Agatha Trunchbull was used to screaming children. She was used to their sobs as she shoved them roughly into the Chokie, used to the way their ugly little faces screwed up before they were about to let out some piteous wail. They were like animals, and she treated them like animals. No, they were less than animals. Animals she could handle, with the exception of nasty creatures like black cats and snakes. Dogs were alright on occasion, and she liked the idea of hyenas and bears – predators were sensible creatures. But children? No. They were useless, disgusting things, with their grubby hands and obnoxious giggling. It had taken all her willpower over the years not to throw Jenny out onto the street when the girl became insufferable. Frankly it seemed that Jenny hadn’t grown up at all, but was now just a child in a woman’s body. Playing all day with colored paper and teaching the little snots rhymes instead of grammar rules. Nonsense, the lot of it. And so Agatha Trunchbull went about her days without a second glance at the children she terrorized, throwing one after another through windows, over fences and of course, into the formidable prison that was the Chokie. Nothing a child ever did surprised her, not begging, or pleading, or threats to “Tell my Mommy”, or offers to betray their guiltier comrades. Nothing could move her. Not until Rosa.
Rosa was a second grader, sent by her aging grandfather to the school. She was Italian, an immigrant from a very young age, whose speech still held the slightest trace of an accent. Her odd pronunciations intrigued the other children, something Trunchbull resented, and so at the first opportunity she cornered the girl. In front of all the child’s classmates, she humiliated the child by forcing her to pronounce word after word until she could do it without an accent. When Rosa finally slipped up, unable to say the word “Utilitarianism” correctly, Trunchbull grabbed the girl by her long black braid and dragged her to the Chokie. The girl didn’t cry, which was frustrating. Trunchbull wanted her in tears, because it ensured that she would understand who was really in charge of running the school. It certainly wasn’t her idiot teacher: Jenny didn’t have a forceful bone in her body. No, Agatha Trunchbull was the one and only force keeping the school in line, and she made sure everyone knew it. Rosa was no different. As Trunchbull locked the Chokie, she pondered the amount of time the little girl would need to get the picture of how things were run. An hour, maybe two. Trunchbull decided to make it three, just for good measure. She settled at her desk and had just begun reading a stack of papers when the strangest sound met her ears.
“Vergin, tutto amor, o madre di bontade, madre pia, madre pia – Ascolta, dolce Maria, la voce dell’ pecator”
The girl was singing. The sound of her sweet treble voice drifted from the cement-and-nail filled closet, without a single tremor to indicate fear. She sang the Italian words as if taunting Trunchbull, as though saying, “This is my language, a language you will never understand and cannot take from me”. Trunchbull felt her fists clench. She ignored the sound, trying to block it out, but the voice went on and on, one song following the next.
“Caro mio ben, credimi almen, senza di te languische il cor”
“Se tu m’ami, se tu sospiri sol per me, gentil pastor”
“O del mio dolce ardor, bramato oggetto”
Finally, Trunchbull had had enough. The girl’s voice showed no signs of tiring, and after an entire hour of Italian songs she unlocked the door and dragged the girl out. “Well, have you learned your lesson?”
Rosa nodded gravely. Trunchbull sniffed, then escorted the girl roughly back to her class. Practically throwing her through the doorway, she raised her voice so the whole class could hear. “Make sure she never speaks a word of that filthy language again, not in this school, not ever.”
Ms. Honey nodded, her doe eyes wide and frightened. Weakling. Trunchbull stalked back to her office, determined to forget about the whole thing, but it was not that easy. As she tried to work fragments of songs kept invading her mind, and she caught herself humming more than once. Even that night, after she went home, the songs remained firmly implanted in her head. They refused to leave for weeks, returning from her memories at the most inconvenient times.
“Che fiero costume d’aligero nume, che a forza di pene si faccia adorar”
“Tu lo sai, quanto t’amai, tu lo sai, lo sai crudel”
From that day forward she kept a safe distance from the little Italian girl. It was not worth it to put up with the songs, the horrible tunes that embedded so deeply in her mind. She had other children to punish, ones whose screams left her cold and unshaken. Rosa was safe from her, safe thanks to the songs her family taught her and her determination to just keep on singing. There are some weapons even Agatha Trunchbull could never have expected, and twenty-four Italian songs in a row had more effect than any bomb or explosive.