28 Gennaio 2023


Nicola was the youngest of many brothers: he lived with his family in Messina, in a hut near the sea so, from an early childhood, he was familiar with the waves. When he grew up and became a quick and muscular boy, his joy was to dive into the water and, once into it, he too marveled that he did not feel the need to return to the surface unless after a long time. He could stay underwater for many hours and when he came back up, he told his mother what he had seen: underwater mansions of ancient cities engulfed in streams, caves full of wonderful phosphorescences, fierce struggles among giant fishes, boundless forests of coral, and so on. His family, hearing about these wonders, thought he was exalted; but seeing him insisting on staying out of the house, not helping his brothers in the hard struggle for bread, and seeing him spending his time in the waves and under the sea, as another person would go walking through the fields, worried about him and tried to drive those strange thoughts out of the son's head. Cola loved the sea so much and – as a result – he loved fishes too: so he fell into despair seeing the baskets full of fish brought home by his brothers. Once he found a moray eel still alive in it, and he threw it back into the sea. His mother, having noticed that, told him off bitterly: – Nice job what you do! Your father and brothers struggle to catch the fish and you throw it back into the sea! This is a mortal sin, throwing away the Lord's stuff. If you don't repent, may you become a fish too. When parents say serious words to their children, God listens and fulfils. That was what was to happen to Nicola. His mother tried everything to keep him away from the sea, and believing him to be bewitched, she turned to some holy religious men for help. But their wise advice was worthless. Cola kept on to going to the sea and spending many days away from home, as he had found an amazingly comfortable way to make long journeys effortlessly: he managed to be swallowed by some large fishes he found in the deep sea and, whenever he wanted, he just had to cut their belly with a knife to get out of it, ready to keep on with his explorations. Once he returned from the seabed bearing some gold coins and kept on doing so for a long time, until he had recovered the whole treasure of an ancient ship sunk there. His fame grew to an extent that, when Emperor Federico came to Messina, he immediately wanted to know that strange being half man and half fish. He was on a ship offshore when Cola was admitted to his presence. – I want to experience – the Emperor told him – what you can do. I will throw this golden cup into the sea; you will bring it back to me. – A small thing, Your Majesty said Cola, and dove elegantly into the waves. Shortly thereafter he returned to the surface with the golden cup on his right. The king was so pleased that he gave Cola that precious object and invited him to stay with him. One day the Emperor said to him: - I want to know what the bottom of the sea is like and how the island of Sicily rests on it. Cola dived, stayed away a long time; and when he returned, he informed the Emperor. – Your Majesty, – he said – there are three columns on which our island rests: two are intact and strong, the other is faltering, because a fire consumes it, between Catania and Messina. The king wanted to know how this fire was and demanded some to see it. Cola replied that he could not carry fire in his hands; but the king became disdainful and threatened dark chastisement. Confess it, Cola, you're just scared. Am I afraid? – the young man retorted – I will also bring fire to you. Anyway, one time or another, you have to die. If you see a blood stain rising to the surface of the water, it means I'm not going to go back up. He dove headlong into the sea and people waited with their hearts divided between hope and fear. After a long useless wait, a blood stain was seen appearing. Cola had descended to the bottom, where the water takes the reflections of the fire, and then further on where it boils, chasing away all the fish. What happened over there, no one knows. Cola never reappeared. Someone says that he did not die and that he remained at the bottom of the sea, because he had noticed that the third column on which Sicily rests was about to collapse and wanted to support it, as he does still today. There are also those who say that Cola will return to earth when among men there will be more.

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