Train Number Fifteen

Milan chilled five degrees below zero; this was the coldest the cosmopolitan city felt in many years. Groups of people stomped their designer suede boots on the ground. Skullcaps of brown, gray and black floated under the stray sunlight.

One such traveler was a mid-fifty stocky old man. He wore an ivory three piece suit with a blue scarf around his neck. The man’s name was Luca, and he chuckled as he flapped his arms. He chuckled not because of the cold, but because his bones ached. He smiled at the continuing pain, yes he was enjoying himself.

The Duomo was the center of Milan. In fact it was the center of many cities in Italy. A large cathedral coupled with many avenues, each leading to an array of stores often characterized many centers. Today the warmth of smiles and shopping fever was down. The cold chilled the hearts of the Milanese.

In a large courtyard, a kid ran towards pigeons perched at the entrance of a subway tunnel. ‘Hayaaa!’ The little boy screamed. The pigeons scattered in all directions. The little boy chased after them one by one. ‘Ow! Mama!’ The little boy slipped on a small ice trench.

Luca chuckled and continued flapping his arms. ‘Pain is good.’ He muttered. He walked under a giant shadow. The faint heat of the sun avoided him and his bones crackled. Luca folded his arms and rubbed his chest. The tall cathedral stood in front of him.

The ancient architecture and stained glass depicted interesting images. Tales of men in robes, animals, knights on horses, battles with swords and the cross. Such stories would have been impressive to many people, too bad Luca was not one of them.

Luca felt the snow wrap around his ankles and he stomped his feet. He giggled at the piercing cold and then stomped some more. The hard impact of heel against stone vibrated his bones, he giggled some more. He had never felt his amused his whole life.

At every entry point of the monument security personnel screened visitors. Tour guides assembled their groups and directed wandering eyes to different points around the cathedral. One such tour guide steered the attention of his flock to the top of the cathedral. ‘Madonnina’ he pointed with palms open.

Luca pressed slightly on his fedora and laughed as he admired the golden symbol of Milano. She shone atop the cathedral. Luca rubbed his chests harder. He stomped forward and kept on repeating ‘Madonnina.’

Adjacent the cathedral was a museum. It housed several art collections over the seasons. Each month it seemed there was something different. Impressionist, Expressionist and Sculptures, there was always something for someone. This month they had set a row of military vehicles to the astonishment of many a passerby. A jet fighter, tank and humvee painted in jungle camouflage. The doors were left fully open to the delight of many cameras flashing around in small semi-circled masses.

‘If I had one of these in my day’ Luca examined the tank further. The solid and beautiful machine impressed the giggling old man. ‘Indeed if I had used one of these.’ He continued down the street stomping, flapping and rubbing.

‘Should one brave soul decide to take one for a joy ride? Won’t that be a pretty sight?’ Luca chuckled loudly. He imagined little footmen chasing after a renegade tank. Chasing and watching as it bulldozed its way through the streets.

Luca turned right at the end of the alley. On the far left was a Ferrari store. The symbolic stallion inscribed in a yellow crest was a mouth-watering temptation. Luca’s knees shook in the cold for a minute. He readjusted his scarf and mumbled ‘maybe in another lifetime.’ Luca walked further straight and reached the tram stop. He looked up at the board and the number fifteen was ‘In Arrivo.’ He rubbed his hands together in a cleansing motion and waited patiently in line.

Behind Luca came a professional looking man. He wore a black Italian suit, pink shirt and red tie. He held a briefcase on one hand and a fancy phone on the other. A little device was attached to his ear and he loudly spat saliva to his fellow commuters.

‘No! No! Cazzo! Michele! What are you doing to me?!?’ Wrinkles formed up on his plump face. He turned and raised his arms. No one was safe from the spinning man, not even Luca who received a few light blows to his back.

Luca danced around and waited for the tram. It was now five minutes late. It had been an enjoyable day so he didn’t mind. He loosened his scarf and pulled out a silver metal case. Luca popped the case open and took out a cigarette. He noticed a mother and a little boy approaching behind him. Luca sidestepped close to the fountain and lit a flickering flame to the end of his cigarette.

The man was screaming. The veins on his forehead were ready to pop out. ‘Vaffanculo! No! We are not giving them a discount! Do you have goat’s nuts for brains? Cazzo! We are not a charity! We are a business!’

The mother covered the ears of her son and moved up along the queue. A young man carrying a backpack and wearing a t-shirt of The Ramones approached the black-suited man. ‘Please sir.’ The young man pulled on the strap of his backpack. ‘There are children here.’

The man scanned the boy from head to foot. ‘Cazzo! See now I have a little kid telling me what to do!’ He shooed the young teen with a double flick of his hand.

The tram arrived and Luca walked towards the long green and white carriage. He ditched his cigarette and validated his card at the machine.

The tram started to move and Luca found his way to an empty row of seats at the end of the aisle. He was feeling happy to be in a quiet area, the little commotion on the tram stop unsettled him.

The black-suited man took a seat on the opposite row to Luca. His angry outburst has quieted down. He removed the little device from his ear and placed it in his breast pocket.

Luca observed the man as he fumbled around a shiny black briefcase. He felt that people these days had no respect. Maybe it was all the money. There was too much money going around. The arrogance and the disrespect grew as much as the money did. ‘All of that money.’ Luca smiled and then rubbed the back of his hands. He felt the thick knobs that formed over his knuckles.

The tram passed around the city center and rolled on its rails to a row of cafes. On his side Luca can see a gazetta. It was fairly crowded due to some recent disturbance.

The black-suited man opened his briefcase and pulled out a laptop with the tips of his fingers. He switched the device on and pressed a few buttons. He tapped his nails on the hard plastic and pressed the same buttons again. ‘Cazzo!’ He slammed the laptop shut and shoved it in his briefcase.

They passed by a suit store. ‘Boggi Milano.’ It looked like this man bought his suit from there. Luca pulled his jacket sleeve and wondered if he should buy a new suit. He loved his white three piece. Maybe it would be nice to have a classic black or maybe a casual brown with matching shoes. He never cared much about clothes before he returned to Milan. He lived most of his life wearing nothing but an ugly uniform. It was now his time to splurge and enjoy. He had saved up a little fortune and had no one in need of taking care of except himself.

Luca took out a little pocket organizer and turned to the current date. The little red book with gold trimmings felt soft and smooth against his rough palms. ‘Selena’ he was meeting a nice woman for a quiet dinner tonight. ‘I think I shall call her when I get home.’ Luca didn’t care much for these little mobile devices. He didn’t want to be tied to a leash unlike the man seated across him.

The train stopped and a conductor hopped in. He walked along from the front to the rear of the carriage. He issued a ticket to one straggler and continued on. Luca was still staring out the window as the conductor checked his tram pass.

The black-suited man was still reading the newspaper when the conductor asked him repeatedly for a tram pass. The black-suited man wouldn’t budge. He stared at the conductor and then spoke. ‘Why don’t you bother some other person for your cafe old man?’

‘Such nerve!’ muttered Luca

The conductor pulled down the newspaper with his pen. It was a black fountain tip with a silver lining on the cap and clip. ‘Either you have a tram pass or not. What will it be?’ The young man raised his newspaper. The conductor filled out his little ticket book and asked the black-suited man a string of questions.

The conductor hopped off at the next stop and crossed the street. ‘Can you believe these people?’ The black-suited man spoke. His trembling voice hid under the volume of his speech.

‘I am Luca. What is your name good sir?’

‘My apologies I am Giovanni.’ His voice relaxed. ‘As I was saying can you believe these people?’

Luca stared out the opposite window and watched as the conductor disappeared into nothing more than a little dot.

Giovanni continued. ‘This man just wants some cafe money! It’s a good thing that I did not give him my correct information.’

‘But you did not have a tram pass. Don’t you think you did not fulfill your duty as a passenger?’ Luca asked.

‘But I do have a tram pass.’ He pulled out a magnetic card from his breast pocket. ‘Until these men of the public fulfill their duty then it will still stay in my breast pocket.’ He slipped his magnetic card back in. ‘At the end of the day they will just issue a little piece of paper to some unknown person in some faraway address.’ He laughed and continued to read his newspaper.

Is this what we called a civilized society? The neatly pressed suit failed to hide Giovanni’s unrefined actions. Luca decided to entertain himself a little. ‘What if you are the one that is propagating the disruption in the system Giovanni?’

‘Don’t be foolish old man.’

‘Giovanni I have given you my name.’

Giovanni laughed. ‘Luca don’t be a foolish old man. Everyone does it. This is a cycle that will continue.’

Luca rubbed his sunken cheek. ‘Don’t you think that if you stick a cog in the wheels then the movement will stop? All it takes is one person to stop the cycle.’

Giovanni turned the page and continued reading the newspaper ‘Old man.’

‘Luca’ His right index finger on his temple, his middle and little fingers rested just below his cheek bone.

‘Luca look at this. There was a prison break a week ago. Up to now they haven’t found the culprits.’

Luca glanced at the headlines. Indeed there was a break-out. Several colorful characters including murderers, rapists and thieves had escaped. The ringmaster was this heavily built man nicknamed Di Oro. His key identifying characteristic was a set of gold teeth lined across the right side of his mouth. It was said that each golden tooth represented someone that he had murdered over the years. They counted seven till this date.

‘What is the connection Giovanni?’ Luca asked.

‘See this man!’ He stuck his finger straight at the photograph. ‘This is your cog in the wheel.’ He pointed at the window on his left. ‘Look what he has done! He disrupts society by breaking out of the system. It is people like this that need to be locked up. People with improper values like that… that conductor.’ He paused and caught his breath. Giovanni leaned towards Luca and moved his hand back and forth. ‘People like me, like you. People who have sound values, who are respectable contributors to society suffer. We must stand to break this cycle. We must turn the wheels around these scoundrels!’

‘And what makes you think that we are better than these… what did you say? ‘Scoundrels?’’

Giovanni folded his newspaper into a quarter and framed the picture of Di Oro. ‘Luca we follow by society’s rules. I have a business employing many people. I pay them for their services. I pay my suppliers for their products. My buyers pay me for my merchandise.’ Giovanni struck the newspaper with the back of his hand. ‘These people rob others of their hard earned work. They rape and kill people against their will!’

Luca raised his hand and interrupted Giovanni. ‘These ‘scoundrels’ work hard for their craft don’t they? Whatever they are accused of takes planning, passion and ability?’

Giovanni frowned.

Luca continued. ‘What difference does it make with businessmen who cheat people out of their earnings? Businessmen who squeeze profits and demand steep requirements for services and goods? What difference are they to young men intoxicating young women and having their way with them? What about minor arguments that turn into murderous rage? What about passengers who refuse to pay their fare? Blaming some innocent person? Blaming a hapless conductor? Please explain to me the difference Giovanni.’

Giovanni’s eyes widened. ‘Are you defending these scoundrels? These scum of the earth! People like the conductor? People like Di Oro?’

Luca stood up and took the seat next to Giovanni. He touched Giovanni’s hand and spoke. ‘People like Di Oro and I are the same.’

Giovanni tsked and shook his head.

The train slowed to a stop in front of the Via Mantova post office and the doors slid open.

‘Giovanni my residence is around the corner. Let’s continue this discussion over some cafe.’

‘No Luca. I can’t possibly bother you.’

Luca took a deep breath and smiled. He revealed a set of seven crudely embedded gold teeth lined up at the right side of his mouth.

‘Oh you misunderstand Giovanni. This isn’t a request.’

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