In the early hours of the last warm August night of 2014, I was sitting in our Dacia station wagon with my Italian partner, wearing a wig made from a pink tutu, our two preteen children—still wide awake at two in the morning—and five young women from southern Nigeria, all of them drunk to varying degrees. The Odyssey had been the theme of the costume party we had just attended—an apt one considering our African guests had crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a decrepit boat only a few weeks before.
Fola occupied the front seat next to Sergio, and I reached out from the middle row to squeeze an old shopping bag under her chin. At twenty-three, she was the oldest and most inebriated of our Nigerian passengers. Her four friends were still sober enough to yell at her, and so was Sergio. Or was he shouting at me for having gotten him into this situation in the first place? It was hard to tell in a seven-seater car filled beyond capacity with the rambunctious citizens of the world’s two most vociferous nations.
“I’m sorry, mum,” Fola said.
“It’s okay, don’t worry.”
“Fola, don’t turn around. Look at the bag.”
“The bag, look at the bag!” The voices in the Dacia had morphed into a sudden chorus to remind Fola of her most important task: to aim for the bag.
Her first outburst of projectile vomiting had hit my pashmina shawl towards midnight at the party. Friends had signaled from the dance floor until I realized that I had to intervene. Fola was tall and stout, and it wasn’t easy to steer her to the deck chair near the pool. She crashed onto it and fell asleep right away. Sergio had refused to drive her up the hill to the refugee home, and I had drunk too much to do so myself. I left her in her alcohol-induced stupor and followed Earth, Wind & Fire’s call to “groove tonight.” Surrounded by inebriated Greek heroes and exuberant Olympian goddesses, I danced to two more tunes before I went back to wrap my pashmina shawl around Fola’s shoulders. A cloud of humidity had enveloped the green valley and Sergio was worried she might catch a cold, or worse yet a congestione, a party-crashing ailment known only to Italians. When I touched her lightly, she leaned forward, opened her mouth and expelled a mass of half-digested pasta, birthday cake and local red wine. I studied the new pattern on my Indian shawl and understood why Sergio hadn’t wanted to drive off with her right away. A youth spent partying in Tuscan village bars had taught him better.
I had used the pashmina as a headcloth in my costume’s interpretation of Cassandra during the early hours of the party. Unlike the Trojan seer, I wasn’t predicting the future that night but contemplating the near past and wondering how things had gotten out of hand so quickly. Had I been gifted with Cassandra’s premonitory skills and sense of foreboding, I would have understood that this hilarious, surreal and exasperating Tuscan summer night already held—like a precisely chiseled miniature—every single component, force and dynamic that would play out on a large scale in the following ten months.
"A powerful and thought-provoking memoir with the ability to change people’s perspectives on many current issues."