Bergamo by Charlie W Burns

We went to where the man had said would be a good place to hitch. We tried to hitch our way out. It was one of those gas stations in the middle of nowhere. Off the autobahn, and surrounded by trees. Even if we walked the length of the highway it was kilometers from anywhere. Our only hope was a hitch. We stayed at the gas station. We waited a long time. Joy told the Irishman what I had in my bag—roller skates. He didn’t believe us, so we got them out. First I and then Joy skated around the parking lot.

Why the skates, the Irishman asked me, as we both watched Joy tie up the red, blue, and white skates on her feet. Watched her move her long dreads out of her face when she bent over.  Saw the delicate lines of her face curve in surprise when she stood up and tried to skate forward.

I am bringing them home for my little sister, I replied, as we watched Joy move hesitatingly forward. Saw her start and stop, and then move forward as if she were born on skates. Joy and I had the same size foot.

They don’t have rollers in America? The Irishman asked me.

I explained that they were old, and a perfect fit, and that I had found them while hitch-hiking around Bern. I didn’t explain that I hadn’t seen my sister in two years and that our talks on the telephone had become quieter and quieter until she would only respond to my questions with a curt yes or no. She is going to love these, is what I said instead. I didn’t tell him that I couldn’t afford a birthday gift, that it would be her birthday the day after I arrived in America. I didn’t tell him that I had left, that she was too young, that she had had to stay, and that she hated me for it. Instead I said, My sister likes to skate, she’s good at it.

Joy glided around, stuck out her thumb, looked at the Irishman. He smiled and ran out in the parking lot and tried to push her over. They were on their way to Egypt. Joy squealed, something that she almost never did, and glided away faster than he could run.

Damn pixie, he yelled after her.

She disappeared around the gas station and reappeared moments later on the other side, dreadlocks waving. She was young and fit and well-prepared for the trip she was taking. She was my best friend.

We camped in the woods near the gas station. There were rows of semi-trucks that also stopped for the night. They parked in the parking lot that Joy and I had roller skated in. I had a bottle of wine in the red bag next to the roller skates, and Joy had a bottle of wine with her as well. The Irishman had a beer for everyone, so we started with those. We talked about God, and drank the beer, and talked about God, and drank some wine. In the middle of talking, we all fell asleep. I couldn’t remember falling asleep. I slept in the Irishman’s sleeping bag and he took mine, even though it wouldn’t zip up.

I had to pee. I tried to leave the tent, but it was locked shut. I tried and eventually I found the zipper. Got out. I walked a ways and then I peed. After that, I looked everywhere. It was dark, and the trees were indistinguishable. There was no moon. I walked to where the tent had just been. It was gone.

I could tell that Joy had moved the tent on me. I thought of all of their smiles. I thought of the Irishman yelling out damn pixie, of him stepping out in front of the Italian man. I thought of Joy’s dreadlocks, how they smelled of must and spices. She had done it on purpose. They had both done it. They didn’t want to have me in the tent. They just wanted each other. They were going to Egypt.

I was lost.

Joy, Joy, I cried. Joy please.

I yelled her name, and then I screamed it. She was my friend. I thought that I heard moans. I thought that I could see movement, dim unarticulated shadows. Did I hear Joy whimper? Did I hear a giggle? I walked around a tree, into a bush.

Joy, I called.

I heard a man laugh, slow and low, not directed at me. A wine-dreadlocked induced laugh. A laugh that would come from moving tents or moving dreadlocks, from slipping into sleeping bags. I walked into another bush. Felt the branches scratching my arms.

The only light that I could see was coming from the gas station. I walked toward it, the crunching of leaves silencing the moans. All of the shadows moved when I did. In the gas station there was food, but I went into the bathroom. It was cold outside, but in the gas station’s bathroom it was warm. I sat on the toilet closest to the wall. Leaned over my legs and tried to sleep. The gas station attendant woke me up when she knocked on my stall. Said something in Italian. I got up, left the stall, washed my hands as she watched. I left the bathroom. There were truck drivers and workers moving in the gas station store. I pointed at some food for sale under warm glass. €4,90 for warm bready-looking thing and I had €5,00 in my pocket.

Ehi ragazza, il vostro cibo, the man said as he handed me the food with a napkin. They gave me €0,10 back and I stood by a table and ate it. I wasn’t wearing any shoes and some Italian truck driver tried to point that out to me. I don’t speak Italian, so I shrugged. Pretending that I didn’t understand the motions of his hands. Pretending that it was normal for me to be standing barefoot at four in the morning in an Italian truck stop while still slightly drunk. The light was just coming up. The trees and outlines of the trucks all turned darker as the sky grew more white then blue. They became jagged in the light, losing the texture that they had had in the night to become silhouettes in the morning light. I left the gas station and found the tent easily.

Joy and the Irishman were on opposite sides of the tent, and the Irishman’s sleeping bag was discarded between them. I crawled into the tent, into the bag. Closed my eyes awhile.

In the morning, as Joy and the Irishman ate some bread and cheese, I told them how I thought that they had moved the tent.

You thought what, Joy asked. She held the bread out to me and gave me a puzzled look, one eye larger than the other, one side of her mouth up higher than the other.

I thought that you two had moved the tent on me last night. I waved away the bread that Joy offered.

What did you do, the Irishman asked.

I was yelling for you, I was sure that you had moved the tent on me, and then I went into the gas station and tried to sleep in the bathroom.

I wouldn’t move the tent on you, Joy said.

I know, I said. And looked at her look at the Irishman with eyebrows raised.

We picked up camp and went to the far end of the parking lot where all of the cars had to pass in order to leave. We got a hitch with a truck driver who seemed nervous and left us a few kilometers outside of Milan. It had started to rain and the gas station we were at was at a large flat section of highways intertwining. It had been months since Joy and I had been to a place where there wasn’t a mountain in sight. Here there were no mountains, and there were no trees. There were lots of laced highways and large slabs of concrete for cars to park and low riding clouds. It was raining lazily, and everything seemed grey tinted with red, the way that Italy was always tinted with red. There was a large overhang above the gas pumps where the nervous truck driver let us off. We looked toward Milan but could only see grey and kilometers of autobahn.

Bergamo was to the North of Milan and that was where I had to be by the next day if I wanted to catch my flight. The Irishman grinned at Joy, then me and said we would have to go out into the rain if we ever wanted to catch a ride. We left the overhang and wondered over the concrete trying to find a marked place. There was none, there was just concrete, and more concrete. Finally we stopped in nowhere and stuck out our thumbs.

We were exposed. We couldn’t hide one of us like we sometimes tried, and we looked like we had a mountain of luggage. Many cars passed, we got wet. Joy pulled out her rain jacket, and the Irishman his poncho. I wrapped my scarf around my neck a little tighter. We knew that the longer that we stood in the rain the less likely it was that someone would pick us up.  A stranger, one might give a ride to. But two or three? Three strangers with lots of luggage who look like they haven’t bathed in days? Three strangers with lots of luggage who look unclean and are soaking wet? We weren’t looking for a ride, we were looking for a saint.

The final man, the one who picked us up off the highway in the rain, the business man in the suit. He was chubby and clean. When he smiled, his round cheeks formed into almost perfect circles. He spoke his English slowly, and deliberately, every syllable clear and intended even when mispronounced. He opened up the back of his small red car for us to throw our packs in. He asked us why we were hitchhiking.
They want to hitch hike to Egypt, I said, they are on their way there. Once again I was in the front while Joy and the Irishman sat in the back of the Saint’s warm car.

But you? He said, But you, hike why?

I looked at the Saint, at his pudgy fingers on the steering wheel and his clean and shiny shoes poking out the bottom of his tailored pants. I thought back to my flight East two years ago.  Everything had been black. I had come to recover on the mountain. I had spent all of my money. I was only nineteen, I didn’t have much money, but I had spent it all. Spent it on booze and cigarettes. I could have told the Saint about the 500 francs that I had, it was all I had. How I had earned it slowly. How I had given it in small installments to Jasmine for safekeeping. I could have told him how when Jasmine had given me back my money I had fanned it all out. Lying it in a semi-circle, admiring the way that the blues, purples, yellows, and oranges of the Swiss francs all looked together. Mixing from the same tones, they complimented one another. I felt so rich because I had so many different colors. I wanted to take a picture of my colorful money all fanned out like that. I wanted to yell, If something bad happens at least I’ll be able to pay for food!

I could have told the Saint that I had most of the 500 francs turned into American dollars with €10 for the journey to Bergamo. I was hitchhiking because I couldn’t afford the train ticket to Bergamo, and the only flight that I could afford was from Bergamo to Ireland to New York to Indiana and I still owed Jasmine money for the flight.

I told the Saint instead, I have no money to ride the train, and you meet nicer people when you hitch anyways. The Saint drove us all the way to the Bergamo Airport, which was out of his way. When he helped us get our gear out of the back of his car, he touched my shoulder and handed me €20. For train in America, he said.

After he left I showed Joy. I said, look he gave us €20.

He gave you €20, she said.

She wouldn’t let me share it with her.

Can’t be evenly divided in three, she said.

Charlie W Burns is a girl. She has lived in Switzerland, China, North America, and Texas. She was born a pastors daughter in the middle of a cornfield in the mid-west, and then walked across Spain 25 years later. She’ll receive her Associates Degree sometime in the Summer of 2014. “Bergamo” is the winner of the fiction category in the 2013 Community College Writing Contest.

Photo courtesy of Liquidbonez via Creative CommonsFlickr

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