I rushed onto the plane in three-inch wedges, a flowery yellow wrap dress that was near-falling-off, and a Kate Spade crab purse trailing behind me. My hair was stuck to the sweat on my neck and back and I was anything but the picture of grace in that moment. I had just caught the last flight to Milan from Toronto by a few minutes and when I went to find my seat, 33A, to my surprise, there was a young boy sitting there.
I think you're in my spot, I said all at once in an exhale.
He just stared at me. I knew I was quite the sight but I couldn't help but think that he hadn't understood me. He had that look of utter confusion about him so I just gestured to my seat and then to myself and he immediately jumped up without saying a word.
I have this guilty pleasure whenever I travel and it's to first guess where people are from and then why they are going where they're going, all before we've exchanged any actual words. For whatever reason, I pegged this one as an Italian going home. There's just ways I can tell now, I can't explain how. It's not even that this boy looked classically Italian- he had sandy blond hair, a slight build, wide eyes, and was dressed more like an American with a sweatshirt, shorts, and black Nikes on his feet- he could have been anything but Italian if my deductions were made on looks alone. Yet over the years, I've acquired something else, a sixth sense you might say, in identifying Italians. I think it has something to do with the way they look at you, without any sense of shame or cognisance of crossing any social behaviour barriers. Unwavering is the adjective.
I decided to test out my theory, so I accidentally kicked his backpack, said sorry in English, and waited for his response.
Nothing, he responded. I knew immediately that I was right. He was Italian. In Italian, "niente" would be a typical automatic reply to a similar contextual situation and the translation is "nothing" whereas a native English speaker would use expressions such as "no prob" or "no worries". I smiled to myself, triumphant until realizing I was in that precarious situation of which language to use. I always think about how I hate to be spoken to in English when someone is aware that I can speak and understand Italian and so I always try to keep this in mind when speaking to Italians so in this case, I stuck with English.
Are you going home? I asked.
Yes, the boy replied with a timid smile.
Do you live in Milan? I prodded further.
What? Can you repeat? he said, looking flustered. I took this chance to say something in Italian.
Sei di Milano? Are you from Milan?
Oh, parli italiano? Perché? he wondered out loud, his eyes opening wide with surprise.
Abito a Bergamo, I explained. I live in Bergamo.
And so began the eight hour plane trip over the Atlantic, an ocean that I've crossed innumerable times in the past ten years, but the first that I didn't sleep through. After I gave away my Italian, the boy who seemed so shy suddenly became the chattiest seatmate that I had ever encountered. He had just turned eighteen and gone abroad to Toronto to practice his English before returning home to enjoy his last real summer of freedom before the last year of liceo, high school. Something about him, his youth and innocence, reminded me of those high school years and of so many firsts. First love and everything that goes along with it. The kind of things you never forget. At a certain point, he told me about how he never understands when people talk to him in English and was visibily nervous as the flight attendant made her way to our row to give us the very difficult choice of chicken or pasta for dinner.
For me, pasta, he muttered when his turn came. Immediately after he turned to me and said, l'ho detto giusto? Did I say it right?
I smiled and said sì, perfetto.
He smiled back with his eyes.
Later on, he taught me the noun edilizia, construction. He asked more about Canada, I asked more about Italy. We wrote our favorite Italian rap songs in each other's phones, me telling him about the lyrics in Mecna's "Non Ci Sei Più" where he references Lake Ontario:
Al tramonto con due Bud ad agosto sull’Ontario
dicesti "sai, voglio andare via da Milano, vuoi venire con me?"
At sunset, with two Buds in August on Lake Ontario
you said "you know, I want to leave Milan, do you wanna come with me?"
And the romantic in me couldn't help but think how romantic this whole thing was. Two strangers raised by different cultures and languages, seated next to each other 35 000 feet in the air over an ocean, sharing a connection. Not romantic in its definition that would make my husband jealous, but romantic in its other definition: of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality. These kinds of moments, they are my reality and it is one that I have always wanted to have since my very first trip to Europe- the ability to sit next to a stranger, speak a foreign language, and laugh. I never in a million years would have thought that this idealized view of life, could, and would, become my own.
Ce l'abbiamo fatta, he exclaimed as the plane soared over the Swiss Alps.
We did it, I repeated.
And we laughed, his hazel eyes shining.
Have you ever made a connection with a stranger, only to never see them again? I'd love to know, send me an e-mail or leave and comment and tell me all about it.
Note: I apologize for being MIA these past two weeks, I've just returned back from Canada and will hopefully catch up with some blog posts soon! Thanks for stopping by and reading. I will be posting a new Love Story Lunedì at some point this week as well so stay tuned and don't go anywhere!
Read ten very short stories which are now available as a cute collection in my first eBook: This Sweet Life. You can download it for FREE in my store! Or read the individual posts in the Creative Writing category:
Creative Writing: All the Sunsets
Creative Writing: Happier
Creative Writing: Whiskey
Creative Writing: The Perfect Day in Italy
Creative Writing: Call Me Baby
Creative Writing: The Butterfly Effect
In the eBook:
Creative Writing: The Letter R (Explicit)
Creative Writing: Dear Italy (A Love Letter)
Creative Writing: Airport Arrivals
Creative Writing: Tanqueray and You
Creative Writing: A Thousand Lives
Creative Writing: A Sunday Kind of Love
Creative Writing: Perfect Strangers in Switzerland
Creative Writing: Rooftops and Rome
Creative Writing: The Morning After in New York
Creative Writing: Mulberries in Sicily