“Existence is futile!” a man shouted from the third floor window of a worn-out building. He was hanging on a curtain rod, a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth.
He was a dirty man, maybe in his 40’s. I was never too good at guessing how many years a person’s been living for.
He saw me watching – a look of dignified delight spread across his dingy face, his hallowed eyes fixing on my little dress; his mouth slowly stretching into a gummy grin decorated with a few fossils of broken teeth.
“What’d you say?” I yelled back, my hand now parallel to my forehead, as if I were a solider reporting to her general. Really, I was just trying to shield my eyes from the hazy July sun.
“Viene qua, bellisima.” Now he was laughing all mad-like, clutching on to his ribcage, howlin’ and cracklin’ like a hyena.
“Where you come from?” yelled another man, maybe Moroccan, and before I knew it there were 10 of ‘em, all hootin’ and whistlin’ and still somehow suckin’ on their cigarettes.
I turned my attention to the empty street, lined with over-flowing trash bins and haphazardly parked cars. The sun was beating hard on the back of my shoulders, and I was trying to concentrate on a small dog up the hill, on the horizon of the piazza. He was dancing and skipping about, a little too care-free for the scene. His owner was taking a piss next to a trashcan, taking no measure to cover himself.
I took a sharp left onto a small side street, somewhere in between a via and a viccolo. Delivery items were being transferred from boxy trucks into dying businesses, the Chinese yelling in Italian, Italians yelling at the Chinese. I accidentally made eye contact with a homeless man lying dead in the center of the sidewalk. His mouth was slightly agape, and he slowly stretched his shaking arm in my direction, piercing me with his gray dull eyes.
“Existence is futile,” he whispered, and my over-heated July skin flushed with goose-bumps.
“What’d you say?” I sang back in a sad tune, like a reflex that a doctor checks to make sure you’re still feeling things.
He began to groan, and cough, and shake some more.
I marched on, past a Banglah and cellphone shop. I walked past Hallal fast food and empty stores with no names. I walked past children playing in the street, mothers humming as they hung their wet clothes out their apartment windows. I walked past hot trash begging to become fire, dirty birds sifting for something to eat. I walked past construction workers in their bright orange vests and long pants, past the crumbling buildings that once signified affluence and opportunity.
I walked, until I finally saw a bar. I opened the door, and that’s when I realized I was following my feet.
“Ciao, dimmi,” said an old man with a big mustache and watery blue eyes.
“vorrei un caffe,” I asserted, over annunciating.
The stainless-steel machine whizzed and steamed, a dark black liquid gently trickling into a small, white porcelain cup.
He placed it on the bar with a flourish, and I languidly began stirring in the contents of a sugar packet, my eyes fixed ahead on a mirror, watching the room behind me.
A business man in a well-tailored suit entered into the picture. He had a big watch with the wrong time and pearly white teeth that looked like maybe they had been sharpened.
“Un caffe,” he snapped, and the old bar man stepped into motion like a switch had been flipped on. He never looked away from the machine as the espresso found it’s way into another cup. A small, white cup. Porcelain.
The old man placed the coffee on the bar, and I felt the eyes of the business man on me. I kept looking in the mirror. Maybe I was waiting for something.
“Existence is futile,” he remarked, as he dropped a few coins on the counter and headed back out into the streets.
“What’d you say?” I asked myself, because no one else was around to hear me.
“Un euro,” the old man replied, with a warm smile and busy hands.
“Grazie,” I placed a coin on the counter, and followed my feet outside.