I Give two euros to an African
Verona Porta Nuova station for the 22.18 Venezia train. The station dark and shabby.
A young African man with a shaved head approaches us. Do we speak English, or Italian? Either, as you wish. In that case, he says in English, I would prefer to use my own language. With a story about needing the fare to get back home to Treviso, he is clearly trying to tap us for some money. How much do you need? Just one euro. There’s a two-euro coin in my back pocket so I say, here’s two euros, where are you from? Ghana, he replies, and God bless you, remember that if you have faith in God, you will be secure, for God is goodness, God is . . .
‘Hold on’, I interject, ‘if you’re going to push religion down our throats, I’ll have my two euros back.’
He smiles a wide smile, his white teeth the only display of brightness on the gloomy nighttime station.
The young man seems genuinely delighted with his two euros. He will almost certainly have arrived in Italy on a boat at Lampedusa and be trying to make his fortune in Europe, which he’s never going to do by begging the cost of a few cups of coffee.
The Milano to Venezia stopping train pulls in, every carriage covered in graffiti. A lot of people get off, including an African family that seems to have its entire household in suitcases and pushchairs. Where are they going? We find seats in a carriage that smells of wee. The train is quite busy, for in addition to the vast number of people who got off, there was an equally large number getting on.
Our carriage has seriously flat wheels. Flat wheels are where a section of the rim gets flattened out when the train brakes and skids, then as the wheel subsequently rolls the flat section makes a banging sound, and the problem tends to get accentuated. This carriage was banging so dramatically that it sounded like the train would be lucky to reach the next station, never mind Venezia, but it probably would.
The Ghanaian came through the train holding a card of some sort, begging for money. On seeing us he smiled and made his way to the next set of seats. That card probably means he’s part of a syndicate. A post-modernist Lambedusa Fagin outfit.
The first station after Verona was San Bonifacio, where we were to get off. The platform was on the other side of the train from that at Verona Porta Nuova, and we hadn’t noticed that the doors opposite where we got on were locked shut. A panic and dash with our boxes of wine that Catya had given us in Verona, through two interconnecting doors to the next carriage, where fortunately we were in time to get out before the doors closed and the train, the last of the day to stop at San Bonifacio, accelerated into the darkness on its clattery way.