1st February 2010
The week in London it’s over.
By Basilio Scalas
We wake up early, have coffee as usual, shower and at 9am we were in the car.
We are Kingston, and we drive in the direction of Putney, well in advance of my scheduled flight at 1pm from Gatwick.
With the usual efficiency, Max arranged the complete planning for my return home.
Before crossing the gate of the station in Clapham Junction, I make my ritual recommendations to him. Belong to the wise friend, he made a quick calculation of the time passed since our previous meeting and perhaps still embittered by the fresh defeat of Arsenal, he replied with a sarcastic smile that “he found me aged“.
I hope that it refers to the physical and not to the mind, I took with nonchalance and at the same time , with great fair play, I din’t make any consideration on its weight.
Not even time to think about it and I see on the board of Station that another train going to Brighton was announced.
Something Max didn’t write in the travel plan prepared to me. Instead advised me to take another convoy to Brighton from platform 13 at 10.53am who would dump me after twenty-one minutes at Gatwick airport.
Terminal two to be precise.
Maybe it was because of the freezing cold, or the sudden sense of loneliness in a foreign land, I don’t have an idea why. But when the light signal suddenly informed me that ten minutes in advance I could take a train in the expected direction, I didn’t think twice, and I jumped on.
That darted through the beautiful English countryside and with excellent punctuality here it was at Gatwick station on time.
Only it didn’t stop, straight as a rocket.
At that point, I associate the words of the speaker up to that moment incomprehensible with the writing on the bright panel “next station Brighton“.
In a moment, I realize that I have no idea where the city in question was and how far I was from my destination.
At some point, I realise that I know very few words in English. I understand that I am totally unaware of what contortions of my lips would have taken to make them understandable.
A simple journey that starts to become a real adventure with an open ending.
I start to be worry and scared.
Until then, I had never worried about my understanding of English. Given the excellent knowledge of the language Max spoke, it was he who had solved my needs during the holiday.
It quickly crosses my mind that even in Italian, he had almost always talked a lot.
Still, I don’t give too much importance to this, given my dramatic and unexpected condition of the moment.
After the initial bewilderment, I decide to act. I called Max and inform him of the situation, he was incredulous and worried. He told me that “only these things can happen to me”, the voice shines through the dismay of those who may be forced to commit an already full day in search of the lost friend.
However, gave me the certainty that, after the short chat, the many telematics systems from which he never separates would scan the network, to get me out of trouble.
A second phone call to Anna, my wife, I make her aware of the mishap.
I do not hesitate to point out that her “..and don’t get lost..” joke dating back to an hour before, while waiting in Clapham station, at that time I had not found it very funny. However, Anna encourages me, and I assure her that I will inform her as soon as possible. All before falling back into my new dimension of “casual tourist lost in a foreign land“.
From the windows, the countryside that until recently had seemed sweet and seductive has turned into a hostile and endless arboreal expanse, interspersed with distinct English lawns. “Fifteen past eleven”, it goes through my head that the ticket inspectors could pass, one problem at a time I say to myself, and I decide to face the situation.
We were four in my wagon. A guy who never looked up from his university notes, a woman I hadn’t notice before. But I have heard her voice talking on the phone for at least twenty minutes and a classical British lady in another seat. I noticed her because sometimes she looked up from her book to demonstrate an elegant and silent disappointment towards the turbulent woman that continued talking on the phone.
In the absence of contact with the known world, I turn to the boy who was checking his university notes. I ask if ‘he knows the time of arrival at Brighton“. Finally, on my third attempt when I was clearly desperate that my bubbling could not turn into a reasonable question, I understand: “at eleven-thirty.
:Thank you”, I feel refreshed, maybe I can do it.
It lasts only a moment, my Seiko’s watch marks eleven twenty-eight and around the damn campaign runs endlessly at the usual speed. He finally understands and adds “I’m not sure“, I said “thank you” again.
After a very long quarter of an hour, the countryside gives way to Brighton station.
I sling off the train, and I face without hesitation the first man in uniform that happens to me, “the train to Gatwick airport ?”, “What?” he asks me, “the first train to Gatwick?” I insist on hitting my red trolley like a translation. A short sentence ending with five puts me in motto towards track five,
I get on just in time, and is immediately heading north. I think I am hopelessly ticketless, but since I was without solutions, this problem also goes into the background. I send a text message to Max, who after no more than a minute, replies that that place will take forty minutes to arrive at its destination, half an hour before my flight. The “Check-in” would have closed five minutes before my arrival, according to my online ticket information.
It is half-past twelve when I get off the train and cross the sidewalk, and I slip directly into the fateful south terminal of Gatwick.
This, together with the lack of ticket checkers, calm down for a moment, my hatred towards the English railways which until then had been only a self-propelled prison. The airport is vast, at least so it seems to me, perhaps because there were few passengers around,.
Yes, anxiety helped to perceive everything in a cinematographic way, including the image that I had created in my mind, a consequence of the fact of reading a story of Stephen King in those days. I had it set, in my imagination, in a place very similar to what I saw at the time.
I ask the first one who happens to be checking in Easy Jet, he tells me that I have to check on the monitors. Already as everywhere, even at Cagliari airport. Zone H indicated the screen, the yellow cubes suspended with the large capital letters that should have shown me the shortest way seemed like a crazy keyboard. I find my area, it is still open, I can do it, I thought.
The girl on the desk, clearly used to latecomers like me. Kindly checks my reservation and asks if I have to “check-in” the luggage. I say no, evidently she feels that I was not prepared to check-in online. Still, my personal pride does not allow ‘to show it“. Ten minutes have passed, and I only need the security check. I queue up in the shortest row, and when the guy in front of me withdraws his basket I already have boots and a belt in my hand, I make the most seraphic smile I am capable of. Probably in the anti-terrorism manual, there is a voice that says: the bad guys use to smile seraphically so as not to arouse suspicion. In fact, through the magnetic door without damage, a grim policewoman calls a colleague to herself.
First, they rummage the loose things then decide that the danger is undoubtedly inside my red trolley. They invite me to open it, and the panic of losing the flight is replaced by the embarrassment of used underwear exposed in public.
While they checking my suitcase, I recompose myself and continue to smile. Deluded not to arouse suspicions, these, subtly, intensify when from the bottom of the bag a package containing a CD emerges. Wrapped in a brochure of a hotel in Mumbai that also includes a map of the city.”Photo,” I say, “holiday in India” I insist. Maybe because I don’t smile anymore they decide to close the aftershave and deodorant in a plastic bag and let me go.
It is 12.50pm when finally I arrive at the boarding gate. The young lady is fixing the coupons, the bus is moving, as soon as she sees me with the walkie talkie, she stops the vehicle. In a few seconds, I am on board. We take off on time, I feel tired and satisfied, like someone who has just accomplished a great feat.
We fly over London. I am saddened by the feeling of being almost on the run from a good week of rest.
Still, I was finally headed home, well not really, Milan Malpensa, then transfers to Milan Linate, then back finally at home. Yea, “One is going to look for this kind of trouble”, I thought as I order a sandwich with bacon & cheese.
When I set foot in Malpensa, I suddenly realise that the last cigarette I smoked was in Putney.
Through the airport and walking I prepare a cigarette by myself, the shuttle airport ticket office is next to the exit, I pass it to light the cigarette. I enjoy a few shots of my handmade cigarette . I observe where I was, I think back to the stories and lies of a couple of years before concerning the rescue of Alitalia. Still, the thoughts are interrupted by the tinkling of a shutter. My ticket box at half-past three is hopelessly closed. I have the flight from Linate at eight o’clock, I’m not worried, but I understand that I must be alert. At four I take, also here, the last seat available in the Malpensa-Central station section, in reality, it is half a place the other half is occupied by a huge Chinese gentleman who, for fear that I would listen to his phone call, kept his head resting on the window and ass slanted to keep prying ears away. I wanted to explain to him that he could stay straight, that foreign languages were not “my forte”.
I limited myself to gaining another quarter of my strength in total indifference.
Still, for the moment, it was enough, after all, I already felt at home.
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