Among the Shadows: Rome
Esby looked away, just for a moment, from the streams of cars, the image of her face appearing before his eyes. The digital watch strapped to his left wrist showed 7:15, its round face illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun. He had 30 minutes. The road to Fiumicino, the international airport outside Rome, would be jammed at that hour. Probably he would be late. But, then, he always was.
Something pressed down hard on Esby, or so it seemed to him, as he looked around his surroundings. The garbage on the streets was piling up.
Esby had heard about the chaos of Rome before he had even moved to the Italian capital six months earlier. His colleagues in other European capitals like Brussels, Paris, and Berlin were fond of using one name in particular for the Italian capital: Cairo North.
But the disorder was overwhelming now.
Esby fought the impulse to kneel on the sidewalk next to a clump of weeds and an empty bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water lying at the edge of Via Cristoforo Colombo. It was the busiest thoroughfare in Rome. He could feel the presence of the Roman drivers, only inches away from him, as they navigated their motorbikes or their slightly larger cars along the streams of traffic flowing in both directions as far as the eye could see.
The streams never stopped flowing.
Esby didn’t understand. None of it made sense. He didn’t know why. He laughed, looking up at the sky. Life, now, with Julienne was different. He knew this much. He would see her again soon, although how soon depended on when he finally arrived at the airport.
Only fifteen minutes before, Esby barely could remain calm in his chair as he sat at his desk holding the receiver of the telephone to his ear and listened to the dispatcher, a woman speaking quickly in the local Italian dialect. A taxi, she had said, will arrive for you in twenty minutes.
All week Esby had been waiting to hear those words.
The sky above the highway still displayed its lighter shades of blue. To the east, though, it revealed darker shades of purple and even streaks of black to signal the approaching night.
As Esby’s eyes moved, shifting his view from the blue expanse above back down to the grey streets and buildings of the city below, his glance fell on a small, green sports utility vehicle. Esby watched as the vehicle detached itself from a stream of cars and pulled to the side of the wide boulevard. It came to a halt directly in front of him.
Esby recognized the driver.
Carlo Medrone, a production manager in Esby’s company, sat behind the steering wheel of the compact SUV. The middle-aged, corpulent, Roman man turned his large body and head in the seat, extended his thick right arm and hand, and rolled down the window of the door.
The words resonated in Esby’s head. Loud, aggressive, familiar. Too familiar.
Esby bent his torso slightly from its upright position to make eye contact with the driver, but instead his gaze was captured and directed downward to the floor in front of the passenger seat.
In the next moment, Esby’s glance shifted back upward again, detaching itself from the images of naked women in lewd poses on the covers of various magazines and, then, fastening itself on Carlo Medrone’s face. As quickly as Esby had felt in the previous moment a wave of embarrassment, he now felt only confusion.
The Roman man’s face was impassive, almost, Esby thought, innocent.
“Where are you going?” Carlo asked, speaking in his native Romanesco with its long, indecent drawl. “Do you want a ride?”
Esby felt a different emotion then. Was it disdain? Esby laughed. None of it surprised him.
“I’m going to the airport, capo,” Esby replied, pronouncing carefully the words in Italian he had been learning to speak, although he had studied the language at the university for three years because of some vague, romantic notions he had long since buried along with other, painful memories.
Esby doubted the older man would want to drive him such a long distance. Fiumicino occupied a grassy plot of land 25 kilometers west of Rome. He was right.
“Oh,” Carlo said. “Well, we’ll see each other tomorrow at the office then. Ciao.”
Carlo shifted his corpulence in the seat, looked over his left shoulder, and waited for a few moments. Then he shot his car forward.
The car moved away from Esby, and he watched as it attached itself once again to the stream of cars flowing, he thought, with more urgency among the dim shadows of the evening. He knew, at that moment, his life would never be the same.