To be a King

Giselle Webber

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The light of the sun danced on the water. As we walked along the shore, my younger sister, Zana, would occasionally stop to pick up a pebble. She examined the texture, shape, size, and color before deciding whether she wanted to take it home with us or not. The land of Capri was beautiful during the winter, and I wanted to take her to the sea whenever I could. Our villaggio was about a mile away, so to a five-year-old, especially, the walk was exhausting. But each step was worth it when we got there. Every time, her face would light up at the sight of the waves crashing to the rocks. And the many pebbles. Zana would regain her energy, and begin running straight to the shore. It seems as if every time, I had to remind her to slow down so she’s not too far away. She would then try to walk at the fastest speed she could, the anticipation building with each step that would bring her closer to the Tyrrhenian Sea. This was our paradise.

“How many ciottolos should I bring home today, Avivah?” Zana asked me before looking back down in search for more. She picked up another to put in her bag. I smiled before I replied,

“Not many more or they’ll get too heavy for you on the walk back.” Her light brown hair was being tossed by the wind, as she shook her head in disagreement.

“They won’t get too heavy!” she exclaimed, and shook the small bag of maybe twelve pebbles. Zana crossed her arms preparing to pout, before we exchanged glances at each other. She bit her bottom lip before pulling on my arm with a smile.

“I’ll show you!” she began to skip ahead of me. She held the bag above her head and turned to reach for my hand. I grinned at her proposal, as I ran to join her. I held her hand in mine, and together we skipped, knowing that they wouldn’t weigh us down.

The walks back home were always burdensome. But not because I often ended up with a sleeping sister on my back. The strain was having to leave a world behind that always welcomed us, that inspired us. It was painful to leave a place where Zana and I felt accepted in. The clouds now hung heavily in the deep blue sky. The dark made it harder to see, but I knew where we were. Our home was just a few blocks away, and Zana felt far heavier then she had earlier. The ancient romans saw Capri as a haven, when they first inhabited the island. And they were right, but no one anticipated that a natural disaster would ruin a natural treasure. Rubbish buried the streets where I stepped, and the shaken houses overlooked the wreckage, unsteady where they once stood strong. These two worlds were very different. Capri had been hit by an earthquake just five months earlier, turning our home into ruins. Roads, houses, and schools were the first to be damaged. The festive essence of our villa went soon thereafter. Many houses that still stood, remained weak, but some were being repaired. With focus on housing, roads as well as the schools that led us there remained broken, with first priority elsewhere. I could remember the excitement my sister had for her first day of school. She was only four then, and had packed her backpack. She placed it near the door and waited for the day. It was now early December, and the backpack had stayed near the front door, under the partial roofing, as Zana continued to wait.

I knew Mamma would be sitting in the living room where she’d worry until we returned. I opened the tattered door quietly to find Mamma in her chair, a frown apparent from where I stood. I stepped a little closer to where she was.

“I’ll put Zana to bed.” I whispered, delaying the inevitable. After tiptoeing into our bedroom, I took my sister’s shoes off, and laid her down, placing her ciottolos on her bedside table. I kissed her forehead before returning to the living room where Mamma was now standing, arms crossed.

“What has caused you to arrive at such an hour?” she requested sternly. Her eyes showed more weariness than anger though.

Mi scusi. Forgive me. We were only going to stay for an hour. We got so busy looking for ciottolos, and watching the sun go down. Scusa, Mamma.” I said quickly. She sighed and let her shoulders drop. She looked at me with tired, forgiving eyes.

“I guess that’s what I get for bringing you both to the oceano so often when you were younger. I still can’t keep you away from those waves.” She wiped my cheek with her thumb, and sat back down with relief we were back.

“You’ll have to stay here tomorrow, though, to help fix another house just down the road.” She said as she leaned back in the chair. We did this often now, helped rebuild other houses near, and far from ours. Since school was out, and jobs were lost, many families stayed home and focused on recovering. Since Papà had already repaired the major damage done to our home, we began to volunteer to help others’ with theirs. Some, though, tried going back to work to make a living. Papà had, too, gone back to work at the market where he sold fruits to shoppers. His job was able to pay for the house, and put meals on the table before the earthquake. Now, people have kept a tight grip on their decreasing earnings, leaving less money for venders, like Papà. We had to start taking from the money we had saved over the years just to get by. Our neighbors across the street had to move in with their relatives in Salerno, Italy a month after the earthquake hit. The family couldn’t afford to risk living in their unstable house. The property was for sale, but the house suffered a lot of damage. The place needed a buyer who had hope. Mamma now leaned forward in her chair.

“You won’t believe who is helping us tomorrow.” She said with a grin, I looked at her, puzzled.

“Who?” I asked. Her eyes were bright as she looked up at me.

“Tomorrow, the Prince Milo of Italia will be participating in the rebuilding right beside us! He wants to be a part of the recovery before he becomes king.” She said loudly, quickly glancing at the room Zana was sleeping in. I rolled my eyes at the mention of Prince Milo, the one who represented Italy yet left us alone when his help was needed most. His father, King Victor Emmanuel III, was beginning to have health problems, and was giving his throne to his first son, Prince Milo.

“You better get some rest, my figlia. It just may be a day of great change.” She then stood from her seat, and kissed my forehead. Her quick strut to her bedroom conveyed energy, enthusiasm, and hope. I then trudged to bed. As I climbed under the homemade quilt, I thought about how the Italian royalty had never before expressed concern for the people of Capri. It was as if the earthquake shook Prince Milo to see that we’d been struggling for many years earlier. Our future King had no prior interest in helping, and suddenly that all changed. Doubt and disgust stirred in my heart. The air was cold, and I pulled the quilt over my shoulders. The minor repairs to our home were yet to be made, but our conditions were decent enough, for through the ceiling, I could see the stars.

I awoke to hear Zana singing with Papà nearby. I rose from my bed, and began to get ready for the day, humming the tune of their melody. As I joined along, I thought about making an excuse for why I couldn’t help the day the Prince came. I just couldn’t picture being so close to someone who kept us so far away. When my family and I left the house, we were amazed. We hadn’t seen so many people outside for months, and they all were heading towards the house down the road. As we walked in a small crowd, I could sense the eagerness of everyone around, including myself. The eagerness to see someone who was capable of change spread through the island and inspired hope. For me, it inspired curiosity.

“Will I get to meet the Prince?” Zana asked, jumping over piles of debris. I laughed.

“Probably not, my sorella. He’ll be too occupied with getting people to accept him as king.” I said, watching to make sure she wouldn’t trip.

“Avivah, look!” Mamma exclaimed, touching my shoulder.

“Prince Milo. Perbacco!” Papà whispered. I glanced up from Zana, and sure enough, Prince Milo was seconds away. Even though his father, King Emmanuel III, was a short man, he looked slightly taller than me, and his facial features were bold. He had been talking to a few other men, pointing at the damaged house. Many people were roaming around the property cleaning up garbage. Mamma and Papà went to talk to their friends who happened to be nearby. Zana followed them, her eyes gazing curiously at Milo who was now alone, holding a piece of paper. I stopped walking as my family continued toward the house. I thought about the last several months, and the struggles we had yet to overcome. I knew I had to take this opportunity to talk with him, so that I could maybe, for my people, be the one to inspire change. Slowly, I stepped in his direction, my heart pounding at my chest. As I got closer, he looked away from the piece of paper, and our eyes met. I regretted the situation already because I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere with someone so different from me.

Chao, my name is Avivah.” I said uncomfortably.

Chao, I’m Milo.” He said as if I didn’t know. “Do you live in this villa?”

, my famiglia and I live several houses down.” I attempted to point at our house, but it was out of sight. He nodded, and looked around at the people, as if I wasn’t there. He returned his attention to me.

“So Avivah… What is it really like? Living here I mean.” He questioned. He was squinting, for the sunlight reflected in his eyes. I was surprised that he would ask such a question. A prince who desired to know what it was like to live like I do seemed… rare. The answer to his question was within our surroundings, from the shaken houses to the unemployed people in them. But a proper description of Capri couldn’t fit into a thousand words, so I decided to respond simply.

“Humbling.” I said knowing of his elegant lifestyle. I met his gaze once again.

“Why?” he asked, shielding his eyes from the sunlight. I thought about this for a moment, annoyed by his persistence. I realized I had but one answer.

“It’s my home.” I said proudly. He began shaking his head as his expression grew more concerned.

“And in ruins.” He mumbled as my smile faded. I shyly nodded like this information was news. I knew I had to do something. Something that would change things.

“Would you mind taking a walk? I’d like to discuss Capri.” I immediately began rethinking my request with an understanding that it was the first to be heard from our island. He thought for a while before finally he declared,

“Yes. Let’s go for a walk.” It wasn’t until after he spoke that I began to breathe again. I quickly glanced at Mamma, indicating we were leaving. We hadn’t started talking again until we were a few streets away from where the house was.

“I’d like to discuss what will become of Capri. School has been out, and houses are unsafe, Prince Milo.” My heart kept pounding at my chest with every word I spoke.

“Please.” He said. “You can just call me Milo.” He seemed exhausted. His strong, bold persona now looked wearier away from the crowd. More human.

“I’ve always wondered about what it would be like to grow up in a villa, and not behind high castello walls. Kept away from everyone.” He said sadly as he gestured to his surroundings.

“Yes, but it isn’t easy to live here.” I said quickly, irritated by his ignorance. “Those walls have kept you from seeing years of our desperation.” He looked up at me in puzzlement. I continued, “And I’m worried, because if it takes an earthquake to get you here, it won’t take much to make you leave.” He furrowed his brow and said,

“The fact that it took an earthquake to get me here is precisely why I’m not going anywhere.” We had stopped walking then. He continued,

“I had no idea that things were as bad as they are, and for that, I apologize.” His eyes didn’t reflect a king’s pride, but a peasant’s guilt. Everything I assumed was correct, except the assumption that Prince Milo tried to keep Capri at a distance. Yes, he was naive, but only because he was raised to be a king.

“I’m set to be king in a few days. From then on, I will be able to dramatically help Capri recover.” He insisted. “At this time next week I will be back. I will be right here, awaiting your arrival. From there, we can begin to change Capri for the better.” I smiled with a new found hope in my heart. I raced back home to tell everyone of the news that Prince Milo was to become king the following day, and would change our lives forever, for we had a king on our side.

I couldn’t sleep that night. My mind was too occupied, thinking about a new school, and new houses and roads. I had the same anticipation Zana had when she set her eyes on the shore. Except now, I had my eyes set on a better tomorrow for the land of Capri. That night I dreamt of the shore that night. The waves of opportunity surged over the rocks, and the pebbles were overpowered by its advance.

I awoke the morning of his return, eager to set out to where Milo and I had planned to meet. I spent the entire week anticipating that morning where change would begin. I bounded to my parents room, and cried,

“Get up! Get up! Today is the day we’ve been waiting for. Perbacco!”

We gathered the villa, and together we walked to meet King Milo. Smiles flooded the crowd, and the children circled their parents giggling. Zana held my hand, and we knew this walk was important. The energy billowed throughout the island while we traveled closer to our destination. And then I saw him. His hands were at his side, and he was facing the sea. I looked at Zana whose nose was crinkled, for her smile was wide. I let go of my grip, and ran to meet Milo. The rest of the crowd waited behind. Once Milo saw me, he began to run too. I glanced back at my family, and saw just how many people had been with us. I turned back around to realize how close I was getting to him. When I reached him, I wouldn’t wait to ask,

“What is to be done, King Milo?” I grinned as we finally approached each other. He returned my expression, but remained quiet for a moment. He looked up at me and shrugged.

“Oh, but I am no king.” He responded at last. I looked at him, confused.

“What do you mean?” I asked quickly. I figured he wasn’t serious, for he said he would be king. He shook his head as he said,

“I’m not a king because I don’t need to be king.” He began to smile as I pondered his meaning.

“I don’t understand.” I said. His gaze was calm and confident. He smiled.

“You don’t need to have a powerful title to do great things.” He declared. “You don’t need to be a king to make a change.” I thought about his words, and finally, I knew what he meant. And I knew he was right. My eyes welled with tears, and my lips quivered, as I thought about my home in ruins with a promising future. And I smiled back.

“What is to be done, Milo?” I asked again, tears running down my cheek, for I knew that today was a new start. I thought about all of the work that had yet to be done. All of the pain that was ahead. I understood that it would be a long and demanding journey where I would become drained and exhausted. I would feel like quitting, but knew I couldn’t. I knew that when I saw what I’d been looking for, I’d regain every ounce of energy lost. For once I saw that my struggles were worth the result and the result was worth my struggles, my spirit would be replenished with exhilaration. I would begin walking at the fastest speed I could, the anticipation building with each and every step that would bring me closer to what I’d been looking for. Then, I would sprint, for there would be no one telling me to slow down.

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