The smile was there, a sweat soaked melancholia had taken hold of the final hours of his journey. It was a busy midsummers day on the outskirts of Padua and all who surrounded him were in their own stories, paying very little attention to the dishevelled and overgrown stranger who stood amongst them.
They were well travelled, better prepared from the outset. Their bags were tidily packed, un-scuffed and without any stains or rips. Their tickets were uniformly layered in their hands and most stood with a silent contemplation, or with their heads bowed in prayer to the almighty network. He felt the frayed edges of his leather suitcase press into his calloused hands, his oversized backpack spilling the occasional memory through the scars it had accrued—his ticket was crumpled and shoved into his pocket with the seven others he’d be needing on the long way back.
He wasn’t ready to go, his mind still wanted more time. With her, with the road, with it all. Ah, the desperation of an addict looking for his fix, time is the hardest drug you’ll never find. He stood defiantly with his back to the approaching direction of the Imminent Express— determined not to accept the end until it was no longer ignorable, for he knew when those old metal doors slammed home, the bubble would invariably burst.
So why the smile. That damned smile.
It could’ve been the heat that was cascading across the mainland, frying whatever semblance of sense he still held. The exhaustion from carrying his life on his back for the better part of the summer — or… Perhaps it was the sight of her in her natural habitat, looking carefully through the concave lens and finding solace that his final moments with her would be tattooed on celluloid. The notion that soon enough, the only times he’d hear her voice would be in the hallowed halls of memory.
She’d certainly been a potent character in his story. The past few days were rife with tales usually found on parchment with cigarette burns and drops of whiskey. They’d taken a detour into Romeo and Juliets ‘hometown’. Wandering the streets they ended up with two tickets to Carmen, there they sat, watching the French composed opera set in the south of Spain on stone seats in the north of Italy.
Nights spent with minimal gas in the tank, desperately attempting to navigate the back highways of Italy with no battery or map. They’d waltzed through the sinking streets of Venezia, finding small pockets of quiet in the sea of rushed itineraries. There was no story left unturned. And to think…None of it would’ve happened, if it hadn’t been for a crazed drunk throwing a Guinness glass at a pub in Hampstead.
He was in his final week in the capital, sobriety notwithstanding, he was at work at a rickety pub that was older than Oz itself. He was sent out to deal with a manic patron causing mayhem through the beer garden. He shepherded her through the crowd well enough, remarking the various go-to lines for effective evacuation. All the while, closely keeping an eye on the half skulled glass she brandished in her hand. Through the garden was a side street, littered with tourists lining up for a creperie that had been established decades earlier. There were a few tables on the side street for the drinkers, only one was occupied.
The drunk began bellowing about ‘callin the coppas’, and the show was well and truly on. He should’ve let her go, but pride is a funny thing. As she clued in to his plan of snatching the glass back she went for the occupied table. Four of them staring at the performance like the crowd at a bullfight. She took an empty bottle from their table and began to pour her stout into it, ‘Here’s ya fuckin glass!’ and, well, luckily she was short, intoxicated, and had terrible aim— it exploded as it hit his chest. The shards rained down on the warm afternoon road, and then, like a shadow, she was gone.
He apologised to the table without really paying attention to its inhabitants and proceeded to clean up the glass. Unaware that one of them was giving him the slightest of smiles. It wasn’t until an hour later that he noticed someone at the bar giving an extra moment of contemplation toward him. It didn’t click at first, not until she ordered a round and cracked a joke. It was her. She had remarked on his patience and what she would’ve done, with no shortage of useful hand gestures and broken Italian. Her Mia Wallace haircut and fire infused eyes were enough to garner his undivided attention, her cinematic sensibilities are what kept it. Such a twist of fate for their paths to cross at the end of his tenure in the capital. London, you sonofabitch.
Her group eventually left, along with a sheet of paper on the bar with a name and a number.
The train bellowed past as the travellers gathered their belongings. There wasn’t much left to say, he dragged his life onto the empty carriage and turned back. She stood in the shade of the platform. Her camera hanging below her neck. While all the others had no departure party, I had mine. She was there. The pursuit of the perfect line, more or less it ends up in shambles. His was no different, “I’ll miss you, I hope to see you aga-” — The doors slammed unceremoniously. The train screeched and began to move. There is no comparable silence than the one you feel after saying goodbye. For now, he had music and an empty notebook.
… That damned smile. It’s a bookending smile of an immutable stretch of time. That is the smile of a man who sees what is in front of him. That’s what I aim for. The smile of Someone…. I should know, I made it once.