When he was four, he learned a lie could spare him from punishment, and even get someone else in trouble, someone a four year-old couldn’t get back at directly. He was only two hours older when he learned getting caught lying had an even more painful punishment. He was also four when he learned some truths were as hated as lies, and the punishment for saying them, just as painful. Silence was clearly the answer, but even that would prove a problem for the loud angry grown ups who would call him stupid for not speaking and to his siblings who tried to annoy the words out of him.
His silence didn’t make him a listener at first, but an observer. He didn’t care for what they had to say, but he noticed whatever they told him was done differently than to anyone else. People were changeable and at first he didn’t know why. He knew why his siblings had a way of talking and acting around themselves that wasn’t the same around the grown ups, they didn’t want to be hit for saying bad words, and they didn’t want to accidentally let out what mischief they’d been up to, especially when there were so many prohibitions they’d never been told of but were punished for anyway. He didn’t understand however why would his own mother have to be sweet to his grandfather and impatient with his grandmother, why she would kiss his sisters and scream at him and the other boys.
He spent his time contemplating those changes while he worked in the fields or played with his siblings. He learned from staring contests with an older brother that liers look away, so they practiced telling lies staring at one another. This game evolved into showing no reaction to accusations. They stared and accused one another of whatever they suspected, and then lied about it with a straight face.
Uncle Pepe saw them, and Iago thought he was going to punish them for practicing how to lie, but the uncle decided maybe they were ready to play cards. His mother told uncle Pepe not to teach them vices, but his uncle spoke to her like his brothers would, and instead of hitting him, she laughed.
He was better than his brother at cards, and when uncle Pepe thought he was good enough, he took him to the tavern where he would spend his time, and tricked his drinking friends into gambling against Iago, who counted cards in his head and whose face gave away nothing. Those men didn’t have much to bet, but Iago and his uncle left the tavern with enough money to bring home food.
“Won’t mother be angry that I was gambling?” he asked uncle Pepe.
“Only if you tell her.”
“What shall we tell her when she asks?” the boy insisted.
“We’ll tell her we lent a hand in bringing up old man Porcino’s barn.”
“But we didn’t.”
“The truth’s not important here. What matters is that we have food.”
“But what if she doesn’t believe us? Lots of people know where we really were.”
His uncle stopped walking and looked at Iago with a surprised smirk on his face.”Do you want to know how I know your mother won’t ask anyone?” The boy nodded. “She would rather starve than have a vicious brother and a vicious son. But she would also rather not know the truth than starve. She’ll know we’re lying but our lie will spare her from having to refuse. Believe me, she won’t go looking for truths that will make her life harder.”
Iago listened to his uncle and his words proved true. He followed the man to other taverns, and one time to a fair they had to travel day and night to find. There his uncle challenged men to beat Iago at cards, and the boy’s skills were considered suspicious, a fight almost started but no one could prove there was cheating.
Iago heard about Venice and so many other great cities by the sea during his time in the fair. He listened to the soldiers’ drunk songs and their stories, and understood a soldier’s life could save him from poverty and boredom. He knew he had to become a soldier, so he asked how to the men who drank in the inn his uncle had taken him to after the fair. The soldiers laughed at him, and one said: “First you need to know how to fight.”
Uncle Pepe thought a soldier’s life was a dangerous idea, and he could do just fine going from place, tavern to tavern, and make his living out of gambling. But Iago wanted a rapier in his hand and all that came with it (which wasn’t clear to his nine year-old mind.)
Back home he found among his brothers that he in fact couldn’t fight. At least not at first. But he would watch his brothers go against each other and see which one had weak knees, which one was ticklish, or short sighted, or couldn’t stand to have his ears touched, and he made note of all that.
As he followed his uncle into places boys his age shouldn’t go, he learned more about lying than about gambling, drinking, or bedding. He learned men enjoyed lying about the great things they’d done when drinking with other men. They enjoyed being lied to, however, by the ugly women whose company they purchased. Those lies made them happy, like the stories fools told for a penny. People said words like honesty and truth like they were wonderful, but all they cared for were lies. Lies that told them they someday would go to a better place and be recompensed, and lies that told them the poor were happier than the rich.
People enjoyed being lied to so much they were willing to pay for it, he found. They wanted to live in this world he’d made up where he was a hard-working nephew to a hard working uncle, where the drunk men in the tavern told fascinating stories, and the whores were lovely ladies deserving of his courtesy. And so his lies got him food and drink.
Finally, one night a woman lied to him. Her pretty lies were so sweet, and he loved them to his own shame. He hated that weakness in himself, one he thought so laughable in other men. He refused to fall prey to devices he knew so well.
The next morning he left the village and all that was familiar. He vowed never to come back, and headed somewhere bigger, somewhere unknown, where he could find out the real range of the fury he would loose upon the world.