Vignette 7: Write from the perspective of a citizen of Pompeii who is leaving the city for good. Maybe they’re on the road or a ship when they hear of or even see the eruption. What would they feel and think? This vignette will cover the time before and during the eruption.
It was early. The sun was just rising and from the bed he could feel the hot rays already making their way into the room. The hut was now empty, not that it had many things to begin with. This was his grandfathers hut or so it had been until two days ago when they carried his body back from the field to be buried. He stood up and looked around the room and felt estranged, he had never really known his grandfather, he only remembered the summers he spent as kid sitting around the campfire with him as he told stories of his many journeys. Even then he was a quiet man, except when he spoke of traveling.
“Oneiros, remember that the gods are always looking down at us, watching us, we must always look to them for guidance, but we must also always be willing to defy them.” His grandfather said in a low tone as the crackling of the fire cooked the small foul they were having for dinner. “I’m not Oneiros,” was all he remembered answering, his grandfather always called him Oneiros, and it wasn’t for many years that he finally understood what his grandfather meant.
Now, he could only think about the way his hair looked as it burned on the pyre he had built in his honor, and the smell of his body as the fire consumed him. No one else came, no one else helped. The villagers resented him. "Just dig a hole and cover him," is what they said when he asked them for help with the pyre. His family had long ago stopped visiting and even the stray dog that lived off the scraps seemed indifferent to his absence. He had finished loading everything in the hut into a small little cart pulled by an old mule. Everything was packed except for a small bundle wrapped in a bright red cloth.
He had found the bundle behind the bread pantry, it was in a small box where his grandfather hid his valuables. He hadn't opened it yet, he wanted to wait till the very last moment to see what his grandfather had considered worthy enough to hide. Everything else in the house was old and worn, but this package was clean and new, and even the scent of it felt different from the rest of the house. It smelled of freshness compare to the rest of the place that smelled of dust. It was heavy, and as he carefully set it down and started to unwrap the package when the ground shook, the roof sifted dirt all over, covering the swept floor, the table even the bed, the small gravel bounced on the wooden planks as he looked up to make sure the old hut wouldn't come down crashing on him.
Instinctively he found his hands covering the package, keeping it safe from the dust and dirt. He had heard the priest tell everyone that the gods were displeased but that the offerings they were making would appease the Gods. Even his father the magistrate had made a speech to keep the people calm that these tremors would pass. They were getting stronger and even at night the plume of smoke from the mountain was thicker. Everyone was scared, but it was important as his father had said, "to stay calm, to stay true to what we believe and have faith in the power of the Gods."
Slowly he undid the tight knot at the top of the bundle and watched as the fabric unfolded leaving behind another package with the same red cloth and a letter on top. Carefully he took the letter and broke the wax seal. He looked at the dark thick strokes of his grandfathers hand, and read:
Oneiros, I hope this letter finds you well. I realize that by the time you get it, I will have passed away. I know that when you were little you promised that I would be returned back to the stars that I loved so much, you have always been a man of your word. I can only leave you this as a thank you for your diligence. I bid you my son to travel far, to see the world you have only read about.
Emilio pulled the small cart down the hillside, toward the city. From this vantage point, Pompeii lay sprawled over the plain below, all the way to the sea. The magnificent city was hewn from stones from the hillside and sculpted into a city. Homes and businesses bunched together in clean and tight little groups. It’s citizens rushed here and there, going about their day, buying food and haggling over wares.
Emilio wondered if they had noticed the funeral pyre burning in the hills, or if they even cared. He would never understand why his father and the other townspeople resented his grandfather so much. Was it because he had travelled to places that they may never see? Could people, so rich in culture and belongings, be jealous of the frail little man who had seen the world without them? Or was it because, that as the city grew in numbers, he had chosen to leave the lush riches of city-life for a simple and quiet life at the foot of Vesuvius?
Even if any of these reasons were why they disliked his grandfather so much, it still made no sense to him that they would not at least give him a proper burial. Even the worst criminals in the city received a proper burial, praying that the gods would be merciful in their judgment. Emilio wondered if he had not gone to bury him, if the rest of the family would have just left his body to rot away in that little hut? He shook his head at the thought.
Emilio stopped before reaching the edge of town. He needed to readjust the items in the cart before pulling it over the uneven cobblestones streets. He did not want to risk the cart overturning and all his grandfather’s possessions flung out into the road. As he readjusted everything, the little red package caught his eye again. He picked it up, feeling the rough red fabric, and wondering if he should open the package before he went home. His grandfather had clearly set it aside just for him. He did not want to dishonor his grandfather’s memory by letting the rest of his uncaring family in on this last precious gift from grandfather to grandson.
After all, it was his grandfather who had talked and listened and understood him, much more than his own father ever had. His father was more of a dictator than anything else. He had practically forced Emilio into politics, but Emilio had always been drawn more toward artistic endeavors, like painting or sculpting. That was something his father neither understood or thought was a worthwhile occupation.
Emilio turned the red package over in his hands. It seemed heavy for such a small package and his curiosity won out. He ripped the red fabric away and underneath was a wooden box—simple and rustic, with a hinged lid. When he lifted the lid, Emilio could not believe what he saw. The box was full of denarii.
Emilio panicked and slammed the lid shut. Even out there in the open, he suddenly felt exposed, like he had done something wrong. He wrapped the box back up in the red fabric and tucked it deep down in amongst the rest of the items in the cart.
How had his grandfather accumulated so much money? Perhaps it was leftover from his wealthier days, and he had just waited for the right time to give it to him. Emilio could never be certain now that his grandfather was gone. All he could do now is accept the gift and remember his grandfather’s love.
So, what was he going to do with all that money? For the first time in his life, he had options. He did not have to do what his father wanted. He could get away from his father’s expectations once and for all. He could take the money, get on a ship and travel the world. He could finally live the life he wanted, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Maybe now he could truly live up to his grandfather’s nickname, Oneiros.
Emilio decided to keep the denarii hidden from his family, not wanting their greed to take over or their influence to sway his decision. He pulled the cart onto the cobblestones, driving it down the streets and trying to put the mysterious gift from his mind. Thoughts kept creeping into his head, however, and he found himself being drawn back to pondering his options. I will leave this place,_he finally decided, _and I will follow in my grandfather's footsteps, traveling throughout the world. I will learn much about art, and will find my way for myself.
As Emilio was thinking all of this to himself, suddenly someone ran into him and almost knocked him onto the ground, rattling the cart. He turned to the person, ready to rebuke them for their clumsiness. He set down the cart and grabbed the person's arm, yanking him up from the ground. When he turned to face Emilio, Emilio realized that it was not a man; it was a woman. She had bold eyes and dark hair, and she looked afraid of him. Realizing he still held the woman's arm, he let go quickly.
"I apologize," Emilio stammered, trying to find the right words.
The woman's expression changed from shock to something unreadable. She nodded her head shortly and turned, quickly walking away in the opposite direction. Emilio stood in the middle of the street, unaware of anything else but the sight of the woman's blue cloak disappearing through the thickening crowd.
Emilio put the thoughts of the woman out of his mind and watched as the crowd continued to gather. They were looking up at the giant mountain that was billowing out smoke. He looked at his cart and then back in the direction where the woman in the blue cloak had gone. Perhaps she had the right idea. Emilio now had the money to travel the world and by doing so he'd get out of the shadow of not only the mountain, but his family as well.
He turned the cart around and started to follow the woman, though she was no where to be found. It was no matter, he was just happy he had happened upon her. The streets were getting busier and busier. It wasn't as if the mountain had showed her contempt for the city before. He wondered why so many were interested in it now. Yet again people were fascinated by the mountain. It was easy to be. The gods had placed it there for a reason.
Back on the out skirts of the city he stopped at the stables. He secretly dug out the box and withdrew a few coins. Sliding the box into the cart and under some other items he walked into the barn. There was scarcely a horse left. The attendant looked up at him.
"If you're looking for a horse you better make your selection right quick. We're nearly out."
"Why such a call for horses suddenly?" Emilio asked.
The attendant shrugged. "Who knows. You interested?"
"I need a good steed to pull a small cart."
With a smile the attendant went to a medium sized mare. Her mane was long and braided. She was of good enough stock and she certainly would be able to pull the cart. The mare was capable of carrying himself if needed too.
"She's perfect." Emilio handed the attendant the coins.
"She's only worth half of this."
"Then keep the other half for yourself."
Emilio took the reins from the attendant and walked out towards his cart. That was when the earth began to rumble. The mare stirred and pulled against the reins, but Emilio held on firmly. He looked up to Vesuvius and noticed the smoke was getting thicker and the sky getting darker. There seemed to be a panic stirring deep within in the city. He soothed the horse the best he could and looked back to his cart.
His grandfather had left him all his belongings, but did he need them. Something was going on with the mountain and he wanted to be as far from it as he could. Walking a horse with a small cart would take time, too much time. Emilio pulled out the box and grabbed a bag from on top of the cart. He shoved the box and a few other keepsakes into the bag and threw it over his shoulder.
Fear filled the horse's eyes. She sensed something evil coming. Emilio looked back at the Mountain. It looked vengeful, it that was possible for a mountain. Looking back on the cart he grabbed the saddle his grandfather had used the first time he had left the city. He saddled the mare quickly and after mounting he took one last look at the cart. His grandfather's journal and maps had been all he really needed. Emilio looked to he city and Vesuvius. There was no going back and that was fine with him.
Without looking back he rode up the hill and out of view of the city. He didn't look back as the boom echoed over the land. The mare bucked slightly, but he maintained control and both of them continued their journey as the mountain began to spew it's vengeance down on the city of Pompeii. Emilio only hoped he hadn't waited too long.