember anything.”
“You can’t remember because you’ve never talked to anyone about me. In time, I fell more and more into the background, waiting for you to let me out of here.”
“But how can I help you get out of here?”
“Let me tell you a secret, my friend” I said with a wink. “All you have to do is to speak about me. Even if only one person knew of my existence then they would be able to imagine me, and I would be able to live also within their brain, besides yours. It would be something really new for me. I would have more space, more air. I would be able to visit other worlds.”
“But how can I speak to others about you?” asked Roald. “I don’t even know your name!”
It was then, after so many years, that I understood I didn’t have a name. It was a complete shock to have found this out.
“I don’t have a name?” I cried out. “Give me a name, fast!”
“What? But how?”
“How? I don’t know how to do it! It was you who got me stuck in this place! Get me out of here, come on! Give me a name!”
“But I don’t know what name to really give you!”
“Come on Roald, hurry up!”
“Well all right then” said Roald, thinking about it. “What about Willy? Do you like it?”
“Willy? Not bad. I need a surname though, come on!”
“Don’t put me in a hurry, I need time to think about it!”
I began to sweat and become flushed. Was it the desert that was doing this to me? I don’t think so. No one is present at the moment when their name is chosen. In fact, I don’t even think it’s such a natural thing at all.
“Roberts!” he ﬁnally exclaimed. “Willy Roberts!”
I pondered over it for a second. So, my name is Willy Roberts then.
“Do you like it?” asked Roald.
“Really, I don’t know” I replied. “It’s not that bad actually.”
“I like it” he answered satisﬁed. “Would you like me to try and think up something else?”
“Actually, I wouldn’t mind hearing some other options.”
“Willy Wilson! What about Willy Wilson?”
“I like it much better” I said. “I love the idea of having a name with the same beginning as your surname.”
“I agree. So it’s decided then. Willy Wilson. “
“Do you know what I’m thinking about Roald?”
“You should write a book about me.”
Roald smiled. “But I don’t know how to write. I’m a soldier.”
“That’s not true. You know how to and you know it inside. I know this because I live inside of you.”
“Then you obviously remember my school reports, don’t you? My marks in English and the teachers’ comments.“
“They don’t mean anything” I smirked.
“They described me as a boy who was utterly unable to produce any thoughts on paper. Don’t you remember?”
“Yes. And do you really believe they were right about you?”
“Let me tell you this: a teacher once wrote that because of the way in which I expressed myself, I reminded him of a camel. Wouldn’t it be strange if I ended up dying in the middle of a desert?”
“Talk about me! Write a book about Willy Wilson! I live inside your head and know you can. Let me live inside other people’s minds. Help me get out of here. I’m lonely here.”
Roald suddenly changed his expression and placed the cup on the table. He placed one hand on his heart and the other on the chair, as if wanting to hold on to it.
“I feel strange” he said.
“Strange? In what way?” I asked.
“I have a strange feeling in the middle of my chest”.
“Is it a pleasant or unpleasant feeling?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know?”
“It’s an exciting feeling, like when an airplane takes off.”
“Then it’s a positive feeling, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Now that I think of it, yes, but it’s irritating me a little. I don’t understand what it is exactly.”
“You’re close to gaining consciousness, Roald. You’re about to wake up in your bed.”
“Yes. We haven’t got a lot of time left. Once you’ve woken up, you won’t remember anything about our conversation. Perhaps, one day, your thoughts will come back here, to this desert, in many years time. When it happens, you have to do only one thing: write. Take the ﬁrst piece of paper that you ﬁnd and write. Talk about me to others. Let me explore other worlds. The only thing you have to do is to take a pen and write something down.”
“Ok Willy, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Good luck my friend” I said.
Just before Roald woke up, I realised that I still had one last thing to say to him. “Oh, Roald!”
“Yes?” he replied.
“The surname. I’m not really sure about it. Think a little bit more about it.”
My friend, who was actually also my father, gave me a smile and then disappeared. I was alone, yet again, amongst the desert dunes, sipping my hot chocolate. I was without a name and barely deﬁned, dreaming to enter inside a great book in order to invade other people’s minds. Many, for this reason, would have described me as somewhat crazy. To me, crazy means only a person who doesn’t do, or understand, what he was born to do.
And Roald wasn’t born to shoot.