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Rosa

 

Rosa sits on her bed looking through a jumble of letters and photographs. She has written over each letter so many times that the paper has started to disintegrate. She still enjoys listening to parts of her story and finishing off each sentence. 

DC. “We were all happy… my brothers and…”

R. Sisters! Eight girls and four boys she had… four boys in layers. Two brothers died before I was born… not me… I didn’t die…I never had any children… not for a lack of trying… nothing ever happened…

Carry on, what are you waiting for?

DC. “My parents had...”

R. Eight girls and four boys… my family… that’s the only way I remember it… two up, two down in the bed… in a room like this… you had to get in where you could in those days… eight girls and four boys in layers…

DC. “My mother ruled...”

R. The roost! You’re not kidding! She was a big woman. A big apron… a money apron… not an ordinary apron… a big money apron. She didn’t speak more than a word of English and I don’t speak Italian… didn’t have time to learn… we ran a business you see… a fruit shop… a lovely place… high class… we delivered fruit to Paul McCartney.

Where was I born? Definitely, it was a shop… we lived above the shop… you don’t hire a shop or anything like that… you go into it with all your family… do you understand me? Happiness was in my family. That was my father’s doing… he was a devil for opening shops… how he did it I just don’t know… You don’t keep all this in your mind… you don’t ever want to forget it but you can’t keep it in your mind. We worked Sundays as well… hard work… what did I do? Stack the fruit… polish it first… rub it with a cloth to make it shine.

John… the baby, he’s still around... my brother… my sister… Angela… she was young… in between… I had ribbons in my hair… always… I went to school… a lovely school… I don’t know if it’s still there. I’d love to go back… I doubt it’s still there… it had a shelter… well built. Write it down.

What was I good at? I’ve forgotten… not painting… wait a minute… dress… the fruit and stand… the fruit and vegetable stand… it’s the only way I can explain it. Can you even imagine what you were born in? I’ll try to pull all this out of my head for you…  Angelina… that’s right… that was my mother…my mother’s name and my sister’s name...

And here! Look at the photograph… this is my father and that’s my mother… she’s bigger than him… eight girls and four boys. Look here at his watch… he never went out without it… always such a handsome man… where do you think we got our looks from? My father… if he didn’t have a flower in his lapel he’d have an apple or something… always something from the shop. That’s me on the photograph with the flower in my hair. That’s how I did it. My father loved flowers.

DC. You were rather glamorous.

R. Thank you. That’s me with the stripes. Oh, this is the final agony! See me? That’s me with the stripes… a Lance Corporal. We made sure we were happily kitted out. These army friends… [She reads from a card] “Dear Alex, I have a new telephone. Please call me.” I have a telephone? Can you believe it that I had a stripe, now I have a telephone? It doesn’t make sense.

I was in the ATS… the army… Auxiliary Territorial Service… I made sure… our biggest job was to make sure… that the soldiers when they went out were fully kitted… us girls used to… fully kitted to go to war… there was a war wasn’t there? I was a little girl but you do remember… I remember it all… there was a famous chorus… that’s right. Run for your life.

My uniform… a big heavy grey green coat… a cap, to keep warm. I remember the Sergeant Major… a man… I can’t remember much about him… definitely a man. I joined up… I must have done… because I was in the army… had to be at the time. My sisters looked after the shop… fully kitted. We were happy… a happy group… we made each other happy… working with the Germans… the girls… we made sure the soldiers were well and truly kitted out... We’d go dancing… but there were times when none of the boys were there… they were fighting. They went abroad didn’t they? The boys did. A frightening time… we used to run and hide from the bombs… run for your life… in the schoolyard, when we heard the whistles. I can still hear them in my mind… I can still hear those planes. I must have seen them… I must have been there… otherwise how would I remember it?

I was in the army during the war… it’s only just come to me… Salvino? Salatino! I’ve not thought of that name for a long time. When… they… went… to market… that’s it! They called my father Salatino in the market. We were born… oh blimey… wonderful… wonderful… “Sally Salatino from sunny Sicily” … that’s what they called him. My father… he left a pot of coffee on the cooker so it would be hot for us children when we got up… I’ll never forget that, no matter what else I forget… he looked after us and we looked after the business… what a great man… we never went without anything… this is making me cry.

DC. We can stop if you want.

R. Are you kidding? We were all so happy. I’d forgotten… I’d completely forgotten. You’re taking back my inheritance. He used to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square… he loved that… it was his day out and his enjoyment… when he died I started to do it for him. I used to feed the pigeons on the way to work… a long time ago. That’s where I got it.

When my father died the whole of Shepherds Bush closed for the day. Sally Salatino from Sunny Sicily. What a sad day… it was a big day… my dear mother was still there… she died after him… Mother dear. We closed the shop for one day.

[Rosa picks up one of the photographs from the bed, her ATS badge is underneath.]

See… I used to wear a man’s suit and tie… that’s how we used to dress… fully kitted out. Look here, that’s my ATS badge… no, it can’t be… my badge is shiny. I wonder who left this dirty old thing here… who can we ask?

I’ve got this in my head today… the Siegfried Line… that was the Germans… not us… that line was for the Germans… that’s right… I was there… this has come recently… I can’t get it… the Siegfried Line… I can’t get it out of my head… odd… hang out your washing… Mother dear… whether the weather… hang out… oh Mother dear… I wish I could remember it… it’s driving me mad… the washing line… it was a line wasn’t it? Little bits are coming back to me… mother dear… I was in it… really in it. It all comes back in bits and pieces… whether the weather… The Siegfried Line’s still there. It goes round and round and round like that… it seems like I’ve just recently forgotten how to remember… when we get going it all comes back. Keep going is the answer… keep trying to do what you can… if you sit down you’ve had it… try to forget you’re forgetting.

“Very happy”… it says it here again… we were… you’re not kidding.

Can you believe that someone has to dress me now? I was in the army… that’s right. I dressed the soldiers... Who is it that dresses me now? My head goes round and round… only recently this not knowing. I can’t be sad… I have happy memories written around me. When you read to me, all the back things are coming forward… happy memories.

I was and I am a cheerful person… always happy in my life… eight girls and four boys she had… we all helped… I remember us sitting round a big table… all us children with two orange boxes and a board to sit on… fruit boxes from the shop… everything was from there… not much but we had happiness… it wasn’t money… we weren’t looking for that… we were happy.

DC. Should I read your story?

R. Yes… that’s nice… that’s good. Start at the beginning.

All I have here are nice combs… will that help? It doesn’t matter… carry on.

 

 Edited by Sarah Hesketh