The first car smells of feet and the air doesn’t move. The next has air conditioning and smells like a hospital. I go in search of a bathroom. I’ve been holding it since the first train in Monterosso. We got onto the wrong train–a first class car. The woman told us to get off at the next stop and change to a different train. We will change again in Pisa. It will be late when we get to our home at Villa Natalia. A handsome italian boy comes up behind me and follows me through the train cars, most likely in search of a bathroom himself.
We reach a ticket inspector at a final empty car and he sends us back the other direction. We start back through the cars, belted with different smells and different temperatures as we work our way through, swaying and grabbing at seats to steady ourselves and find footing on the moving train, each car like its own little country with different families eating different smelling foods, some talking, some reading, others sleep. Some cars are quiet. Others are rowdy. I find a bathroom and I try the door but it’s locked. I wait but when the boy joins me he reads the sign on the door–something in Italian indicating that it is not in service and we carry on, partners on a mission now, holding doors for one another as we make our way. We reach another bathroom and I am relieved when I am able to push open the door. It takes a moment to register the image inside the door. A man is pouring the last remaining drops from a plastic water bottle onto his penis. Then a large hand closes the door in my face. I slump back against the wall embarrassed. We wait. The Italian boy glances at my hat, the words LA written on the front, then in sudden english he asks me where I’m from. “California,” I answer back, though I’m not sure if I should be saying New York now and I have to think a moment before I answer. Florence is my home at the moment but I live in New York, though I have no place there to call my own, and California is my home? My response comes out funny and unsure like it’s something I’ve just made up. I ask where he’s from and he says Florence and makes a walking downhill gesture with his fingers and says something about coming from some other place. I’m not sure I understand. He asks how old I am and I say 29, which I also have to pause and think about. Age seems entirely irrelevant to me now. He looks surprised and I feel sort of shy. I ask his age and he says 25. My brother’s age, I think. We run out of things we might be able to communicate in english. He opens the tiny slit of a window and reaches an arm out to catch the wind in his palm as the train flies along the tracks in the dark and I reach my hand out too. I smile. A gesture of friendship. Words are failing us. We wait some more, me with my toothbrush in hand, desperate to get the sweaters off my teeth. Another man joins us. I give up and start walking toward the front of the train and find an open bathroom in first class. I push open the door but the image of the strange man’s penis and whatever strange thing he was doing with it leaves me nervous about touching anything. My imagination trips over all the strange things that have occurred, may have occurred, must have occurred here. I try not to make contact with anything. The door doesn’t lock and I am sure the Italian boy will fling the door open any moment like I had done to the man. The boy does fling the door open but by this time I am brushing my teeth. He’s given up waiting at the other door. I walk out wiping toothpaste from the corners of my mouth, a little sad I can’t say more to the boy. He has one of those piercings on the back of his neck with two steel balls, tattoos, a sweet face, overly concerned affectionate eyes. He’d said what a beautiful city Florence was. I’d told him I was living there to study but he’d looked confused, perhaps because I had just told him my age, or simply because of the barrier of language. I go back to my seat and everyone is asleep.
We get off in Pisa and eat gelato–watermelon flavor, but I can’t tell if it’s that it isn’t as good as Cinque Terre or if it’s just me looking for a reason to be sad that our time there is over. We wander around a farmers market for a while and head back to catch our final train. We walk home in the dark with our backpacks heavy and sand still stuck to our shoes. We stop for Chinese food and drink beers on the sidewalk while it is being prepared. At the villa people are milling about and we exchange stories with everyone about our weekends. Some of the others went to Rome. None of it can really be put into words. Omri asks if we should put on our “house clothes” and I nod and we change into PJ’s and sit on the couch and write into the night.