Always go south


Slice of life

The station was packed with people, and it was only 8 am in the morning. Lisa’s train was 18 minutes late. How can a train already be late at 8 am? Ladies and gentlemen, ask Italian railways.

Lisa exhaled loudly in frustration, and looked at her luggage, wondering if there was a way for her to sit on it without breaking it and scatter dozens of Christmas presents and dirty clothes all over the floor. No, it would be impossible. That luggage was stuffed as a turkey. And so damn heavy.

It didn’t help that her back had been hurting madly for three days. Yesterday, in particular, after 5 injections, a visit to the osteopath and an acupuncture session, she had ended up in the hospital. In pain, she walked to the doctor’s office with the grace of a blind hippopotamus swimming in the mud, and was welcomed by a, “Good morning, lie face down on the table, please.”

“No, Doctor, the table might be a problem,” Lisa whined, before replicating the blind hippopotamus scene from before.

As she was struggling to lie down as asked, the doctor said, “So, what do you do for a living? Do you study? Work? Sell drugs?”

Lisa just stared at him. “If I sold drugs, I wouldn’t be here in pain, Doc.”

“I’m sorry, it was just a bad joke,” the doctor said. Apparently, there was something like a blind hippopotamus in him, too. The doctor visited her and sentenced that she was insane if she was planning to travel by train for 9 hours the next day.

“Doctor, I can’t spend Christmas here in northern Italy. My mother in Naples has been frying struffoli for five days waiting for me.”

“Has been frying what?”

“Whatever, just give me some pain killers.”

And so he did. When Lisa finally rode on her train the next morning, she was as high as a kite. In that peaceful, cotton-like state of mind, she looked at the other passengers: besides a few businessmen traveling with nothing but a case in their hands, almost all the others looked like university students or young workers going home for Christmas. A familiar, southern accent filled the wagon as the boys and girls called their parents to tell them the train was finally leaving. Lisa smiled, hearing the boy sitting in front of her talking about the Christmas Eve dinner his grandmother was preparing back at home. And she felt a little home already.

She thought about her parents, waiting for her. She thought about their old Christmas tree and of the presepe’s statues that she had helped decorating almost 20 years ago. She rehearsed how to answer aunt Tina’s questions, “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” or “Why don’t you get married?”. She also remembered that uncle Roberto and his constant bragging would be there waiting for her. “Can you believe your cousin Francesca didn’t even go to uni and is earning more than you? Hahaha,” he had delicately said to her last Christmas. In a way, Lisa was happy to be on painkillers when she met him.

The train travelled south for long, long hours. In a few stops, as the landscape changed outside the window and the temperature warmed up, so did people’s faces. Around her, total strangers chatted loudly and wished each other a Merry Christmas. Somebody also offered her a snack at some point, and an old lady worried about her distressed face.

“I have back pain,” she explained, and a minute later the old lady took out of her luggage her emergency medicine box. Lisa refused, trying to avoid explaining that taking any other medicine now would probably put her into a coma.

It felt like the general rule that you should never take anything from a stranger didn’t apply on that train. But those were people who, until 20 years ago, used to sleep with their front door open. People who would make a pie for their neighbors. People who would say, no matter what trouble you faced, “we’ll find a solution.”

The sea shined outside the window. The last stop was close. Lisa rolled up her sleeves and stood up. The pain was back, but she just had to make one last effort. The boy who was sitting in front of her, without her asking anything, helped her with the luggage.

She thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas.

At the station, her mother was already waiting for her. A little smaller than last time, a little older, her hair a little greyer.

“Welcome home,” she said as she hugged her tight. And suddenly the pain in her back, the stress of the past days and the grey sky she left in Milan that morning had no importance whatsoever.

The sun was shining, the sea was clear, and she was spending Christmas at home.

The end