Darkness had fallen, but we were still sitting on an eroded stone wall at the edge of the town, watching the lights of speeding cars in the road far across the valley. Jan had brought us two bottles of wine from the van, and we had almost finished them, in silence. Woozy from the wine, Jan had cuddled up under Angelo´s arm, and I kept looking straight ahead to avoid seeing the two of them.
“You really think he won´t call the police?” Angelo asked, dubiously.
I shook my head, trying to look convincing. “I´ve seen him furious but never spiteful.” I paused, remembering the disastrous first night. “Well. I did once, actually.”
Our search party hadn´t found Ivan in the town, and it had been Jan who´d spotted him in the valley, walking fast towards the road in the last light of the day. We´d gathered behind the stone wall to watch him go, as there was no way to catch up with him before he reached the road and the darkness fell, making the return trip impossible. An overwhelming mixture of just god-awful feelings was churning in my chest, and I almost burst into a howl when Ivan reached the road and all we could do was to watch as a truck picked him up, almost immediately, and took him away.
“My sunglasses and a baseball cap are missing,” Angelo told me. “I´d say wherever he´s going he wants to go incognito.”
“That won´t last long.”
The night fell in earnest. Angelo and Jan prepared a makeshift dinner of country bread and various Italian cheeses, and while they were eating and I was staring at my slice Angelo said, “If he´d called the police with the truck driver´s phone they´d already be here. Or if the driver had recognized him.”
“How could he not recognize Ivan?” I asked. “I mean, even with the sunglasses – at night – “
“Maybe the kid chose some foreign truck on purpose,” Angelo interrupted me. “He´s not dumb. I bet you told him about the Czech driver.”
“Shouldn´t we get going?” Jan asked. “He´s going to meet other people besides the truck driver, sooner or later.”
“I don´t think it makes much of a difference, leaving or not. We can only hope that he doesn´t talk and that he´s far enough from here when they catch him,” Angelo said.
When they catch him.
“We can´t go back to the north,” Angelo continued. “And he knows where we´ll be in two days´ time, in any case.”
Suddenly something crossed my mind. “What happens to Jan if they catch him with us now?”
After a brief silence, Angelo answered, “He´ll be deported, most likely.”
I turned to Jan. “We´re going to take you somewhere you can catch a bus or a train back to
“We don´t have the GPS coordinates yet,” Jan interrupted. “And my people won´t give them to anyone but me.”
“Angelo is my friend,” Jan said simply. “I won´t leave him.”
The night was very bad. I couldn´t sleep, having dozed all day long, and after a while I ordered the others to leave me alone as I was too upset to be anything but awful company. To have your friends consoling you for an hour or two was all right, but there´s a limit to everything. Angelo and Jan retired into their house, and I went wandering into the starlit ruins of the town, as much to distract myself as to avoid hearing the whispers and occasional groans through the glassless windows of the occupied house.
The town was spookier than ever, but I was beyond caring. Walking the streets that hadn´t known humans for decades, I kept listening for the sound of helicopters, police cars, dogs. And Ivan: I was having a crazy, silent conversation with him, as if he was walking next to me and defeating my every attempt at explaining, and apologizing, with merely a word or two. Finally I sat down on the worn steps of a steep, narrow alley, and leaned my shoulder on a wall of a house that was still emanating heat from the day´s sun. I was a wretched being; I deserved all the shit that had happened to me.
I don´t know how long I sat there before I heard steps. It was Angelo, alone, looking for me. Somehow he saw into the darkness of the alley, and walked up to me. The tall, dark shape sat down next to me, and a big arm pulled me close to him. Neither of us said a word. We just sat there for the longest time, in silence, until Angelo nudged me and claimed that his bum was falling asleep. As we walked back to the van, he asked if I wanted to sleep in the other house with him and Jan but I shook my head. He didn´t insist, and gave me one of his bear hugs before letting me go.
They caught Ivan the next afternoon. After a couple of hours of sleep I´d been watching TV all morning until I collapsed around ten o´clock, and Angelo practically had to carry me back into my house to get some sleep. Then, a few hours later, I woke up to Angelo standing in the doorway and calling my name.
“You better come,” he said.
Jan was already in the caravan, eyes glued to the TV set. It was the hateful Berlusconi Channel 5, once again leaving competitors in the dust. There was the text “Edizione Straordinaria” plastered across the screen, and just as I sat down on the edge of a couch the director switched away from the studio and into a view from a fast-moving helicopter, but all one could see were blurry treetops.
“What-“ I started, and then the camera picked up a passenger train.
“They believe that someone in the train recognized him and called the police,” Angelo explained. “Maybe the ticket controller, or another passanger.”
An excited voice-over from the TV´s tinny speakers went on, unstoppable, while the train kept running through forests and fields on the screen.
“We´ve just been told that the train won´t stop until
Angelo chuckled, incredulous. “They have a trainload of crazy yelling people in there right now. There´s going to be a riot in
“Maybe Ivan can get away in the scuffle,” I hoped.
“Anything can happen there,” Angelo replied, shaking his head, still in disbelief.
More information gradually came in as the train ran through small towns and passed by the waiting passengers at full speed. The helicopter camera often panned to these groups of people, catching their confusion and then the hand-shaking frustration as they realized that whatever their destination, they weren´t going to get there. About a half an hour before the train reached
It didn´t take long before the first photos started showing up on TV. Channel 5 had once again outbid the others and had the very first one: blurry arms and headrests in the foreground, and then Ivan, standing alone in the empty end of the carriage, looking away from the camera. The photo was too blurry to show his expression, but otherwise it was exactly what Channel 5 would have wanted. He looked so lonely I thought I would go crazy. I couldn´t watch, I had to stand up and walk away for a moment.
However, I hadn´t gotten far before I heard Angelo call me. “You better get here now.”
The hateful Channel 5 had earned another scoop. They had live feed from the ticket controller´s video phone. The anchor hurriedly asked the controller a few questions, to make him feel important, and his answers more or less confirmed what we´d heard earlier. But even the controller soon realized that the real prize was live interview with Ivan, and he obediently walked over to him.
“That guy is making a hell of a lot of money today,” Angelo grunted.
Or maybe not as much as he had anticipated. Cautiously, the controller approached Ivan, with the phone video camera pointed at his direction, but all we could see were wobbly images of seats and overexposed windows. When the camera finally settled on Ivan he kept looking away, indifferent, and when the man tried to coax him to answer, repeating twice that it was the Channel 5, Ivan´s only response was clear.
The controller stood back, his hand shaking, judging by the movement of the camera.
“Uh-huh,” Angelo nodded, impressed. “I thought the kid didn´t even know words like that.”
In the end, that was all the controller could get out of Ivan. No doubt there were frenetic negotiations going on as the image returned to the studio for a while, but even with an unresponsive Ivan the video feed was too good to drop and soon we were back with the controller. Then the train reached the outskirts of
Chaos was too mild of an expression to describe the situation at the terminal: a huge crowd had gathered to witness the capture of Ivan, and passengers trying to get on and off two long trains, with luggage in tow, had to fight their way through. The police that were originally intended to focus on Ivan ended up occupied with crowd control; apparently some southbound trains were standing still on their tracks north of Ancona, and their waiting passengers were both confused and furious as they wandered from one track to another as conflicting information about their trains kept being announced every few minutes.
Angelo flicked through channels and hit pay dirt: Raiuno had their reporter on live feed outside the station. However, that was also their big problem. They couldn´t get in. The crowd was impenetrable, and the image shook and wobbled constantly as people kept bumping into the cameraman. The male reporter´s tie was askew and there were visible pearls of sweat on his forehead as he tried to stay calm and manage to say something to the TV audience while exasperatedly shooing people away. Another collision with someone almost sent the videocamera crashing to the ground.
Fortunately, two uniformed policemen walked by and after some off-camera persuasion decided to escort the reporter inside the station. A lot of shouting and pushing ensued, and gradually the four of them made their way into the platform, just in time for the arrival of the train. The two handsome policemen, happy to have suddenly become TV stars, managed to keep the crowd at bay just enough to allow the reporting to resume as the train slowed down and came to a halt.
Then the train began spewing out enraged passengers and any attempt at crowd control instantly turned into wishful thinking. The struggling and grunting reporter was helplessly swept away from the cameraman who, left to his own devices, kept filming the scene nevertheless. For the next twenty minutes chaos reigned supreme. Nobody knew what was happening, and caught on camera by various TV channels some people said Ivan had already been taken away, while others were convinced that he´d been attacked by a mob or beaten up by the police, resisting arrest.
Then something seemed finally to happen, even though visible only to the helicopter. Police teams, blue blotches among the crowd, were starting to gather around a certain car towards the end of the train. TV crews went frantic in their attempts to reach the car. This time it was a Raitre crew who emerged victorious, only few meters away from the door where Ivan would soon step out and where the policemen, who refused to answer any of the crew´s questions, had managed to form a small opening into the crowd. Suddenly the door swung open and Ivan, followed by a line of officers, stepped down on the platform.
Without further delay, the group started pushing their way through the throngs of people gawking at them and snapping photographs. Ivan tried to look indifferent but by the way he kept blinking his eyes to the camera flashes I could tell that the crowd was making him very nervous. One of the officers, quite a good-looking one too, was holding Ivan´s arm and I felt a sudden irrational pang of hate for the man.
Then mayhem broke loose. I watched, mouth agape, as out of the blue a group of teenage girls assaulted the policemen, pelting them with colorful handbags and yelling insults, and a hailstrom of coins and small objects landed on the hapless law enforcement.
“Lui é innocente!”
An actual cell phone, the mightiest arm of a teenage girl, sailed through the air and hit a policeman on the face. He grasped at his eye and crouched instinctively, causing a commotion among his colleagues, and taking advantage of the melee Ivan pulled himself free and threw himself at the crowd.
People stepped aside and let him through. I watched in amazement as the crowd separated like the
Impressed, I turned to look at Angelo. “You know you people are crazy.”
He shrugged, but I could tell he was surprised himself.
“It seems that the Hello Kitty crowd loves your boyfriend,” he added, deadpan.
The camera crews on the ground lost all sight of Ivan, and the view switched back to the helicopter. Ivan was now somewhere inside the station building and nothing seemed to be happening, apart from the struggling police squads.
“Can he get away? Is there a subway?” I asked.
Angelo stood up and stepped next to me. “There´s no subway in
The helicopter was gradually moving over to the piazza in front of the station, waiting. Even the commentators in the studio fell silent. The show would soon be over.