A short story where a random encounter offers the possibility that our dearly departed may be closer than we think…
by: Judge Santiago Burdon
I once heard it was because of Benito Mussolini that the trains run on time in Italy. Today, however, that statement becomes a dispelled myth. I’m in Florence waiting on my train to Venice and it is thirty five minutes late. I don’t mind the delay as it gives me an opportunity to observe the Italian gentry. Such serious faces they wear in the early morning rain. The use of their hands flailing about while in conversation amuses me. The expressions remind me of my grandfather telling tall tales when I was a child.
I speak very poor Italian and rely on my Spanish to communicate. Unlike Germans or the French, I’ve discovered that few Italians speak English outside of Rome. I’m in no condition to make conversation due to a monster hangover from the mass amount of wine I ingested last evening. Wine has never been a favorite beverage of mine, although the quality of the many different types I’ve sampled has proved to be excellent. In some cases I’m convinced Bacchus himself had a hand in their production.
The public address speakers scratch out the announcement of my train’s arrival and track assignment. It triggers an immediate reaction from waiting passengers. In unison they make their way toward the boarding platform. Lines form at the entrance to each car and, as is customary in most countries, the seniors go to the head of line. I enter the last car and sit down in an area with three empty seats. I place my backpack on the single seat directly across from me leaving an empty seat next to me.
As I attempt to get comfortable on the hard plastic seat I can’t help but notice a young woman searching for a place to sit. The other passengers put bags or coats on the vacant seats next to them or inform her that seats adjacent to them are reserved. It’s obvious they are purposely making the empty seat in their area appear occupied to run her off. The rude gestures infuriate me and I call out to tell her there is an available seat in my quadrant. I put my backpack on the floor and the young woman sits across from me.
She has dreadlocks and is wearing a purple tie dyed dress, sporting cowboy boots, and is adorned with beaded bracelets and necklaces. A fashionista modeling a hippie style that reminds me of my daughter who lost her life in a car accident six years prior. The young lady appears to be twenty-three to twenty-five years old and she is quite fetching. Her warm smile could make all of your worries disappear.
“So you are American, from where?” She asks in English.
“You speak English. I’m from the United States and live in Austin, Texas. Are you familiar with where that’s located?”
“Yes I know some places of United States. Texas is big place with cowboys, much football and many cows. No?”
“That’s correct, you have the right place. It is okay if I ask you a question? Why were those people not letting you take a seat next to them? It was clear that they were purposely being rude and unfriendly and denying you a place to sit. Do you understand my English? I speak Spanish and French. My Italian is not very polished and people seem to have a difficult time understanding me.”
“I like very much to talk English. We learn in school when we are young. I don’t have chance to speak it with someone very much,” she replies.
“So my question about the people not letting you to have a seat. What’s up with that?”
“I am Albanian gypsy. They not like much my people because they think we are thieves. Also they believe that I will steal a piece of their soul. Better for them to think that and have fear, if no they have no excuse for how they act.”
“And me? Are you going to steal a piece of my soul?” I ask.
“Your soul have pieces taken many times. You don’t have much more leftover. So I will let you keep that small part what you have.”
“Well that certainly is news that gives me an uncomfortable feeling. Am I going to be ok or are you making a joke?” I laugh nervously.
“I’m sorry for you are feeling not glad from my vision. I can see that you have live with much hurt in your life and will tell you that it will soon get good for you. Some people are easy for me to read. You very much give off energy power that I can see.”
I didn’t want to tell her that I don’t subscribe to psychic nonsense. She truly believed that I believed, and that was reason enough to remain silent.
The conversation digresses and becomes focused on the young gypsy. She lives in Florence and works in a restaurant at night commuting to Padua daily where she is a student at the University. Padua University is a public school and has a history dating back to 1222. The list of notable students and faculty is impressive. Copernicus was a student along with Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to receive a PHD from any University, and Galileo Galilei was a professor there who taught mathematics, physics, and astronomy.
“What is your name? We’ve been talking for so long I forgot my manners. My name is Santiago. I’m very pleased to meet you…?”
“I have name of Elira was also the name of my grandmother. In English I think it can mean “being free”. You are Spanish with that name? You have look of more Italian.”
“I’m Mexican-Italian my grandparents are from Italy, Florence to be exact.
They were Italian with a touch of English blood. My mother is Mexican through and through.”
“You are here to see them?” Elira asks.
“No, they died years ago. I am here as a kind of promise I had with my daughter. We were going to visit Italy together but she was killed in a car accident so I am visiting as a tribute to her. She was an admirer of art and especially Renaissance painters. We talked about visiting the Uffizi museum together,” I said trying not to sound morose.
“I think it can be something like that. I could not understand message that I was getting from her.”
The train arrives at Padua station and she extends her hand to shake goodbye. I feel a strange sensation circulate throughout my body when our hands touch. She merges with the passengers departing the train.
“What do you mean? A message from who?” I holler.
“Mekensee the young girl sitting next to you,” Elira replies.
“I never mentioned her name!”
“I tell you before I am gypsy.” She yells over her shoulder as she exits, waving her farewell with a huge grin. I become totally consumed by an eerie yet serene and soothing sensation. I look into the empty seat next me as though I was actually going to see her. My daughter’s name was McKenzie.
The gypsy woman left me with that last small piece of my soul, but took with her a piece of my heart.