The Ride Home

Patricia Vergeylen Tassinari

She always rode the same bus because she liked the exotic smells which travelled back and forth as the doors opened and closed. She had always loved the exotic. As a child Mary had longed for something unusual, strange; she had wanted her parents to be different from the others. However, the only exotic aspect of her childhood had been a Chinese wallpaper which hung above her bed. At night, she would escape and join the kimonos in the gardens. Now at twenty she lived alone in a run-down part of the city, the furthest from home. Her parents never came to visit, they couldn’t understand this daughter who had always been so quiet, a daughter they had never known.

Mary liked to sit in the middle of the bus and on the side with the single seats. She always tried to sit alone now, ever since that man sitting beside her had whispered the word “blood” to her. She had been too afraid to look at him and everything around her became red for a few minutes. She still didn’t know, what had he meant? her blood? his? the world’s? She was always afraid now of other words whispered to her between one bus stop and another. Tonight she stood and began to play her usual game. She would chose a passenger, it had to be someone from a distant country, close her eyes and imagine him back home. She would undress and dress him, make him smile and leave him in a significant setting. She hadn’t travelled yet so she would always place the Greeks on the Acropolis and the Italians at the Colosseum. Her eyes were still closed when she felt someone tugging at her sleeve.

Signorina, signorina, look“.

Photo: Sergio Fontana
Photo: Sergio Fontana

An old couple were handing her a yellowish photograph of a little girl sitting on some steps. The woman kept on pointing to Mary’s hair, her eyes, her worn out fingers would run from the photograph to Mary’s face. Mary thought she recognized herself, once she too had that smile. The woman wrapped her arms around her and lead her off the bus. The old man followed with bags.

Mary walked along with them on streets which were becoming less familiar. The sky too had never seemed this bright. She followed them into an apartment full of colour. The walls were ocher. Gold and silver angels with the little girl’s face were strung over the furniture and across the windows. Mary was delicately led into a bedroom, she was handed a large white starched night gown. Blinds came rolling down and white sheets stood almost upright as the old woman prepared her bed. Mary was soon tucked in and the old woman stroked Mary’s hair until she fell asleep. That night she dreamt of churches, piazzas and angels. The next morning she woke to the sound of shuffling feet and the smell of coffee. As she entered the kitchen the couple smiled at her and invited her to sit between them. A big pink cup foaming with milk was handed over. Mary felt happy. She liked this old couple, the pink and blue plates, the angels flying about. It felt like home. She would stay. •

 (Published in ViceVersa n.40)