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Jun 01

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Perhaps: Story of the Luckiest, Least Fortunate Man on Earth

Fortunato checks his mailbox every morning, anxiously waiting for that package to arrive. But day after day he finds his mailbox empty, aside from the usual bills or the occasional postcard from his sister, a hardcore globetrotter.

Days, weeks go by, Fortunato’s hopes shrinking into nothingness. Finally, he stops checking. He doesn’t care anymore. Or, at least, he pretends he doesn’t.

One day, his mother knocks at his door and peeks in, hesitantly. The muscles of her face are tense and she is fidgeting with the doorknob. At first, he doesn’t realize what has happened, his mind still clouded by sleep. But his mother keeps staring at him until he notices she is holding something.

It came.

The package is heavy and filled with countless papers, a brochure with course descriptions, and a map of the university. He made it. He will go to Grad School! For Fortunato, who has always lived nestled in the small Italian village of Spoleto, the United States of America will be a drastic change. In Spoleto, life seems to have stopped at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s as though somebody took a picture and froze the moment and no one but Fortunato is aware that the world outside is changing, leaving them behind. The rest, the “Spoletini,,” regard television as the devil. Their “Facebooks” are unwieldy albums with yellowing pages and, if you asked them to guess what Wikipedia was, they would probably say that it’s a board game or something.

Luckily, Fortuato won’t have to put up with them anymore: he’s going to study Business… at Stanford!  His head feels dizzy. It’s probably the excitement. He walks across the room towards the phone. He MUST share the good news. But the room suddenly becomes so long and his legs so heavy, his eyesight blurs as he falls to the floor.

The carpet is the last thing he sees.

Fortunato wakes up feeling refreshed. He smiles, images of Stanford’s majestic campus crowding his mind. He doesn’t notice the white walls, the smell of disinfectants, the gown someone has gently slid over his body. It will be only later, when a stern doctor’s monotonous voice will tell him that he has brain cancer, that Fortunato will become acquainted to the merciless, unforgiving irony of it all. One moment his dream had been laid out in front of his open palms, the next it was gone, evaporated into thin air as if it had been merely a vision.

***

For the Spoletini, this sudden turn of fortune is the highlight of the year. They all revel into anything that breaks the unbearable coat of ennui covering the town and everyone, friends, relatives, enemies and strangers alike, decide to visit him.

“How unlucky you are!” they tell him.  Fortunato nods, still shocked that his life has taken such a turn.

“Perhaps, he is unlucky, perhaps not!” concedes his father, before dismissing all of Fortunato’s visitors.

The Spoletini gape at Fortunato’s father. They shrug their shoulders, unable to break the silence, and they are all thinking that Fortunato’s father must be a loony, to believe that his son is in any way lucky.

***

One year later, the cancer in remission, Fortunato is still in the village, working in his father’s bakery. Their pastries are delicious, the best in town, yet he doesn’t have many customers because Spoleto is small, and people are stingy – they don’t like to waste money on sweets.

Then, one day, a blue Ferrari parks in front of Fortunato’s bakery, and a short man in a white tuxedo enters the shop. His hair is drenched in gel and pulled back on his scalp, and he is smoking a cigar. He buys a cream filled sweet, a cannolo, then closes his eyes to savor it. He chews and ponders over some obviously serious matter, then chews some more, until Fortunato starts feeling uncomfortable. Finally, the man makes a proposal. He will buy many, many pastries, all the pastries that a man could reasonably eat in a year. And he will pay 100,000 Euro for them. Fortunato knows that there’s no way a bunch of pastries are worth all that money, but he agrees. His head starts spinning. With 100,000 Euro, he will be able to organize a wonderful wedding for Laura, his fiancé, a nurse he met while he was being cured for his cancer. He could also build a gigantic house…. And maybe move to San Francisco!

Fortunato goes home to give Laura the good news and discovers that, once again, Spoleto has been faster than him. The whole village seems to be crowded inside his living room, hungry for “the details.”  They all agree that, despite the cancer, Fortunato can consider himself lucky. After all, he has survived, met the girl of his dreams, and will soon receive 100,000 Euro! Maybe, just maybe, his father had been right. Fortunato is happy, and looks at his father with newfound respect. However, his father remains imperturbable: “Perhaps, he has been lucky, perhaps not!” He says. Fortunato frowns, together with the rest of the Spoletini. They are all thinking the same thing: what a killjoy. And what a loony! It’s really hard to take such a man seriously.

***

A few weeks pass, and Fortunato is in the midst of embellishing his wedding cake when someone knocks at his door. He opens it to find himself face to face with two policemen whose angry faces remind him of a Rottweiler. They are looking for a short man with a blue Ferrari who has stolen 100,000 Euro from a nearby bank. They also know that Fortunato has the money, since that’s all that the townspeople are talking about. Fortunato is asked to give back the loot – or face six years in prison for theft.

Again, life’s deadly ironic has played Fortunato one of its fatal blows. The situation is so preposterous that if someone wrote a story about it, anyone reading it would be convinced that it’s a piece of fiction. Not only is Fortunato penniless, but he is left with a half built house and the tickets for a honeymoon that will never happen. To make matters worse, he doesn’t even have any pastries to sell – he had stopped backing them to dedicate his full attention to his wedding cake.

While he’s despairing over how to tell his fiancé that they won’t be able to have their beautiful wedding for a long, long time, a drunken man stumbles into his shop. His face is familiar, yet Fortunato knows he isn’t from Spoleto because of his thick northern accent. Fortunato offers the stranger a cup of coffee, and waits for the man to sober up.  The man drinks seven cups of coffee gulping it down as if it were water. Fortunato, however, is too distraught to notice. He is usually very reserved, but the events of the day have left him so rattled that he finds himself rambling on and on, trying to convince the stranger that he is surely the unluckiest man on earth.

At the end of the story, the formerly drunk man raises his cup, wanting another drink. He gulps it down like all the others, then asks Fortunato whether or not he knows who he is talking with. Fortunato has to confess that he has no idea who the stranger he is. He takes a closer look at the man.

“Perhaps you are right, you are the unluckiest man on earth. Or perhaps you are wrong,” says the man.

“Who are you?” Asks Fortunato.

“Sandro Veronesi”

“The journalist?”

“No, the writer.”

“I see,” says Fortunato. But, truth be told, he is as puzzled as ever. What can a writer do to help him?

Turns out, writers are more powerful than people might think. They write a story about the unluckiest men on earth, and people read it. They recognize themselves in Fortunato’s shoes. They, too, have received several blows from life. They buy they book. They tell friends to read it. Soon, Fortunato’s story becomes a bestseller. A movie is made. Fortunato ends up making more than the 100,000 Euro he had just lost. Or maybe not.  Money, after all, is not that important. What counts is that Fortunato has finally learned that he is not any luckier or less fortunate than anyone else.

He is simply a human being, subject to the irrational, uncontrollable whirlwind that we call life.

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