Chapter 1 – Reagan And Newfoundland

1.

More then a hundred

It was Monday. I was waiting for the bus to go to Rome. The stop was at the filling station for cars. The attendant was a well-liked type, always cheerful. Several years earlier, we were indivisible friends; we did everything together, but then, from day to day, he began to consider me only as an acquaintance. What had happened? I never really understood. I didn’t realize where I had wronged him. Did the girl leave him, and did he change after that? Was school over, and she changed friends? I didn’t know how to explain it; he never said anything to me. I did not ask him; he kept me at a distance; if I had asked him, I would not have received an honest answer. Some say that others must understand, or are convinced that they understand directly. I don’t know if he was one of them, and I should have understood. I, on my side, did not understand anything. They are those things that remain there, pending without an answer. They stay there in middle earth forever without creating too many problems, with no remorse or recurring thoughts. It just went like this.

I was in the open air waiting for the bus, and he was in the shed. Even though he had seen me, he did not come out to talk to me. He was used to waiting there for the cars to be refueled. It was his job to stand there and wait and do nothing. Suddenly a car arrived, and he came out of his shed to serve the customer. I heard the driver exclaim: “Two thousand thirty-three lire!” He read the price of the gasoline. He was surprised it was still up. People thought that the price had reached the maximum possible every day, but it was still rising after a few days.

Unsurprisingly, the gas station attendant took the driver’s keys, opened the cap and inserted the gas pistol into the car’s tank tube. While the gasoline flowed, without even saying goodbye, he asked me: 

“Where are you going?” I told him where I was going. 

“But who? You?” He asked again. I didn’t answer him. But I thought: Who else? I wasn’t surprised by those strange questions. I already understood what he wanted to tell me: 

“What are you going to do anyways? Stay at home!” 

In those parts, if you do one thing, you will find more than a hundred who will tell you: “But, why do you do it!” 

The bus arrived; it was a purple-red bus used for tourist trips or extra-regional routes like the one I had to do. I went up and through the narrow corridor decorated with blue carpet. I arrived at my seat, and I sat down. It was right above the rear wheels. The train, not the train, I had chosen not to take the train because it had iron wheels that made those unbearable squeaks, and the seats were fixed and square. It would certainly have been much more uncomfortable than the bus, than a touring bus like this. After arranging the luggage, all the passengers took their seats, and we left. We drove a few kilometers of local roads that made the bus sway like a ship in high waves. Arriving at the toll booth, the driver walked briskly without stopping, had a toll-free pass and from then on, the undulations disappeared, and the freeway was relatively straight. I could hear the tires emitting dull, rubbery bumps every time the bus passed over the joints of the carriageway on the bridges. The bus rocked me at every change in speed and at every bend. I was easing my inner tension when I decided to lower the back of my seat.

I had never done it! An obese lady behind me yelled at me: 

“You are crushing me! You will immediately retract onto the backrest.” Then I leaned my knees on the front seat, looking for support. Worse! The one sitting in the front turned and irritated, said to me: 

“Can you pull your knees down? I feel them pointing straight at my back!” I returned my knees to a horizontal position. The neighbor was no exception. He had a bag from which he occasionally took out a book, a thing to eat, the phone charger and all that other stuff he had in there. Almost every half an hour, he received a phone call to which he replied, saying at what point of the journey we had arrived and if everything was going well as if something were to happen at any moment. His elbow rested on the middle armrest as if this were just his.

I was forcibly motionless in that narrow place. It irritated me to be with those people. They didn’t consider there could be other damn travelers on that damn bus. “What do I care about you!” They would have said, but they still had a bit of shame, and then they didn’t say it and kept it to themselves. I was sure of it! I consoled myself by thinking: Do as you please. I’m leaving you and these places of yours. But that didn’t make room for me anymore. In any case, I would have to stay with my butt glued to that damn seat for nearly three hours. 

The driver was the one sitting in the front row, who was the driver I understood because he had the steering wheel in his hands. He didn’t have a uniform, not even wearing a driver’s cap, nothing. He was dressed like all the other passengers. He had been talking about his affairs with another saint of a man who sat in the next row. He was not a friend of his. The passenger was only a man who happened to be in that place by accident. The driver spoke in dialect without caring who listened to him. At least the people sitting in front of the bus knew everything about him once they got to Rome.

The driver was talking about things about his family that would have been private conversations for others. Then he would shut up and wait for the passenger to say something to him every now and then, but he didn’t answer. The passenger felt out of place listening to all those private events. So, the driver turned towards him, stopping to look at the road.

The important thing was to have the approval for what he was telling, and asked:

“Which is not true?”

“Yap! Yap!” The passenger answered him quickly.

“What will I tell you?” the driver said, turning to continue watching the road go by. He meant it was so accurate that there was no need to tell it. He repeated this strange question over and over again.

After almost three hours without warning, he said into the microphone in his dialect accent that everyone knew by now:

“Tiburtina Station!”

We had arrived in Rome.

He got out and opened the doors of the luggage compartment, located in the lower part of the bus, as if it were usual, regardless of who was around. Many people were waiting, relatives and friends and so on. At that stop, the passengers arrived at their destination and began to take out their bags.

From the top of my seat, I had a beautiful view. I saw a man in his thirties with a muscular build, square face, in a gray suit, elegant but old-fashioned. He was coming across the street towards the bus. Safely, he began to take bags as if they belonged to him and had just gotten off the bus.

Another strong-boned, relatively short man in his forties, rolled up shirt sleeves, passed by on a bicycle. From the way he acted, he looked like a local. He started yelling at the man who took the suitcases. I couldn’t hear, but it was easy to imagine him saying something like:

“That one steals the bags! Look at what stuff!”

Then turning towards the thief, he shouted, “Aren’t you ashamed? Where are you running away?”

The thief, discovered and placed at the center of the scene, could not answer him in the rhymes, being also a foreigner. Now gone upstream, his intent, he turned and started to go away, walking quickly to distract himself from the attention of the man on a bicycle who was continuing to insult him in Roman dialect, I suppose, to show it to as many people as possible:

“A thief, where are you going? A good for nothing, did you want to be smart? Hey, come here if you have the courage!”

Screaming like this, he was taking the stage like a first star. He had foiled the theft, something to be rewarded with a gold medal, not at all! He had spotted a thirty-year-old thief originally from Eastern Europe dressed as Alain Delon in the film “Joy house”, but without Jane Fonda. But he wasn’t in France or even in the sixty’s years.

In 2001 how much could that improvised thief be camouflaged and certainly for reasons of necessity? Indeed, others had also noticed that he was stealing, but they pretended nothing had happened. What thief was he? What could he steal? A bag to those people I had been observing all the time during the trip? No special people, no rich, no poor, all ordinary people. What could they possibly have in their luggage? Nothing could be stolen.

Leave him alone. I would have said that man on a bicycle! Go on your own, and don’t bother ruining people who are already in trouble! But the soundproofed glass of the bus only allowed me to be a spectator of what really looked like a movie. But in the end, I wouldn’t have said anything to him even without glass. The thief was gone, and talking to certain people was a waste of time.

A toothbrush stained with tartar after years and years of use, a worn shirt, worn underwear. This they could have in their suitcases! And then, if he picked up a bag randomly, what could he know if it belonged to a man or a woman? What size could he find? The thief also had a good Alain Delon build, and when did he take us to see his size? There was also a priest on the bus. Had he taken the priest’s suitcase, would he have dressed in the cassock? He was a thief out of necessity. He didn’t even know how to steal.

Thinking carefully, these travelers would have had the opportunity, once and for all, to be able to renew their wardrobe and improve personal hygiene with new underwear, to say the least. They simply did not dare to throw away old things that no longer had value due to wear and tear. They must have had the psychosis of throwing out old things more than the need to have them in that state. The thief would have solved the problem! He would have done the dirty work! Throw it all away!

The Termini station was the last bus stop. I got off with others. In the street, a traffic cop in his fifties was stalking to check that the cars were not parked in double rows. After preventing motorists from pulling up just across the street from the bus stop, a girl of about twenty-five came in, petite, in a hurry and asked the policeman if she could leave the car there for five minutes. The policeman replied:

“No!”

“Please, only five minutes. I must pick up my father from the station, who has big suitcases.”

The policeman was offended at the second request. He got offended because the girl had asked for it a second time. From there, he began to get upset and said:

“See if I must be fooled by a twenty-year-old.” He walked to the back of the girl’s car. Then he continued:

“Can you show me if the arrows work?”

And so on, until he looked for some problem to make a fine. I didn’t think such a thing was normal. To tell it would have seemed a joke. To see it, one would remain speechless. I stopped for a moment and looked around me. I wondered if it was really true, and I thought: Yes, the rest around is proper, then it must be true!

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