For the first time, the factory entered our lives.
It feels like it’s been there for centuries, but not even twenty years have passed since it opened.
“The ANIC Plant. Azienda Nazionale Idrogenazione Combustibili. One of the most important petrochemical companies in Italy.”
You could say we were born from ANIC’s womb. And it was there waiting for our first breath. Eager to take us in its arms.
But that day we realized that paradise of ours came with a price.
And we had to get used to it.
“What is it, Mamma?”
Rino. That’s my name. Though here everyone calls me Koper.
“Come up! Now!”
“Koper Capodistria,” because of my big ears, like a TV antenna.
“But it’s early. It’s not dark yet.”
“Robberto! Come up to your mother!”
“Angelo home come now”
“Come Marzio up”
“Rino up hurry here”
“Robbè to Mamma get up Robbè here”
Fine. We’re done for today. We got it.
“Back here at 10. We’ll finish tomorrow.”
“We’ll kick your ass.”
We run back home. Not because we want to be good or come back on time.
We always run. That’s just how we’re made.
And we don’t pay attention to anything. Not even the notices posted at the entrance to every building that have been there forever.
“Why are you in the dark?”
“Shut the door.”
The car is talking. Its voice is loud and clear. With a slight echo, as if even the dead needed to hear. The car says:
“Leave all basements and take shelter on upper floors. Close all doors and windows and close the shutters. Keep away from doors and windows. Turn off the gas and the electricity. Seal all air vents with masking tape or damp cloths. Keep a damp rag within reach to inhale through in case of difficulty breathing. Do not use telephones. Keep the lines free. Do not go out for any reason.”
The all-clear will be signaled with a continuous siren.
We hear it slowly fade. But its voice goes on.
“It’ll be over soon. It’s OK”
It’s OK, Mamma says. It’ll be over soon.
But she’s speaking fast. And rubbing my head.
That’s the fear.
Of what, they explain later.
Hazard Class F.
Flammable or extremely flammable substances upon contact with air at ambient temperature and pressure.
Phenol, butadiene, C4 mixtures, acrylonitrile, dichloroethane, ethylene, etc.
Hazard Class O.
Combustible substances. Highly reactive in case of fire.
Liquid oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, perkadox, dilauroyl peroxide, etc.
Hazard Class T.
Toxic or highly toxic substances when inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.
Chlorine, ammonia, tetrachloroethane, vinyl chloride, acrylonitrile, etc.
Hazard Class X.
Harmful substances and irritants.
Acrylic monomers, benzoyl peroxide, diphenylmethane, styrene, etc.
Hazard Class C.
Hydrochloric acid, hydrogen peroxide, tert-butyl hydroperoxide, etc.
Hazard Class N.
Substances that are dangerous to the environment.
Hexane, ammonia, etc.
Now it’s the fear of nothingness.
No. It’s the fear of everything.
Of the dark.
Of Mamma’s voice.
Of her hands touching me.
Of the car that keeps barking orders.
This is our baptism.
The all-clear signal comes two hours and eleven minutes later.
But it doesn’t take much to realize—this isn’t the end. This is a break.
Here, the waiting goes on.
“You see those mounds? Underneath there are LPG pressure vessels, as big as four soccer fields. They’re buried to contain a possible explosion. But in actuality, if one of those things explodes, the city’ll blow up too.”
ANIC is 4 km from the city. And we’re in between. The village is a risk zone. Of “certain impact,” in technical language. Translated, this means: if anything happens to ANIC, it happens to the village too.
And something had happened at ANIC that day.
A fire with toxic emissions, they told us later.
But that night my father came home. And I thank the plant. For sparing him.