"How so?" I gasped, taken aback, feeling the surprise immediately cooling my anger.
"I recall having told you this story before, when you first wanted to listen to the song 'Sunrise Son', at the occasion it had just been launched..." Carlo replied, calmly. "But you were still a child, and I don't know how much you understood of it. You know you came into this world with the sunrise at Punaouilo, don't you?"
"This is my personal legend, isn't it?" I said, laughing and already feeling better. "I just don't really know much about that song... It became mythical, something like the core of a religion to many people around the world... I know that it was the reason why Catherine filed an injunction that prevented reporters, journalists, writers and photographers from approaching me until I was twenty years old... She hated this story."
"Haha, Catherine hated all my stories!" Carlo smiled gloomily. "Especially this one, for it happened when she was away from Punaouilo, that time she had returned to France to be with her family... It was the decisive episode that changed my career prospects, too."
"What happened then, Carlo?" I asked responsively, with genuine curiosity. My father had so kindly reminded me of my willingness to hear it through the night, and in fact I had the biggest interest in listening to anything he was willing to tell me about himself, about the early relationship with Catherine, and from my own childhood. "How old was I, then?"
"It was the year of 1981, when Catherine went to France. One of the few dates I am sure of, I am afraid." Carlo frowned. "You were... Six years old, right? I had been hired to paint a house and redo its garden. My professional situation was rather... challenging. In all those years on the island of Punaouilo, I had sold only three paintings in the one art gallery that there was. The money that supported our little family was sent from France by your grandmother... We lived as a favor in that small cottage deep in the back of the garden, in a colonial mansion owned by friends of hers. And even our expenses being modest, I could not meet our needs, not even accepting almost any type of job that was offered me."
The house I was working at was a modern mansion. That season, it had been rented by a musician who had been very famous in the 1970s, a rock star named Davez Drew, dubbed "Cosmic Scorcher" for his caustic, incendiary way of playing the guitar. However, I knew nothing about him at the time, much the less that he was at an impasse in his career, trying to fuse rock and jazz, but without the same success that Miles Davis had achieved, and taking the opposite route.
Because he and his girlfriend had decided to come a couple of weeks earlier, when they arrived in Punaouilo they had found me still working in the house. Painting the music studio was the only thing left. No one had warned me he was a musician, and so I had left the doomed building behind.
Despite not knowing English, I understood perfectly well what he said when he first had seen me -- he was shooing me out the house, unceremoniously. I tried to play dumb "non capisco, non capisco niente", talking to him in Italian, as I continued to work.
Davez wanted total privacy in order to compose -- as much as he also wanted to be left alone with his new girlfriend, a stunning blonde, rich girl who decided to intervene in our argument only to reinforce Davez' message in the languages she knew. "Raus!", she hissed, which I misunderstood as a permission to continue working on the house, then followed by the unmistakable "Sortez d'ici" and "Vattene!", expressed with a vehement anger and disdain that left no doubts.
I then tried to explain in French to blonde Barbara that I had to finish the job to get the money. I needed only a few days more, and I would be discreet, as invisible to them as possible.
"No way! Pay him and send him away!", I understood the musician's response even before the translation came. I then amended that to me it was as much about the money as to finishing the job, in order to get more recommendations around the island.
And while they were discussing how to get rid of me, I mouthed that they would need me at least to get rid of the ghost that haunted that studio, according to local legends.
Was it a sudden inspiration, out of desperation?
The rock star seemed to understand the word "fantôme", and changed his behavior with me. He started demanding Barbara to translate every word I said, staring at me hungrily as I told what I knew about the spirit which was supposed to haunt the house, especially the studio. Davez was thrilled, to my surprise and Barbara's, who until then had maintained an attitude of disgust and estrangement towards me. Suddenly, while translating, she started regarding me with interest and suspicion.
The conversation followed to the edge of the pool where Barbara, our official translator, had settled to sun bathe on a lounger I had repainted. Davez wanted me to recount all cases of ghosts, spirits and demons that I had learned about in that part of the world. As you can imagine, Laurent, I recalled my conversations with Armand about the Portal Islands, and I recounted every tale and detail, lengthening the stories.
Barbara was bored doing the translation, but I realized that she was also surprised, as much as I was, to the musician's enthusiastic interest on that subject, and equally happy to observe, for the first time since the beginning of their relationship, something that truly stimulated Davez.
When I mentioned I needed to resume working, Davez replied something like "You're fine, man", and said that I could work the following day, after we'd finished the repertoire of local legends. I was so happy at his promise that I could work again on the house, and felt somewhat like Scheherazade!
The problem is that my repertoire had already finished, and I had to rely on some ghostly cases from the mountains that Tarso, my grandfather, had told in my childhood to distract me, as the three of us moved on to the hot tub.
In the late afternoon, when I was finished even with the ghosts from the Apennines, the rockstar still not being satiated, I promised him to talk to the natives to learn a few more legends. I knew there were plenty of them around the islands, but I had never really payed attention to them. And when I thought I would be dismissed, Davez invited me into the tub.
"You're a fine man. Come relax with us..." I tried to decline, telling them I had not brought a bathing suit, not to mention that I was naked underneath my pants, to which Davez replied "No problem... I'm taking my trunks off, too."
I had never been in a bubbling tub like that before, but I decided to accept the invitation out of my fascination towards the enigmatic Davez, who had gone from his initial terminal rage into a tireless, ardent interview with me -- and then had retreated to a concentrated, enigmatic silence, as if influenced by the night softly falling on the island of Punaouilo. At each step during that afternoon, he had been exuberant and exultant in his vast emotional scope, no matter how contradictory they had been. I had never met anyone like him before.
And there was Barbara, the most beautiful woman I had ever met in my humble, rather limited life, whom had remained blasé throughout the course of her translation, without uttering a single word of personal nature.
I guess I must have fallen asleep, the water so warm and perfumed, and when I woke up Barbara was beside me, with her hoarse voice asking me a question I did not know if coming from her own, or still a translation for Davez.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" she inquired.
I immediately realized that this was a crucial question, the tipping point between the errand boy of local legends that I had been so far, into the narrator of my own beliefs and experiences that I could be.
And I decided to tell Davez about you, Laurent.
How that luminous boy, the boy with hair so white like an old man, had appeared to me several times in front of the rising sun, serious and silent, and how I had rediscovered and recognized him a year later, in my own son. It was a rather emotional testimony for me, as you can imagine, and I guess it was the feeling that emanated from my sharing to captivate Drew so thoroughly.
When I finished talking, Davez stood still, silent for maybe two or three minutes. Then, he suddenly jumped to the middle of the tub, startling Barbara and me. He had not taken off his trunks, after all... though, well, I had! He then proceeded to a thorough, careful investigation. What had been my feelings towards the apparition... Had I sweated, trembled? Had I been fearful? How was it on the Île du Blanchomme... the temperature on the beach, what sounds, the light... the colour of the sand and the sea... he wanted details about the place... How many times I had seen the boy in a pool of light in front of the sun... What was the hour? And the legends about the Portal Islands... He was intoxicated, demanding Barbara to simultaneously translate my tangle of words.
And maybe to be sure about everything he had heard, he questioned me again, going over each point I had reported to him, and finally he wanted to know in detail about you, Laurent... Your appearance, and at what age it had come to be the same of the apparition, and when I'd been totally sure that you were the same luminous boy of those bright sunrises...
And when I told him that your birth had taken place at sunrise in Punaouilo, he groaned and swirled in the center of the tub, and then dashed towards the music studio.
"It was the evening that the mythical song about you was composed, Laurent. 'Sunrise Son'. It is always among the top 100 songs of the 20th century. As you said, it became the core to something of a religion to people around the world, that album being like an entire bible to them, but your song, the main mantra and teaching... It was also Davez' musical revival..." Carlo sighed, and smiled, appeased.
"Are you sure it was me, Carlo?" I asked, when his silence grew too long, and I knew my father wouldn't continue speaking without stimulation. "The apparition, I mean? Haven't you said it before that it represented your own future?"
"At first, I had thought so. But when your mother told me she was pregnant... It was then that I understood. That boy coming up to me from the future... was to be my son! The moment I realized it, was precisely when the apparition stopped visiting me, confirming that I had finally gotten the message." Carlo smiled, comforted. "And when you were born, with a hair so blond it was almost white, such as the luminous boy of the bright sunrises, I recognized him in you. An elderly baby, a baby with an antique soul..." My father looked at me, basking in tenderness. "When you were six years old you were the living portrait of the apparition that had visited me on so many mornings at the Île du Blanchomme! Precisely when Catherine went back to France, leaving just the two fo us in Punaouilo..." Carlo suddenly fell silent. He raised his eyebrows, looking astounded, and pointed to something on the other side of the restaurant. "Look over there, Laurent... It is just... magnificent!"
I turned my gaze in the same direction of Carlo's, to find a bright full moon framed by the windows of the Nirvana Lounge, floating over a table as if set to be a superb visual feast -- so infinitely beautiful that it was to indelibly mark my memory of the reunion with my father.
But less and less I understood why he had left home twenty years ago, to never return, never even try to meet nor contact me -- his 'Sunrise Son'.
Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.