(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A. Adams… continued from last week)
On my way to St Francesco avenue I sat in the sixth coach of the train, a brown cashmere shawl wrapped around my neck, a knapsack hugged across my chest and kilograms of cares weighing on my mind.
It was a saturnine Saturday.
It was the Saturday after I had waited- first day, second day, third day, and had heard no word from Khalil. It was the Saturday after I had watched time grow limbless and went into limbo. I had watched time lose its healing powers and its ability to fly.
Khalil had not picked my calls, nor texted back his cheerful, ‘I’ll call you right back’. Life without Khalil made me sick and made me shake. Everything I held fell off my hands. Life without Khalil worried and wearied me. I was suffering from drug withdrawal syndrome. Khalil was the drug, and I was the addict.
“You can’t continue this way,” Ruth told me one day after I had almost scalded a customer’s ear with hot water. So she gave me some days off work.
Being off work, idle and alone, was rather fiendish. After the second day of being, she had to call the psychiatrist, who gave me pills that never worked.
The only thing that would cure me of this psychological disorder was to see Khalil again. So I bought a train ticket, to Milan, to his house on St. Francesco avenue. It was a wild goose chase, though. The chance of finding him there was meagre, but it would be mega if I saw him.
So that Saturday, at about 5am, I stepped out of Ruth’s apartment where I had been putting up.
It was nicely warm when I arrived the station at half past five. I met quite a lot of passengers hurrying to the platforms.
At 5:50am, the white, green and red Intercity train, bearing Italiarail, crawled uproariously towards the terminal. In my hysteria, I thought it was a very long millipede, painted in bright colours. Afterwards, a husky voice issued out of the public address system, announcing something in Italian. Most people on the platform suddenly leapt across the gap into the train. I glanced at my ticket again and at the message on the vestaboard and jumped on the train too.
Inside the train, I sat in the sixth coach, where I sat facing two people who were facing forwards. It was my first time on the train alone to anywhere, least to say Milan. I hadn’t been very bold since I arrived in Italy as an illegal immigrant, nine months ago. The fear of being deported wouldn’t let me until I met Khalil.
Nevertheless, on this trip, I was scared. What if I get caught?
I had been told the easiest place to catch an illegal immigrant and get them deported is at public places, like train stations. I was told train officials jump on trains from time to time to validate tickets and request for ID cards. I didn’t have any. Ruth had, however, told me to impersonate her 20-year-old daughter. She was brown-skinned like me, and we both had the same kind of oval face and unassuming eyes. “But this is not me. What if I get caught,” I had told her when I said I was going in search of Khalil.
“All Africans look alike. No one will know it’s not you. Use it,” she had quipped.
After 10 minutes, the pendulum swung announcing the top of the hour- 6 o clock. And then the train chugged and set in motion. A strange euphoria came over me because the train was moving forward, but I was facing backwards. Superstitious?
Beside me was a middle-aged woman hugging a styrofoam cup of hot chocolate and glancing through an Agatha Christie novel. Opposite me were two young lovers, probably, 22 and 18. Italian-ish with red skin and reddish hair. As though to goad me, they necked often, kissed often, fed themselves a sandwich. It reminded me of Khalil and my heart fluttered, the knife of jealousy stabbed my chest.
I looked away into the scenic vegetation, watching farmers milk their cows, but they distracted me. So I plugged my ears with the inbuilt earphones of the cabin seat, drew the eye mask across my eyes, and with infinitesimal strength, I tried to listen to some Mozart’s classical and G.F Handel’s opera. I awoke when the train made a stop at Vernice- over 200 kilometres from Milan.
And then a fattish, tanned-skinned man with a bald head and a handel bar beard and moustache showed up. Across the breast pocket of his brown overcoat, was written ItaliaRail.
He said a word in Italian and everyone adjusted and brought out their tickets. My heart skipped. I flipped out mine too, thinking….what if this official happens to be able to differentiate between blacks? What if at this instant, I just get deported? Truth is at that point, I didn’t even care again. There are certain pains that will pale out in the presence of greater pains, so the devil may care.
I brazenly flipped out my impersonated self in the form of an ID with the name Guioi-Aurora. He looked intently, mustered something that sounded like Gioia-Aurora. I nodded, not quite in the know of what he said. And then he moved on to the next passenger. Relief.
And at exactly 11:55am, the alarm rang, announcing our arrival at Milano Centrale-central station in Milan. The train chugged towards the station’s arcade.
I suddenly developed cold feet and my heart began to pound. What would he do if he sees me? Would he talk to me or ignore me? I suddenly wanted to return to Rome for the fear of what might happen. I began to sweat in the air-conditioned train, and my hands trembled. I had to lean on one of the props for psychological support.
Finally, I alighted feeling instantly confused at the beauty. The roof of the station was made of glass, and it was arched. The walls were embossed with varying designs of stone and marble carvings, some of the famous Pietro Magni and others of legendary Italian artists. Family members waiting to receive their loved ones. Joy and love in the air. But I was by myself. I walked slowly, taking a longer look at everything – the ritzy restaurants, the glass and glamour.
A middle-aged man in black waistcoat over white long sleeve shirt and black shorts welcomed us with shrill music produced from his accordion. He pulled it closer and apart, close and apart, forming the melody of ‘Lean on me when you’re not strong.” His weird red socks, drawn up to his knees, stood him out as he played from his musical note, whilst also making a mental note of passers-by who dropped euros, in notes or coins.
By the entrance lay a beggar eating from the MacDonald’s waste bin. A teenager, in a dirty, no-button, half torn shirt, accosted me, asking me for a one-cent donation for hungry Somalian children. From the way he scratched his neck and nodded frequently, he looked like one hooked on drugs, and I wondered which Somalian children he wanted to feed. I tossed one euro at him, though. I left thinking, so there could be beggars, needy, even scammers, on the streets of Europe? I thought they say the streets are paved with gold. A parody of perceptions. I was relieved to at least see that I was better than some people. Hungry Somalian children. Drug-addicts. Beggars.
I approached a young man puffing out thick smoke, for direction to St Francesco avenue. He shook his head and pointed me to a map on the shelf. I picked it. It all looked like an endless seam of spiderweb. Confused. So I walked out of the station, picked a taxi drop. After fifteen minutes, the Pakistani driver who spoke to me in ugly English dropped me in front of his house.
It was a detached aristocratic building that looked like memorabilia, and on that particular day, it looked snobbish and aloof, as other houses on the avenue. This was once a place where I walked in and out freely, but now I was feeling like an interloper.
I pressed the bell on the bronze gate. There was no response. I stood still. Maybe he’s gone to the club. Maybe he’s hanging out with friends. Or maybe he’s gone to Chicago. But one thing I was sure of was he was not at home in Rome.
I pressed the bell again. I saw no one but heard footsteps. The gate creaked open. I turned. And then two German shepherds began hopping on the spot. Without thinking twice, I ran until I got to the outermost lane that led to an encircling of lanes and roundabouts. I didn’t believe my strength, after going without food in sorrow for a week. I jumped on another taxi, ignoring what the driver was telling me in Italian. I kept saying, train station. Trenitali. I waved my ticket in his face. It was a return ticket, I had bought it in anticipation that I might not meet him, or he might chase me away.
On the train from St. Francesco avenue, I sat on a single, lonely seat on the last coach, very close to the locomotive engine. My face to the windows, the hood of my coat drawn over my head, my cashmere shawl still wrapped around my neck. I was feverish. I was sobbing and moaning. I was crying and laughing at the same time. I was feeling both dejected and angry at the same time. I was recovering from the shock and rediscovering myself at the same time. Did he really do it? Did he send dogs after me? Was it an illusion? Unbelievable! I was beginning to reconsider what Ruth told me -getting a life- about developing myself rather than mopping after one guy and waiting for his validation of me. I was going to apply for a diploma in fashion illustration at the school in Arts and Craft school, in Rome. The thought of it suddenly felt like a new kind of contentment and satisfaction. I was going to exhale again. I was suddenly happy I was going to do something with my life and not just depend on a man to have relevance and acceptance. I was going to walk forwards and face forward. I tried to smile at the possibility of self-rediscovery. And as I began to smile, the train’s alarm sounded again. And the recorded voice welcomed us back home to Rome. I alighted from the train and alighted from my pain –rediscovering myself.
Synopsis (After these eerie days)
She is ambitious but unschooled in street-wiseness. Seventeen-year-old Funto Colesworth did not know the trip to study her dream course, Medicine, in France, is one to nowhere until she finds herself in a brothel in Cotonou.
Rather than remain there to hawk sex which she is mandated to do, she escapes and joins another set of human traffickers to cross the ghoulish Sahara Desert with ten other trafficked girls. On surviving, she continues her flirtations with danger; gets into a close-shave with death in the Mediterranean Sea, where she is the only survivor amongst the girls. Arriving Italy breathless, Funto is introduced to Rome’s red-light district, where she subsequently meets a rich and snazzy footballer, Khalil.
Their whirlwind romance would have resulted in marriage and landed her a fortune, but her hopes went up in flames again when he is killed by his irascible, psychotic twin brother Hamil. Then she realises the more ruinous cost of naivety when Hamil implicates her, leading to her imprisonment in Germany. Thrown in gaol, and with no clemency in sight, Funto felt defeated until she meets a Ghanaian missionary, Duncan Melanby, whose romance with her leads to the fence-mending between father and daughter, after twelve eerie years.