In every village or small town, there is always one person who is singled out by others as the village idiot. This figure has become exemplary and rhetorical. Particularly in the country where I live, one can hardly come across anyone who has not called someone else a village idiot.
I am therefore going to tell you in my own way about a popular legend whose true origin we do not know, but which has made me think. My hope is that it will give you food for thought.
Our story takes place in a small, remote village, one of those small villages with just a bar that doubles as a tobacconist and grocery shop, a pharmacy, a primary school and little else. On the edges of the roads that snake around the mountain you can occasionally see houses, some of which are unfinished and with exposed bricks.
The height of life and socialising is concentrated in the bar, which overlooks a small square and is the meeting place for the whole village. Local and national newspapers, sports magazines and a deck of cards are always on the tables. Amongst the bystanders who play while sipping a glass of wine, there are also some young people who meet there to annoy a man: the village idiot.
Like all the others, between one job and another, he savours this unique place of socialisation from time to time. Unlike the others, he keeps to himself, most of the time, without ordering anything. He is a man who has worked all his life, old, thin and without teeth. He has not had the chance to study and only knows the local dialect.
He wears a work suit with a very old and ruined jacket two sizes too big to protect him from the cold. He doesn’t seem to have much affinity with soap and his funny expressions give moments of joy and amusement to all the people who shake their heads as soon as they see him. When they don’t need his handiwork, of course.
Bored by the daily routine, the young people who always gather at the same table have for some time now been amusing themselves with a special game. They call the village idiot, place two two-dollar coins on one side of the table and a five-dollar note on the other and ask him to choose between the two amounts.
The poor old man, scratching his head with his hands hardened and deformed by time and work, and showing a toothless smile always chooses to take the two coins. At this point, as you can well imagine, the young people start laughing loudly at him, who takes his leave of them with the expression of someone who has guessed.
Even the old men do not seem immune to the hilarious scene, but simply clasp the cards in their hands with a slight smile. Over time, this cruel game of mockery becomes almost a tradition to be passed on to the next generation. Every day, the poor old man is invited to choose and always decides to take the two coins.
One day a foreigner enters the bar, a person who was not born and raised in the village but was just passing through. Leaning his elbows on the counter littered with grains of sugar, he orders a cappuccino. Her gaze is also drawn to the figure of the village idiot by the noise of laughter coming from the table of young people.
After placing the cappuccino on the table, the barman explains the game to him and the stranger immediately, almost angrily, takes the village idiot aside and says. “Good man, on the table you should take the banknote because it is worth more”. At this point the protagonist of our story begins to look around and the stranger can see from under his aquiline nose a smile that accompanies a completely different look. “My friend, the day I choose to take the banknote the game will end and I will no longer win four denarii every day.
It is not clear whether this is a legend or something that actually happened. In any case, our culture has for centuries resorted to fictional stories to educate new generations. A clear example of this is mythology.
Short stories with an emotional impact can be remembered much more easily than jokes. With the advent of modernity, this kind of practice has been abandoned in favour of a more direct and precise form of communication. And this has impoverished us greatly in my opinion.
What could possibly be the moral of this story? I leave it to you, my friends, to write. Reflect on why we all need a village idiot and also reflect on yourselves.