“Writing is sometimes rewriting”
“Check it out,” thought Carlo, zipping up his trousers. “On trains even the writing on bathroom walls can be a trip. Even if, to tell the truth, I wouldn’t underestimate the charm of ‘337199697 – call me, I have three tits’ on the 916 bus to Piazza Venezia.”
Carlo had been taking the train every day for the past ten years, and every day he would throw himself on the same seat, the last one on the left, by the window. Every morning he would say goodbye to the Monte Mario station and say hello to the Ostiense one. He often thinks about his first days on the train, like when you think of the first days of school, with that heartache that grips your stomach only to leave you with a hint of a smile on your face.
The first times that he got on the train, almost on tiptoe, he felt observed, as if someone somewhere were watching him to see if Carlo the new commuter was a good commuter.
“And what exactly does a good commuter mean? That is, if I see an old lady, I give up my seat, if I eat an apple, I throw it in the trash, if I pee, I flush the toilet. The most would be yelling at the kids who put their feet on the seats, for that I would get three stars and a free ride on tomorrow’s train. Am I really thinking this stuff? Carlo, snap out of it, no one is watching you, pee wherever you like, even on the old lady if you really have to go.”
In any case, for his first years taking the train, that’s what he would do: he would sit and stare at the window and daydream. It’s not that he wouldn’t look at the landscape, who would miss the sights from Monte Mario to the Gemelli hospital, including the sheep of Valle Aurelia? “How funny is it that there are sheep just a few km from Saint Peter’s. You think they did it on purpose because of that lost sheep story? Just imagine if one gets lost, the Pope could arrive in the blink of an eye. Ok Carlo, you’re going overboard.”
The only thing that would change was the person who by pure chance would sit next to him. The first times, he was always convinced that there was a “big brother” on the train staring at him – “Commuter Carlo! Are you by any chance looking at the legs of the young lass sitting next to you? Are you really laughing at the old man picking his nose and sticking his treasures on the seat in front? Are you seriously saying to the kid who has been singing for a half hour that he should go to hell together with the rapper Fedez and his damned song “21 grams of happiness?” – that he hardly noticed who was sitting next to him.
Then one day, he began to think that maybe his fantasies, from the sheep of Valle Aurelia to the stars of the “big brother” of the train, weren’t actually so far from the fantasies of those next to him. And he understood this on the day that his eyes met those of the young guy sitting right there, a few centimeters from him. He caught a glimpse of him secretly; he reminded Carlo of himself a few years back, hovering between sweatshirts that were too large, headphones in his ears, and righteous anger in his eyes. With no apparent motive, after noticing that the kid was playing nervously with the string of his sweatshirt, he said:
“Have you ever asked yourself why we can’t manage to keep our hands still? I mean, for example, right now, what reason do you have for moving this string?” – “Carlo, what the fuck are you saying, go back to your sheep. You did not just talk to him about his string. Go back to the s-h-e-e-p.
The kid looked at him amusedly. “No, I never thought about it. But it actually doesn’t make much sense. I could hold my book with both hands and leave the string alone. But I don’t do it, I think because it calms me down. I’m about to finish the book and when I finish something I always have a strange anxiety. I’ve been about to finish the last 10 pages for the past 10 days. For 10 days I’ve been clinging to these pages so as not to reach the end. So yeah, a stupid string calms me down, funny isn’t it?”
Carlo was a bit confused, he was expecting a punch in the face, but the kid actually answered him seriously. The conversation ended shortly thereafter, the kid said goodbye letting go of the string and got off at the next station.
For Carlo the train window has always been a window on the world, on his world though. His pissed off ex-wife, his neglected yet adored daughter, the promotion that he got passed over for, and the last soccer game that ended in a tie. These were the images that rolled by his window.
The episode with the young kid made him turn his glance to another window that was a bit larger, the one that every day would reveal itself in the form of the high school student who was playing hooky, the German tourist who had no idea where he was, the young girl who was drawing her new love in a notebook, the boy who asked his dad why he couldn’t touch the clouds, the caregiver blowing the nose of an old woman, the old woman who was embarrassed. They were lives traveling on a different track from his, but in that particular instant they could meet.
And he was there, filling himself up with the casual humanity that only a train manages to frame.
“Hey Carlo, lemme get this right, you sit down and ask people stuff?”
“Yeah, more or less. But when you say it like that it sounds like I’m crazy.”
“Well, I’m your pal; a little trip to the shrink would do you no harm.”
“Whatcha talkin’ about! Look, people can’t wait to talk! To tell stories! Just think what would happen if everyone turned toward the person next to them, it could be almost therapeutic! Look, I’ll show ya.’”
“Ma’am, you know that my mother had that same scarf? I had never seen one like it before …”
“Oh yeah? Who gives a shit!”