Facing the only upward slope of our gas-top-stove-driven small town, my grandmother would ride half its length. Then she’d get off her Ciao moped – the pedal Pegasus of the unlicensed. My helmet-free childhood sitting on the back rack, going through the motions, and jumping off with the last stride. And off we pushed, uphill, she holding the handlebar and I from the back, up that steep alley named after grandpa’s surname – her husband’s – the same she never adopted in official documents. We forced ten-or-fifteen-litre heavy sky-blue gas bottles up the hill, resting them on the front of the moped where one of any grandchildren would stand in times of leisure but this was business, and off we pushed and lifted the bottles to customers’ kitchens sitting atop of merciless successions of steps. I guarded the rings – the tiny-but-essential rubber seals – which when prompted I’d promptly present to connect the bottle to the burner of needy and useless witch-like old ladies with greyest and most complicated hairdos (let them free and their locks would reach their buttocks). Digging in my pockets, I’d entertain myself fitting the rings around my miniature fingers when hit by the tedium of adult conversations about people I did not know or care about. If lucky you’d get some chocolate, but always you’d fly back down the hill with the vuoto – the empty (bottle) – and a colourful note displaying too many zeros for its value, inflated, just like my self-worth after helping.
Valentina Gosetti teaches and researches in the field of French literature in the UK, and has completed a Doctorate in French literature at the University of Oxford. She loves poetry and has been writing poems since she can remember. She has a blog on poetry in translation (http://valentinagosetti.wordpress.com) and her Twitter is @GosettiV.