A musical tone that I’ve grown accustomed to for the past two weeks while traveling through southern Italy sprung on like a light in the Termini train station in Rome. But now for some reason it has an alien ring. I know it has something to do with trains. But why is this sound tugging at me like I should acknowledge it. So as I turn around to examine my surroundings, I notice an associative action with this ring: the door of the train closing. To most this wouldn’t matter much, but to me, my fiancée, Briana, was behind those closed doors, pounding on it, screaming at me to call the police. I stared at her, unwillingly wanting to accept that this is actually happening. I can see Briana desperately struggling to open the door, scratching at it, giving up then frustratingly running to the seats to open the windows to scream out, “Tell the police to stop this trainnnn…”
This smoke is just for the drama, I thought, it can’t really be happening. But it is. There’s a fire somewhere, blaring through the halls of this Roman station.
All I can answer is, “I have no money,” to a departing metal machine that just abducted my betrothed.
And I was alone. Just like everyone else now: a passenger waiting at the platform with two bags weighing just over 60 lbs combined. The only difference is I have no money for the train, no passport, no Briana.
All at once a million things bounced in my head. Is there enough in my bank account? Did I use it all? There are only twenty minutes to the last train to Fiumicino Airport. I have to get on it, if I don’t I’ll miss the flight back home. I hope Briana doesn’t get off at a stop to come back for me. I hope she stays on. Stay till you get to the airport, Briana. Where’s the fucking ATM? I know I saw one…
And this is where I strap my backpack on and roll the suitcase behind me on the hunt for the elusive ATM.
If it is a normal night, all exits would be accessible from the platform I stood at, but of course it isn’t a normal night. For some reason the exits were blocked by police and smoke. Thick smoke engulfed the restaurant, shopping area and the ticket counter. There was a fire somewhere. So I was diverted back to the main entrance of the train station which was something like a quarter of a mile from where I was.
This smoke is just for the drama, I thought, it can’t really be happening. But it is. There’s a fire somewhere, blaring through the halls of this Roman station. Engulfing everything it touches, whipping its feral tips through the air, announcing that tonight it will not be tamed. Its echoes envelope the station, darkening the exits, bellowing its silent smoky rage. I will now have to tell Briana’s parents that I’ve lost their daughter, I thought, as I try to force my way through the smoke, but it’s too thick that I run back out. Suddenly everything resembles ash and smoke: the future, the wedding, the life we meant to have together; all gone up in these plumes of black smoke. I run, trying to keep those images behind me.
I finally make it to the main entrance. Scan the area for an ATM and find one. I stick my card in, punch the code, and to my surprise, it doesn’t work. I try again. Nothing. I know I have money, at least ten bucks. I need to find another ATM.
How much more time is there? Eleven minutes. Great. What Do I do?
I rethink my steps. I know I saw an ATM on the bottom floor. I even mentioned it to Briana as we walked to the Fiumicinotrain platform.
“I should check how much money I have left,” I said, passing an ATM.
“You said you took out the last twenty bucks, right?” Briana said as she stepped onto the moving sidewalk.
“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t even need the money anyway.”
Where was it now, I thought; as I quickly run down the steps, now feeling the straps digging deeper into my shoulders, and the bitter cold of Rome doing nothing to stop my body from sweating profusely underneath my winter clothing. I retrace the steps. Passing the same signs, storefronts, and homeless lady that had asked me and Briana, “Hai un accendino?”, while she held up a wrinkled cigarette into the air. “Io non fumo, mi dispiace,” I had told her. And you could hear as we walked away from her repeating my words in cynically, “Non fumo, Non fumo, Non fumo…”
She must’ve burnt the place, I thought, as I see her grinning into the nothing that lies in front of her, smoking her lit cigarette to the butt.
Where is the ATM? Where is the ATM? Where is the ATM? I thought over and over again until I reached the end of the corridor where I lost Briana. Great, seven minutes left. THINK!
Ok. There’s an ATM outside the train station. On the street. Run, Mike. Hussle!
Pissed. Frustrated. Laughing at the moment. Enjoying the stress! I run. Tenderizing my shoulders even more from the heavy backpack that’s pushing down on me. Pulling the stupid luggage that would wobble and fall over during sharp corners. Gripping tightly the bag that held the bottles of wine that we bought to bring back home. Wishing I had a bottle opener to chug one down. I run.
Finally I reach the entrance again. Snake around the Italians looking curiously as the firefighters and police work to extinguish the flame. Cross the congested streets, and race down Via Gioberti.
Aha, there it is.
“Scusa,” I say cold and politely to the drunk hanging out in front of the ATM.
“E ‘tutto tuo,” he responded back, stepping a few paces back, noticing I wasn’t in a touristy mood to be asked for some spare change.
Slip in, press press, BINGO. Money. “Ciao,” I say to the drunk man. With a newfound energy I race back, faster, hoping to not have missed the train. Cross the street, snake around the men and women, down the long corridor, finally to the train that’s waiting for the last people to board. I run inside the first cart, and sigh. Only a few seconds after boarding, the melodic ring springs about and the doors close.
“When you want a conductor you can never find one…typical.
Bastards, I thought. Freaking Americans.
“Wait a minute! No, no, no, no, no,” dribbles from my mouth, as I run, or rather try to run, in the narrow aisle between the rows of train seats. My backpack is tossed off the right seat then the left then right then the left. I’m being bounced about as I run to the doors.
Shweesh. “Nooo….” The doors close.
Oh my God. Oh my God! No. No.
“Mike, call the police. Tell them to stop the train.”
Come on open the doors. Open!!!!
“Mike! Tell the police behind you to stop this train!”
Oh no! What just happened? What the hell am I going to do now?
Did he just say he doesn’t have any money? How is he going to get on the next train?
An overwhelming feeling of absurdity came over me. In any minute a group of people are going to pop their heads out from behind the seats and come running to me with cameras at hand.
No. It didn’t happen.
The silence of strangers and the continuous roar of metal on metal fill this cart.
I still can’t believe this, I think to myself as I sit down by a couple.
“I just left my fiancé behind,” I said out loud to no one in specific but towards the pair.
They turn towards me, seemingly not amused by what I just said, but I retell my account as to try to ground my spinning head.
“I was just trying to find out the price of the ticket from a conductor inside the train and all of a sudden the doors close on me with my fiancé outside the train. He has no money to get the next train out to the airport. I am carrying all the money and his passport. And the next train is the last one for the airport! What do I do?”
“I don’t know,” the American girl says as bland as possible. She shrugs and looks back to her original viewpoint. The couple must’ve been fighting. They are both stoic and void of familiarity with one another; it seems that they want to be as far away from one another but sit together.
Bastards, I thought. Freaking Americans.
Should I get off the next exit and go back? What if I make it back and he’s gone, what do I do then? What time is the next train? Ok. So it roughly takes the train thirty minutes to get to the airport and thirty minutes back. I can make the train back and…wait a minute. This doesn’t make sense. What the fuck! I can’t believe this happened. This is too funny.
And from nowhere I laugh spontaneously, like a madwoman in a straitjacket. And then I cry like a madwoman in a straitjacket.
This cycle goes on for what seemed like an eternity, till the worker’s presence levels my emotional turmoil.
“Senora, Biglietto?” the ticket taker guy says to me.
I take a deep breath and exhale, “Non posso a crea che passo.” And this is where I regal him with my explanation of what just occurred in my broken Italian with some Spanish to fill in the cracks.
Somewhere in the explanation, not sure if it was before or after my hysterical laughter, I broke down and cried through a portion of the retell. This exposure of vulnerability must’ve allowed the ticket taker guy to forget about my ticket and to tell me: “Not to worry. He’s going to be on the next train out. I will tell the conductor to radio into the station to tell the next train Conductor about your story and if they run into your boyfriend they will let him pass.”
After hearing this I was briefly relieved. But what if he doesn’t get on the train? What then?
From there on out I was plagued with one thought “what if”. The train ride was a blur; it only held hysteria and anxiety. Even after the train had stopped and I had debarked, I waited on the bench looking as far down the tracks, waiting to see a singular light from a train. I couldn’t stop thinking about “what if”. What if he doesn’t get on? What if something happened? What if I don’t see him tonight? What if I never see him?
But as I stared down the tracks a familiar shape comes into view. It’s a train that hopefully is carrying my Fiancé. It makes its way to its stop, rolling slowly on the metal rails. I want to run to each door and stick my head in to each window, but I sit still. Looking. It stops.
I stand up; taking a step forward. The doors open. Only a handful of people come out. I don’t see any familiar shape or color. The platform clears out. I can feel my heart pound, my hands begin to shake, and all I want to do is collapse and cry like a little child. I want to scream! Why does this beautiful trip have to end like this?
The train is quiet now. There is only one person in this cart and he’s dead asleep. The cart lights are off and I stare out the windows watching the Roman city lights pass by me. Street lights illumine the empty Italian paths to neighborhoods and homes I may never enter. It calms me to see the backside of Rome: its dimly lit alleys, its clothes hanging to dry on balcony railings, its dirty but clean rustic edifices, and its unmistakably Italian charm that I’ve grown to cherish on this trip.
And while I set myself to escape into the self-erasing act of gazing, an ache of anguish springs forward and fills me like a balloon: I hope; I hope; I hope to find Briana waiting for me at the end of this train ride.
I didn’t feel time pass as I sat oscillating through worry and awe. So to feel the train slowing down now was a surprise. No one had come through this cart to ask for my ticket – all that running around for nothing. Awesome.
I gather my things. Backpack slung on my tired back, rolling suitcase ready to roll and the bags of wine waiting be drunk. I head to do the door, passed the sleeping old man and wait for the door to open. The train has stopped but no door opening. I consider moving into the next cart where there is light, but I wait for a bit more. Why isn’t this door opening? Uhm…so I make an executive decision and pull the handle. Will this do something? It does. The door unseals like a jar of pasta sauce. I step down to the platform and I see no one on it. Hhmm. There are usually people on it, at least debarking from the train, but there was no one. As I take a few steps towards the center of the station the doors closes and the train begins to move.
“Huh, a few seconds and I would end up back at Termini,” I say to myself, considering on how close I was to be transported back for just waiting for the train door to open.
And there in a distant blur. Walking slowly towards me like an abandoned child, uncertain of her place, was my fiancée, Briana. I smile at her. And she smiles back. The backpack doesn’t feel so heavy anymore, I can roll this suitcase for another three miles, and the wine is calling me to open it to celebrate.