In conclusion, my dearest Professor, I know that the world is filled with paths that smell like hay. But I want to live. Do you remember what you once told me? That humans are the only unhappy animals. The other animals know thirst, hunger, hot, cold. They do not know unhappiness. “In that case, nor they know happiness”, I replied you back then. Now I’m telling you the same thing. But if we stay here there is no escape. The mongoose becomes weaker and weaker, more vulnerable, until one day she won’t have the courage to look at the shadow that swings by her side. I have one life which I ruined, that’s true, but I didn’t waste it. And I don’t want to waste it.
For a few weeks I try to see in the swamp’s direction Eleonora’s silhouette, the way she left me, with her cloak on her shoulders. In order to pass my time, I decided to write. I don’t know whether someone will find these papers or they will rot in here. Actually, I’m writing in the same way I’m talking. Around me there is only emptiness, and if a man stops talking at some point he dies, right? All of you that will listen to me, I consider you my judges. I’m tired of talking to myself, judging my own self.
Do you understand gentlemen what separates you from me? We’re separated even by my own death. After I finish what I have to say, and if Eleonora doesn’t come back, I will leave alone.
I sat on every bar-chair since the day of my return and spoke about that magnificent trip I went in summer to Italy. I ran every minute through a filter from my mind to my mouth and the story was a blast every time. The first time it was a bit close to reality, the second, it could have been interpreted in many ways, the third, it was exciting and the last time, for which I’ve already lost count, it was the best time of my life. Everybody admired the hell out of me while I was making that trip sound better and better. I was a fierce woman, dealing with a heartbreak from the man she considered her last, going away to enjoy herself in places she’s never been, meet strangers, hop from train to train, enjoy the sunshine and be close to the sea.
But, did any of them really wondered, was I really that woman?
I wrote letters to the man I loved, crying myself through every word, I fell asleep on that Thursday night of August with tears glued on my face and woke up on Friday with a constant pain in my chest. I would not eat, nor drink, nor feel more than I was already feeling. Lost. Incapable of even faking a smile, betrayed, alone.
I had no appreciation for anything but my depressed emotions.
I waited on the balcony chair for a few hours, hoping that he could not do that to me, hoping that what we had would be stronger than anything, wondering how would I live if the only happy life I imagined was beside him. I felt for the first time in my entire life, like those devastated women that I teased for not having the guts to get up and fight. I was those women, I was every woman and every good speech I used to motivate others with, wouldn’t work on me. I used to say to myself from time to time during those hours to stop crying, to stop being so weak, I used to get up and face myself in the bathroom mirror. Once I did, the avalanche of tears just ran off my eyes and I would go back to my seat.
The afternoon came and I was still there waiting. No sign of anything. I checked the schedule of his possible departures and realized that he was gone. What if I went after him and see them together? What if I faced the last thing that would definitely put me on my knees? I was concerned for my health and I could not do that. I knew I wouldn’t handle it and I knew he was gone for good. But what about my pieces? Who would pick them up?
That was when I decided I had to take the tape and force them back together. I had made a promise to myself to visit Italy that summer and I intended to honor it. I thought that if I would go away from everything and everyone, maybe I would find myself again. I had a book that once helped me through summer as it was a metaphor of what loneliness can do to a person and what a person can do to himself.
I looked up all possible trips to Italy to places I’ve never been. I decided that I would go to the same port he departed and take the ship to Bari. I would pass along the island we planned our summer holidays and get myself to face the trip further. I booked every ticket and accommodation for Sunday and I would stay in Italy till the next Friday. For those six days I planned every trip I would go from there and every chapter I would read from my book.
I felt as if I was able to breath again that day. I couldn’t wait for my escape from reality and finding peace again.
On Sunday morning I woke up, prepared my luggage and ran to the bus station. I took a coffee for the road and found myself a window seat in the bus. I would travel for three hours to the port.
A woman wouldn’t stop talking on the phone in Italian, her child making a lot of noise and thus disturbing my reading. In that part of the book the Professor was describing the empty station he got himself to, playing chess with himself while the watch on the wall had stopped to a specific time around the afternoon. He said that in order to survive he would, as God did, name 10 commandments he would blindly follow to guide him.
Here’s how he meant them:
First: To wait as long as it takes.
Second: To expect anything.
Third: Do not remember everything. The memories that help you live in the present are the only good ones.
Forth: Do not count days.
Fifth: Do not forget that waiting is provisional, it really doesn’t last a lifetime.
Sixth: Repeat to yourself that there is no emptiness. There is only our inability to fill the emptiness we live in.
Seventh: Do not put in the same pot both God and the prayer. Praying is sometimes a form of hoping for the one who doesn’t dare to hope.
Eighth: If this thought helps you, do not look for ways to admit that you’re hoping while not having anything else to do or even protecting yourself from the fact that you are doing nothing.
Ninth: Bless the opportunity of belonging to yourself as a whole. Loneliness is a whore that would not blame you for being egocentric.
Tenth: Remember that paradise was, most probably, in a cave.
The woman was still talking on the phone and I decided to take a break and stare off the window. Once I did I realized that our location was close to a hotel we once went and had our first taste of the cold sea water in May. For a few moments I was overwhelmed by those memories and once I felt the first tear running down my cheek I opened the book again. Could I apply the Professor’s Decalogue to my situation? He had placed himself willingly in an empty train station, trying to figure out what his life is about, where he got it wrong, having trials everyday, judging himself to the fullest extent of the law. Then Eleonora joins him, running away from the man she loved, scared of the dog tanneries that invaded her city.
That is how you can picture it and how he describes it:
Gentlemen, I feel that the silence of this station can’t wait to place a crystal mask on my face. It wants to sew my mouth. To stop talking. Then I would belong to the station. I would be its’ victim and its’ God. A mute and indifferent God, laying on a bench in the waiting room, with a crystal mask on his face. Spiders and mosquitoes would hunt me like faithful slaves. I am afraid of this, that is why I cannot stop talking. If I would stop, it would be hard to move my lips. They would turn into crystal and I would be scared not to break them. As long as Eleonora was here, I could talk to her. If she hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have gone to transforming this station into a confessional.
I wondered once why God wants people to confess their sins and mistakes. He should know everything. Why does he insist on us saying out loud what he already knows? He’s doing it to humiliate us, gentlemen. I do not insist on confessing my sins. But I insist on not making the worst of sins, that of not wishing for anything. So please, keep listening to me.
Even the name of the station was a charade. It reduces to three white letters on a blue background, placed on the wall of the waiting room: ERO. There are no spaces between these three letters so the ones that fell must have been from the beginning or the end. As it seems, the name of the station was written intentionally from the beginning this way, incomplete and mysterious. It was as if someone wanted to give the freedom to every traveler to name it as they please. One day, I took a brick and tried to compose a work by adding one letter: ZERO. HERO. EROS.
Time passed quickly by reading and trying to translate whatever theory was behind the Professor’s words. I arrived in the city where the port was supposed to be, where he used to come to work once a month. I memorized every building, every hotel that he might have stayed on his business trips, every client’s shop he used to describe to me. I took a taxi from somewhere in the city center and finally arrived at the port. The woman from the bus and her child followed, they were travelling to Italy too. It was afternoon and I had to wait three hours for my departure. I thought once again before printing my tickets, what if I take the other ferry and be by evening to where he was in those moments? I was torturing myself with these kind of thoughts but I denied them all in the end. I would travel alone to find myself and I would have the trip of my life. I felt strange around people in the waiting room, everybody had a partner or a more plausible reason to travel. On the other hand, there was me, walking around alone, trying to ignore the pain in my chest, running for my life.
They allowed us to get on the ship one hour before departure. I found myself a table on the porch, clear of the wind but facing the view. I settled on a chair, got some more coffee and waited for our departure. It didn’t take long. People were embarking one by one and time passed quickly as I was studying everyone I saw, creating my own story of them being on that ship. A group of Italians sat to the table next to mine, one young lady and two young men. I wanted so badly to engage into discussions with them, but I had to admit, my face wasn’t so happy and fliendly as theirs. I had been crying every day for a month and a half. I’m sure that changes people and it definitely changed me.
Once the ship began its’ journey, I opened my book and went back to the Professor. It was already 8 pm, close to dawn and I opened my GPS to see where we were. We were approaching Ithaca, the place were he, as I imagined, would make love to another woman that night. I stood up, looked into my bag for the other book – the one with my letters to him in it – and approached the part of the ship that would face the island while passing by. I saw it from a few miles, it was so close that I thought I could swim to the shore if I jumped from the ship. I was afraid of dark and deep waters so I would never do it, but I wanted to. In that moment, the trip began to fade. I was holding hard to the book in my hands, wanting to let it go, hoping that it would reach him and he would know that I was close. Passing by that island took half an hour, the sun was hiding behind the sable line of the sea and the view was mesmerizing. I couldn’t hold the tears anymore. I felt blocked on a ship to a destination I chose, running for my life, my heart in my mouth, my blood in my eyes, the book becoming one with my hands and my feet ready to jump in the sea. Those 30 minutes I will never forget. Once the last cliff of the island was behind me, I took a deep breath and tried to focus on what was expecting me. The time of my life. Twelve more hours to destination. The night had settled in and the chairs on the porch weren’t comfortable anymore. I took a towel out from my luggage and wrapped it around my back. Even if the weather was hot in daytime, the night on the ship was cold and humid. I closed my book as it was hard to see at that hour and opened my laptop to watch some series. I had calculated that by watching 50-minute episodes time would pass faster and my mind, would not think of him. Understand it gentlemen, that was the main thing that I was focused on. Not thinking. It was crucial to my survival.
It was 2 am in the morning and I was tired. The plastic chairs were hurting my back and my feet needed some stretching. I wanted so badly to sleep but besides the pain of my interiors, I also had the physical pain. I managed to get some more clothes to keep me warm and the towel to ease some pain from that chair. I fell asleep and woke up at 7 am. The sun was shining once I opened my eyes and it felt like I was still trapped somewhere that I wanted to leave. I couldn’t see the shore nearby. I went to the bar and ordered a coffee. I ate some biscuits with it as my stomach was hurting too. I had forgotten to eat but now my body was just there to remind me that it cannot handle it anymore. I opened my book and read a few more lines with my coffee. Once the shore was finally visible, I couldn’t wait to step on it.
At 9:30 am on a Monday morning I arrived in Bari, Italy. I took my luggage and the crew wished me a pleasant stay.
The hotel I had booked was 4 miles away from the port so I decided to walk. The sun was burning, the bottle of water I had bought was at that moment warm, my hands filled with luggage, my feet hurting but still, I tried to enjoy the road. I walked by old buildings, poor Italians, narrow scary streets with white spread sheets at every balcony. I finally entered a long and broad road that was filled with Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada and all the fashion brands that dominate in Italy. I didn’t see a lot of tourists walking by and the GPS was indicating that I had a few more minutes. Then it all started.
The large and broad street ended to a train station – the main train station of Bari. The GPS indicated that the hotel would be on a street behind that station but I couldn’t see how would I cross it. I entered and got myself on the platform. There was no human being waiting on that platform and like the Professor my eyes caught the watch on the wall. It was broken. The time had stopped to 7:25 am or pm. I didn’t know what was happening but I ran off that platform. I saw a policeman standing outside the station and asked him how to get on via Giuseppe Capruzzi. “Through the station mam’, take the stairs that take you underground, he said.” I found my way underground and reached the heat of the sun in a few minutes. I had to walk on via Giuseppe Carpuzzi for 5 minutes and then turn left. Those five minutes turned my world upside down. All I could see while walking, were dog tanners every 5 meters. Everyone of them had at least 5 dogs on leashes and people would just avoid them when they passed by. I thought of Eleonora in that moment and a shiver sank in my whole body. Could I be having a nightmare or is this true?
I finally reached the hotel at 12.00 pm. The room wasn’t ready so I decided to finally cosy up myself at the bar, order an orange juice to fix my stomach and relax. I was in desperate need of a bath and a long time sleep. I was also aware that if I got into that room and slept I would have woken up the other day. I decided not to waste time, leave the luggage at the hotel’s reception and with my last strength go visit a town at 30 miles away which I had on my to-do list.
I got back to the train station, watching the dog walkers on the street like I’d never seen one before. I was overwhelmed with tiredness, pain in my chest and fear of whether I am really alive or living the Professor’s story.
I bought a ticket to Polignano a Mare and waited for the train that had to come at 1:25 pm. My eyes were heavy as I needed sleep but I also wanted to eat, maybe somewhere nice.
The trip to Polignano was short but I couldn’t get my eyes to help me read so I had to stare at the view from the window and let myself think. What was I doing there? The train passed through some morbid places, dead, ruined. It wasn’t a pleasant view and I was wondering whether I made the right call to leave. I didn’t let these thoughts disturb me more than that. The train stopped on the empty platform, unprotected from the sun, with no stuff at the ticket office or anywhere by that matter. I followed the small crowd out of the station. A map on the wall at the exit exhibited the main attractions of the town. I went on a road going down, logically leading me to the sea.
I arrived in a square with gelatto shops, bakeries, crowded coffee shops and a place that sold parmigiano and had a queue longer than 20 meters. I saw people going in through some huge steel doors on my right but I didn’t want to enter. I continued down that road and at the end if it there was the famous cliff of polignano. It was like a small mountain opened in half and letting the sea form a beach between its cliffs. I’ve never seen a more crowded beach but the view was wonderful.
The sun was killing me and I was feeling my last strength going away. I wanted to find a place for lunch and then go back with the train of 4:20 pm. I wouldn’t let those steel doors be a mystery anymore because I had a feeling I wouldn’t be coming back. I entered through them and it was a small world. Vendors selling souvenirs, restaurants filled with people, photographers taking pictures of their companions.
I found this cosy restaurant which was my image of Italy. I asked for a table for one. The waitress confirmed it in Italian as if my request was so bizarre. I sat next to a French old couple which had already travelled to a few places before Italy; as I understood from their conversations. I ordered a pizza and a glass of rose wine. My stomach was hurting and so was my chest now. Even if I was so physically tired, that pain wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t bear watching the surroundings anymore, I couldn’t stop wonder what had gotten into me and how was I ever capable of believing that if I’d go away my pain will too. I rushed to pay the bill and ran back to the train station. It was once again almost empty. I was accompanied by a young woman at the ticket machine. I managed to buy a ticket for an earlier train. It came in 5 minutes and I rushed back to the hotel.
The receptionist handed my luggage and wished me a pleasant stay. The next morning I had planned to go to Napoli, I even bought the tickets for a day trip. I entered the hotel room and threw all my clothes at the door. I filled the bathtub with hot water and sunk myself in it.
What am I doing here? I felt the urge to get away again. The pain was even more unbearable in that moment. It was 4:30 pm, I had a few hours in Bari and I wanted to go back. I felt that whole escapade was far from the time of my life.
One hour later I was clean, lying on some red sheets and contamplaiting my get-away again. No place in the earth would have made me smile those days. Instead, I was terrified that except my whole body and spirit hurting, I was living a charade of the Professor’s kind.
The next ship back to the port I left would be the next day, on Tuesday evening. I called the number I found on their contact list to change my return date and informed the hotel that instead of 4 nights I would stay just that one.
The receptionists asked if everything was alright with the room, if they could do something, what made me change my departure date. What would I tell that nice young lady? That I ran for my life and I realised my pain was running with me?
I said I had a family emergency and I had to go back. It sounded more plausible, more normal than my insane reality.
As it was my only night in Bari I decided to go out at around 8:00 pm. I went back though the station and to that platform I saw the broken watch. Nobody had fixed it, it was still 7:25 am or pm. I went out and walked in the city centre. It was crowded, all kinds of people, nationalities, gangs. I couldn’t find a nice place to eat so I took something to go. It was the worst pizza I have ever tasted but my stomach needed it.
My walk was short and just an hour later I went back to the hotel. I passed again through the underground tunnel of the train station and it was already dark when I walked on the road were the dog tanners would be. I saw the bus station where I was supposed the next morning to leave from for Napoli. I was disappointed of how things turned out but I could barely convince myself that I had to spend the night in Bari.
Once I arrived at the hotel I went to its restaurant. It was a 4 star hotel which was quite luxurious for that city’s standards. There was a nice waitress at the restaurant that helped me pick my desert. I ate a tartuffo and drank some more wine. The night had settled in and once I got up to my room I was a wreck. The oceans pouring from my eyes were unstoppable. Wherever I would go, the pain won’t stop.
The next morning I woke up at 10 am. I went downstairs to eat breakfast and by 12 pm I had already checked out from the hotel. The ship was departing at 7:30 pm and I had to carry the luggage with me all day. I walked the streets looking for those ladies that make pasta in front of their homes. I managed to find them and take a few pictures. I had to remember something from that trip. I continued walking then in an area closer to the port where I found a restaurant that would host me for the next 1 hour and a half. I had a strong espresso and one portion of carbonara. They were both extremely good. I couldn’t bear standing alone at that table. I decided to walk slowly to the port. It didn’t take long. At 3:00 pm I was there. In 10 minutes I printed my ticket and I was ready for departure. Opposite to the ticket office there was this cottage-bar with plastic tables and chairs. It had no door but it served the necessary to survive the waiting and the heat.
As it was my only option in that port, I took a refreshment and sat at one table outside. It was as if someone got me back 20 years ago in some villages in the Balcans, where drunk men used to keep them from closing. I opened my book but I could barely read. I just wanted to leave. The time passed extremely hard but the evening finally settled in.
At 6:30 I got on the ship and found myself a seat in the interior this time, not to get cold again. I had an inch of relief pounding on my heart as the trip of my life would be over soon. I would be again in my dearest misery at home, safe. I opened the book while taking a deep breath and continued my reading. It was Eleonora’s turn to give a verdict over a trial the Professor made her perform. I will go straight to her last words:
So, here it is my sentence in our trial, Professor. Get up on your feet to hear it. “The two imperfect mongooses are ordered to immediately leave and find a way beyond the forest.”
Do not protest against it, it’s definitive.
The shit had sailed. It was a long night in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help myself to sleep so I continued reading. Every half an hour I would go outside and stare at the sea for 5 minutes. It was dark as the sun had gone away letting the almost full moon dominate the sky. I would go back then and read some more.
Eleonora had left the Professor and he started rambling again:
Sometimes waiting helps us mature, others it kills us. Have you ever thought that one phase of waiting doesn’t resemble to another? Waiting differs like people do.
I wanted to write beside my Decalogue: “Waiting is a way of not dying”. Then I gave up. Just waiting is not enough for me anymore.
Imagine that I would have stayed here with Eleonora until I would have been so tired of waiting. And one day, a train would come and we wouldn’t have the strength to hop on it…How would that happen? We would have stayed, Eleonora would be sitting in the waiting room, I would be laying on the bench on the platform, listening to the sound of the locomotive, the loud announcement “Come on board!”, but we wouldn’t even move, we wouldn’t have the strength to get on the train. We waited for it too much. We exhausted ourselves waiting and we didn’t have any drop of energy to enjoy the thing we waited so long for. We would be filled with deep sadness, remembering how much we waited for that train to come and it left without us. And what could we do after the train’s departure? Our only chance would be forgetting about it, forget about everything, sleep, and when we’d wake up, with our last strength, wait for another train.
I didn’t rest at all those days. I was permanently tired and it was once again, hard to fall asleep. It was 3:00 am when I finally did and woke up at 7:00 am as I was too cold from the air condition in the room. I stretched a bit and went to the bar to get some coffee. I gathered my things and took them all outside on the porch where the sun was heating the atmosphere. Soon I realized that it won’t take long and I would be face to face with that island again. Ithaca.
I was tired of hurting – as I am now writing these words – so I decided to watch a movie the whole way left so I wouldn’t face the view. I couldn’t listen to music, it was hard then, it can be sometimes now, the Universe wouldn’t let me forget. I turned the volume to the maximum capacity, made myself comfortable on those plastic chairs, had my coffee and watched a non-disturbing to my feelings movie. Once that ended, I was closer to the port and Ithaca was way behind. My chest was still in pain and I held my tears like crazy all the way. I couldn’t wait to get home, in my privacy and let it all out.
At 12:30 pm I walked on land again. I ran through the port’s gates to the taxi plaza and grabbed a cab to the bus station. Luckily, the next one was at 13:30 so it all happened very quickly from there.
I ran with my heart in my mouth, ready to burst, waiting and begging to get on my doorstep, leave the luggage down and drown in my oceans.
The bus arrived at 4:20 pm, at 4:30 pm I got in the taxi, at 4:50 I pulled the key to open the door and at 5:00 pm on that August’s Wednesday, I shed the tears I had been keeping inside for as long as I knew me.
On the 15th of August, that summer, I woke up wanting to cry but I had no tears. Physically, I couldn’t anymore. I just felt it all to the edge of my eye, I would swallow my saliva and live to wait – just like the Professor – another day.
As he says at last, “God, protect me from myself!“.