Eventually Italy came. There was no exact way to tell where the border was: no pylons, no guard houses, no razor-wired fences that made the abstract, violent idea of a nation real. Instead, even more real than a barrier, Italian boarder-guards together with their drug-sniffing dogs boarded the train, seemingly quite happy with themselves to be bothering the passengers with their barked communications. In other words, it was difficult to say if they were trying to talk to the train travellers or their smuggler-busting muts, neither of which was happy about their presence.
Then it happened. One of the guards strode towards me with swift, determinate steps, bent down towards my face and made that beseeching gesture so typical of Roman habitus: the fingers of each hand drawn together into a small blossom of flesh and nail, pointing upwards , held just in front of the face mouth-level, flipping back and forth. So much urgency condensed into one single motion: how could you?! How could I what?
“You have de tickets to de train? Please? De tickets?” the salt-and-pepper officer said, not so much impatient as in a identificational frenzy. My papers for him were a sudden matter of life-or-death. I jerked my thumb sideways towards Simi, which seemed to catch him off-guard, as she immediately produced the necessary documents. Our speedy compliance seemed to appease the nervous jackass but our friend, the Mabye-Mafioso did not get quite as lucky.
They radioed in his particulars and one, all of us in the car, could hear a staticky “negative” and the official replying “negative”, which almost certainly meant that everything was fine with the guy, they could not find anything on him, no criminal record, negative, he is clean. Thus: let him be. Instead they asked the gentle giant to please grab his belonging [that skinny, black leather purse of his] and to please follow him. “Please” as pronounced by this jerk-off of a guy was pretty much an euphemism for “Fucking do this or we’ll tear you a new one.”
Seeing the alarm in that beefy, unviolent face that perhaps his seasonal employment in Switzerland might go South, that the source for funding his children’s education might dry up I felt a sting of pity for him. I really did. And the usual disgust with the compliance officers; I could see the disgust in other train travelers’ faces too, that they could perhaps be the ones on the shitty [because anally invasive] end of this most unnecessary search. I thought to myself “This is why everybody will always hate cops”.
Only a few minutes after this scene we trundled into one of the small Italian train-stations and our composition finally did what had all along been expected of it: it stalled. For no obvious reason [e.g. tree across track, derailment, “person accident”, power shortage, etc.].
In an intermediate panic people swarmed from off of the train, in an insectoid, lucifugous way. Most of them were rendered helpless and awkward by the fact that they had to lug their baggage with them and perhaps never before in their life had performed any type of basic athletic exercise or even just rudimentary activity in excess of their own body weight [incl clothes]. They seemed surprised by the presence of weight and bulge besides that of their own hefty bodies and moved accordingly: a stampede of spasmonauts.
The replacement train was a local commuter thingie, not the Hilton Ritz among trains but good enough to get us from C to M [we got on somewhere around Chiasso and were going to get off in Milano]. The train was fine by me, it reminded me a bit of the ones in Cape Town and brought with it a gentle, laughable nostalgia for intermediate, non-violent poverty. The one you can sort-of participate in and pretend to yourself that, if worst came to worst, you’d be able to get through really hard times but fortunately do not have to [e.g. compare this to sleeping as little as two weeks in a damp township shack and realizing you couldn’t hack it a single season if it came down to it]. It allows the illusion of true solidarity with the wretched of the earth, whereas practical solidarity means wretchedness itself.