As we travel up into the hills, Eugenio recalls his first journey as a prisoner of war in 1942. He holds my hand as he silently surveys the changing landscape. Then, he points out of the window. “Guarda! Look! It was somewhere around here. The Pietermaritzburg transit camp where we were first detained on arrival in South Africa.” He shakes his head. “Crazy to think that I turned twenty-one out here. Sometimes, during that time, I felt old for my years. I’d seen active service, death, and then the camps. But, I was still a young boy at heart.”
I cannot imagine what he must be feeling. This is a momentous occasion for him. He is returning to a place where he reached manhood. He looks at me tenderly, almost as if he has heard my musings.
“How different my situation is this time, cara mia. You don’t know what it means to have you by my side.”
We smile at each other. He’s not one to talk about feelings. In fact, he hasn’t often revealed much about his time during the war. “Parlami. Talk to me, Eugenio.”
Hesitantly, my husband commences. “It’s an eerie sense of homecoming. I mean, those were nerve-wracking times. I spent such transformative years here that, I don’t know how I survived it all. Others didn’t. And yet, there’s something about this land that called to me, even when I was back in Italy.”
A moment’s silence and then he whispers, “Can you feel it? It’s a primal sensation, an earthiness that surrounds you … engulfs you.”
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