I’m struck yet again how different my life is now that I’m married to Eugenio. Dining in first-class with the ship’s captain is not something I thought would ever happen.
“More wine?” The waiter enquires, hovering with a bottle in his hand.
“But, of course, you’ll have another glass,” Tonino reprimands. “Tonight, we’re having a party. Didn’t you hear il Capitano?”
“Iucci and I aren’t big drinkers, Tonino,” Eugenio interrupts waving the waiter away. “Of course, we’ll have some to celebrate, but I drank enough for both of us during the war years and my liver did not thank me for it.” My husband’s joking tone makes light of the situation.
“Che peccato. E’ un vino rosso Italiano. What a pity. It’s an Italian red. Cin-cin!” Tonino counters, raising his wine glass and giving the traditional Italian toast.
“This ship called Africa is one of two,” I overhear il Capitano responding to one of my husband’s many questions. “The other is named Europa. Between them, they go up and down the East coast of Africa and Europe, ferrying many passengers.”
Yvonne claims my attention and so I do not hear any more of the conversation. Over the next few days, as we four Italians are often in each other’s company, we talk about our lives in Italy. Tonino is also intrigued with Eugenio’s war years in three African prisoner of war camps, especially the last one where he spent most of the time.
“So, this Zonderwater camp outside Pretoria in South Africa, you’re saying this was the largest single POW camp in all of the allied territories during that war?”
“Of the Southern Hemisphere,” Eugenio stipulates. “More than twenty-four miles of roads were built within and around the immediate camp area by the end of the war. There were fourteen blocks, with each block having four camps surrounded by high barbed wire fences. It was lit up at night by strong electrical lights. And, it was the largest—in bed capacity that is—” Eugenio explains, “of all the hospitals in South Africa. It was just before Christmas in 1942 when one of the soldiers let slip that there were over sixty-three-thousand people in that camp alone.”
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