THE END OF ETERNITY
The afternoon heat burns the millennium old ruins, scorched and crumbled by the sun. It is the hour in which the air seems to stop moving, dwelling on memories of its past, for in this air there is something of the breath of the Caesars, and of the millions of citizens, now dust. Perhaps it is the air, saturated with the sweat of the legions that weighs nostalgically on the truncated columns of the forum. It is a cemetery of memories.
Like a ravaged ant-hill, its corridors and cells uncovered, in this muted hour Roma displays the ancient scars which departed barbarians have inflicted down through the ages. It is like an ant-hill dried by the sun, in whose useless remains stupid beetles wander about, tirelessly.
The sun's piercing light heats the pavements built to be skimmed by the light steps of vestal virgins trodden by the victorian feet of gladiators and worn smooth by the sandled feet of monks.
It brazenly illuminates the walls of hidden cells, picks up the marble limbs of gods fallen into disgrace.
Like beetles perspiring Germans wander among the ruins, legs rosy with the sun, scarves tied about blond ringlets. And feet. Enormous feet of civilized barbarians, bringing back to Roma a little of its civilization which has been wandering about in the Northern fogs for ten centuries.
For the Romans of today it is a sacred hour, the pennichella. They sleep, and if they sleep a little longer or a little deeper than in other cities, it is perhaps because time stops in the streets and squares here. One breathes eternity.
THERE ARE JUST TWENTY MINUTES TO THE END.
I am Romolo, the chauffeur for His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am alone in the world and old. I am no longer attracted by wine nor by women. My soul is as calm and inoffensive as a pool of still water. I look to be what I am: alone, old, calm and inoffensive. Roma is my only friend.
As you must know, as everyone now knows, the anonymous ultimatum arrived unexpectedly, while in Geneva people were still discussing disarmament.
The revelation was made that hidden somewhere in subterranean Roma is a bomb of one hundred megatons awaiting the electronic command to explode.
It is a novel idea to neutralize the defences of the whole western world while at the same time rendering useless all their detection stations. The missiles will remain in their places on the launching ramps because the atom bombs have been secretly set under the enemy's cities.
The destruction of Roma is to be an example, like Hiroshima. The anonymous statement leaves no alternative. Surrender or death.
There has not been time to assemble the Italian parliament. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had me called in great haste, and gave me his instructions. I have just put his family into the black Mercedes and now I am waiting, with the motor running, in front of the Ministry.
In Roma no one knows what is happening: why spread panic? If the bomb explodes there is no safety. And an excavation is impossible in the few minutes that have been granted us.
The Minister is standing near the telephone, his eyes on the black instrument that is connected directly with Washington.
He is like a condemned 1 man already seated in the electric chair, hoping desperately for the bell to ring announcing his pardon.
They are waiting to hear from Washington. If they surrender then Roma is safe.
I know what is about to happen because I listened shamelessly behind a door. I am alone in the world with very little pride, and getting on in years, it is only for Roma that I am sorry.
Ten minutes have already gone by. The Minister's wife is nervous, she knows nothing but she is annoyed at having been called here so suddenly. His daughter is cross and complains because she bad had to cancel a hairdresser's appointment. I ignore them, I only want to enjoy this last look at my city. I want to see everything closely, clearly as never before. I want to take it with me "after". Wherever after maybe, of course.
Cars have begun to appear. Romans who took short permichellas are beginning to stir.
Where is it? The bomb, I mean. Under the Quirinale, perhaps, or hidden beneath the Coliseum or in some subway tunnel.
A car brakes to a squealing stop next to mine and three highly-excited elderly gentlemen alight. Their faces are enough to tell me that they know as they ask to be taken immediately to the Minister. I lead the way and take them to the Honorable's office.
He is still there, tense, at the telephone: he seems very upset. The three enter and begin talking in desperation, they are scientists, and in their opinion it is a death sentence. With a hundred megaton bomb not even the dust of Roma will remain. They speak of the space-time continuum, mathematical equations, an explosion of such magnitude will produce a gigantic distortion. I don't understand it all. Does it matter? The telephone rings and everyone stares, wide-eyed.
No one answers it.
The Minister reaches for the instrument, hesitates, then raises it. His voice trembles.
He listens and his eyes fill with tears, he nods and puts back the receiver. He turns to the others, trying to assume a solemn attitude, and then stammers- E’ finita! Scoppierà! -
The three scientists look horrified, still unbelieving for an instant then without a word run towards the stairs.
- Dove vanno?- I ask, but he doesn't answer me. He takes my arm and looks at his watch.- Dieci minuti, - he murmurs. - Dieci minuti per salvarci il culo.-
He pushes me in front of him and we hurry to the car. Some of the office workers turn and look at us, puzzled.
We scramble into the car. The Minister doesn't explain but his terror is so apparent that no one asks any questions.
- Guida! - he shouts!
- Per dove?-
- Dove cazzo ti pare ma via da Romaaaa! -
I hammer the car into gear and we scream forward, a hundred kilometers an hour. The Minister's wife is crying and the daughter keeps repeating over and over
- Perché? Perché?-
Leaning on the horn I turn into the Aurelia at 180 kilometers an hour. Saint Peter's is already far behind. The police are stopping traffic to give me the right of way. Green, yellow, red. On, on, on. Nothing makes sense anymore. Those we see from the car windows are ghosts-ghosts of the dead. We, too, are ghosts.
Everything is about to end. Seven minutes more.
Now the daughter, her eyes popping with sudden panic seems to begin to understand. The Minister is muttering a steady stream of invective against "those in Washington" who have permitted the destruction of Roma. But fear sets him stammering as he stares repeatedly at his watch.
Watches, clocks everywhere. They will all stop at the same hour, in five minutes.
An old woman crosses the street and I cannot miss her. Her body flies about thirty meters and lies motionless.
- Vai! Vai! Non hai ammazzato nessuno! Aveva solo quattro minuti di vita! Va! -
I am calm. It feels as though all this is happening to someone else, this insane and useless chase. The mushroom will catch up with us anyway, five million degrees, we won't even feel it.
It will be like a distortion they said, in time and in space. No, in space-time. What difference does it make? My head is empty.
Everything I see around me will be ended in three minutes more.
The end of Roma is the end of the world, the old legend is about to come true.
In Roma's place there will be a hole fifteen kilometers wide and two hundred deep. But time… what about time?
ONE MINUTE TO GO.
The road marker says seven kilometers out of Roma. The daughter is crying now, she has stopped worrying about the hairdresser. We are the only ones trying to escape. The Minister, realizing the impossibility of total evacuation, is trying to successfully carry out a partial one: his own.
HALF A MINUTE.
The Minister trembles while his wife and daughter cling to him.
The second hand reaches zero hour and I feel like shouting to the farmers planting in the fields, to tell them to stop.
The a time for planting is past. The earth trembles with horror and a terrible light grows up from Roma.
IT IS THE END.
The road surface leaps against the car and I slam on my brakes.
They scream, the car plunges and shudders to a stop in the ditch.
A hot wind tears at us. I cling to the wheel as from behind us the wave of blinding light advances. The car is bathed in brilliance as a roar crumbles land and sky.
For a fraction of a second I know I have stopped existing, yet I am alive again. All about me the landscape is cremated. The sky is black and seems to be rising higher, higher, higher, detached from the earth.
I look down at myself. I am naked but unharmed. The Mercedes has disappeared. The farmers, the Minister and his wife, the daughter all are gone. I am in the very center of a vast, burned area. Around me the horizon is blocked off by low hills.
From a clump of trees at the edge of this dark area of burned grass someone is peering at me, and I raise my arm in greeting. He steps out hesitantly and others appear, starting towards me.
The man who acts as their leader advances, holding a crude spear before him and looks into my eyes without fear.
They are all dressed in sheepskins and armed with spears and lances. I see them without understanding.
The chief stops an arm’s distance away from me and says:
- Signum ex Albalonga vidimus venimusque. Hic meam urbem condeam. Quisquis es?- Ma come parli, sembri il parroco mio… Io sono Romolo, l’autista del ministro..
- Sì, guido, conduco la macchina …
- Proprio duce no, autista….
The chief looks at me challengingly and say, slyly- Hic dux sum. Impero. Hic meam urbem condeam, cui nomen erit Rema universumque tenebit.
At last it is all clear. I know that I must kill this man. I shake my head and sigh:
- Rema? Hai detto "nomen Rema" e "dominerà il mondo"? No, a Remo, io la so ‘sta storia… si chiamerà Roma e dominerà il mondo.