Erica Plouffe Lazure
My first thought, as I sent him down the train platform at Fiumicino to make sure his ticket was time-stamped, was that I could have done better. I should have walked him from where we were seated, across from each other in the train, when he’d asked in halting Italian if it would get him to Trastevere and then to Roma Aurelia. He’d written the names of the two stations on his ticket—a large, airplane-sized ticket, suggesting it had been bought in advance—not the tiny one I’d just bought at the kiosk. I, too, was Trastevere bound, returning from an early flight from Bari. I knew a few things I suspected he did not: that he absolutely needed to have his ticket stamped and that he would not easily find the train to Roma Aurelia, one stop among dozens in Rome, among six platforms of trains.
“The trainman will fine you, make you pay a lot of money if your ticket is not stamped,” I explained. So he went off to talk to the conductor, hopefully, stamped his ticket, and slipped into another car. We were literally two minutes until departure; I did not want to risk leaving the train (with all my stuff or without all my stuff) to make sure he was all set. I sat with the guilt of it for the whole train ride to Trastevere and told myself that I would do better when we arrived.
Sure enough, upon arriving in Trastevere, I found him—an African man, possibly Senegalese, about as tall as me (not very), asking a very tall Italian camo-clad soldier holding a rifle where to find the train to Aurelia. Knowing very little good would come of this scenario, I collected him from the soldier and brought him downstairs to survey the train marquee and then my phone, to guide him to a train that would stop at Aurelia. My sources told me a train to Aurelia would not be for another hour, 9:57. I thought it strange but cross-referenced and confirmed it with an online Trenitalia schedule. I wrote down the train number on his ticket, showed him how to find the platform on the marquee, where to find the platforms, and where the bar upstairs was if he needed food. He thanked me for my help, and I told him, “when I lived in Italy three years ago, I needed help with the trains. So now I hope to help you.” Something happened as we walked upstairs; a wave of energy rushed through me that felt like gratitude, the receiving end of gratitude, and I was sorry to leave him alone and waiting an hour for the train.
He asked for my phone number at the top of the stairs, and I typed it into his contacts, although I told him “WhatsApp only,” but I didn’t think I will hear from him. He seemed not to want to say where he’d come from when I asked him in an attempt at small talk as we waited for my slow Internet to relay the train information. He simply said, “from the airport, FCO.”
“Me, too,” I said and left it at that but noticed the functions on his phone were in French. So, maybe Senegal. I kept him in my thoughts as I left the station and rounded the corner for the tram. So many things could go wrong for him, for any of us. But I needed to get on with my day and meet my friends, who’d made breakfast for me.
I got on the tram, loaded down with my to-the-gills backpack and my catch-all shoulder bag, and went the three stops to where Yvonne and Jadzia are staying and turned onto Viale Glorioso when I noticed an old man ahead of me, holding a hand against the wall to steady himself as he walked, and taking slow and cautious, almost processional but decidedly unstable steps. In his other hand was a plastic bag with a pair of sneakers and a towel inside. I passed him and then turned—he looked to be in pain or about to fall over, so I said, “posso ayuti?” offering my hand. He nodded and took it, and we walked slowly over the rough cobbled roads, pausing at the curb cuts and broken spots, trying to talk with each other about how hot the weather had been, how many people are suffering in the heat. At first, I thought he was walking home, that he lived in the vicinity, but then (my Italian sucks, I will just say it) I gathered he was taking a bus and was walking up to the stop. I asked if he would like any water, or maybe a peach (I had one in my bag), which he declined. When we arrived at the bus stop, we checked the marquee—Bus 75, his bus, in six minutes. I decided to wait until the bus arrived. He thanked me and told me that (either) he had been in the hospital or someone he knew was in the hospital. I touched his arm and told him, “hai amichi ovunque” (you have friends everywhere), which made him cry, and that made me cry, and he patted down his tears with a handkerchief as the bus arrived. I pushed my own tears away, kissed him goodbye on both cheeks, and made sure he got on the bus safely, and the doors to Bus 75 closed, and we offered one last wave, and I don’t know what happened to him or my Aurelia-bound friend, next.
BIO: Erica Plouffe Lazure is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks, Sugar Mountain (2020) and Heard Around Town (2015), and a fiction chapbook, Dry Dock (2014). Her fiction is published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Carve, Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The MacGuffin, The Southeast Review, Phoebe, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), Hippocampus Magazine, The Iron Horse Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at ericaplouffelazure.com.
Photo by: Public-transport.net
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