“I am desperate, I haven’t slept for too long, I don’t have the courage to go home at night because I don’t want the children to see me in this state.… With my wife we don’t talk to each other anymore, to avoid fighting. I don’t know where to hit my head.”
This is how Fabio introduces himself when he calls us. He is 44 years old, a clerk at Poste Italiane, Tiziana, his wife, a Sociology major, raises their two little ones, ages 8 and 4. They were two newlyweds in love and with the desire to realize the most legitimate dream: to start a family and buy a house, and until five years ago it seemed feasible, “Maybe we made a mistake, we shouldn’t have put such a big thing in our heads, from there the abyss began.”
Fabio’s account is full of tragic terms, like the early wrinkles on his face. Actually, that dream was not that big; the apartment they bought after two years of reasoning and information gathering is 70 square meters, in an almost suburban, working-class area. With some savings and the help of their in-laws they finalize the compromise and trembling with excitement sign the mortgage contract with the bank. They pondered the amount of the installment several times and agreed that they could manage with his salary and the small income provided by her tutoring. They know how to economize, how to save money. But after the first year, Matthew is born, the mortgage payment grows too much and Tiziana loses the two boys she was tutoring. What happens is what happens to so many: they take out a small loan to pay their mortgage payment. A moment’s respite. But after two months the situation worsens: more expenses and more expenditures.
Fabio gets a first revolving card, then a second. They repeat to each other, “We’ll get it done, we’ll get it done,” but the finance company, after the late second installment, begins to harass Fabio with increasingly persistent phone calls. The language becomes harsh, threatening, demeaning. She doesn’t tell Tiziana about it, but the financier also phones her, who breaks down in tears. They cannot turn to other banks or credit companies: either for the total installments owed to them or for those in arrears. They were reported as bad payers.
One day, Fabio is more grumpy than usual, and the colleague guesses from his jokes what the problem is. She mentions to him about a foundation that helped her sister-in-law. Fabio does not believe it, but he calls and makes an appointment. He is uncertain whether to involve Tiziana, he doesn’t want to lead her on, he doesn’t want her to see him as a loser, again. This is how it feels. He enters with his head down, his face dark, his smile stunted and dictated by pure politeness. We invite him to tell his story freely; right now he needs this more than money; it has been years since he has had the luxury of confiding. We look at the numbers printed on a sheet, income and expenses, due dates, installments in arrears, rates charged, family expenses.
They really know how to economize. “Fabio you can do it. The road is there. But you must recover the will to build!” “And what should we build?” The stifled scream of a discouraged man. In his eyes, however, there is a glimpse of light, that of hope beginning to peep out. Let us calculate together the real possibility of debt repayment. Total installments exceed their actual income by 400 euros. This is where the Foundation can step in: it takes charge of negotiating with creditors to close the debts by writing off the interest due and guaranteeing for him at one of the contracted banks. Fabio’s eyelashes blink rhythmically, his forehead ripples several times.
With a folder full of papers under his arm, he returns to Tiziana, who has since found a little girl and her little cousin to tutor. It will still take months, about three, to deal with the financiers, to convince them that they cannot get anything more from this family than what the Foundation offers. On the same day, Fabio and Tiziana signed for the loan and closed the debts. From the following month, they will have the loan installment and the Foundation loan installment. They know well that they can make it, income and expenses, black and white. It is just a loan, a practice. But above all, they are a family again.