The countryside was flat and green through the car window, and looked like a huge pool table with small red-roof houses and cars in the place of the balls.
I was moving fast, and that gave me the inverse impression that it was everything else running around: a big game was having place on the pool table and all the balls were moving so fast that itwas difficult even to catch them with the eye and understand who was winning and who was losing.
It was the last day. The way back. I had just spent a mind-blowing holiday with my friends, interrailing around Germany, and it was time togo back home. I had left Munich in the early morning, and probably I was still in the Bavarian plains when that thought came tomy mind. It was a disrupting one, a terrific discovery that was taking place inmy brain, and that would have changed the sense of that journey inan irreversible way. I was indeed just sitting in front ofmy coffe, trying to grasp some life from the flavored fumes, and in that moment I asked myself:
I was looking to all the people in the wagon, sitting around me, and they all turned tobe quite disturbing to me: businessmen reading financial newspapers were the most represented group, a brilliant confirm of the stereotype of German efficiency. Many families who were going to spend their summer holidays in Italy. Some athletes, probably a football team, with their colorful bags and sporting shoes; last, in front of me, an old lady reading a book, who sometimes felt asleep and then woke up and re-started reading from the first page.
All of those people exactly knew what was going to happen next in their life: for someone “next”was a corporate meeting in the financial district in Milan, for someone a sun-bath in Riccione, and for someone that same first page of the book. But I didn’t know. I didn’t have a clue of what I would have done in the rest of the summer. The moment I would have stepped out of the train, the future would have run over me with all its threats of uncertainty. I knew in September University would have started, but I really couldn’t imagine where it would have brought me.
I kept watching the strange movements of the world on the green plain, and I was really hoping that would have lasted forever. I didn’t want the future to come at all, and I was wandering howmuch delay Italian railways could have given meas their best gift. The pool table was slowly being deformed, and evolved in some kind of humped monster, aswe were moving towards the Alps.
I felt asleep, but when I woke up that same question was the first thing that came intomy mind: “What next?”
The old lady came close and whispered: “Did you sleep well? Do you know that I have finally finished my book during all these hours? And I have something to tell you, young boy!”
Things couldn’t go worst: also the lady’s book had come toan end. That was the symbol of the end ofmy time, of that trip, ofmy youth. That was the beginning of the future!”
“Do you know how the book finished, young boy?” insisted the lady.
“Believe it or not, there was a poem, in the very end. I don’t remember the author, but who cares! Now listen, listen!” Then she read the poem, with the sweetest voice I had ever heard:
On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream, I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.
I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gypsy,
Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman
She just closed her eyes, staring at me for some time; then she smiled at me, gave a glance outside, and fell asleep again.
I had finally understood what she meant with the words of the poem. First I was disappointed, disappointed as a person who thinks that you can really predict your future through the only action of one’s brain. I was disappointed as I realized that the billiard balls that had accompanied me for all the time of my journey didn’t follow any specific trajectory, but just moved around, sometimes clashing one with another.
I admired the old lady while she was asleep, and who really looked like a child who is taking her afternoon nap. I didn’t know why she was on the train, what kind of person she was in her everyday life. I only knew she would wake up in a few moments, without remembering anything of what she’d passed in the previous hours, and would have opened the book, started a new journey as the gypsy of the poem. She looked happy and relaxed in that real moment, with the sunlight touching her white hair and the deep wrinkles on that face.
When I arrived in Rome, the anxiety was disappeared. That image of the old lady, that sunshine, had given me confidence, and I noticed that the sky was blue and warm, a blue summer evening, as she had told me in that instantaneous revelation. I passed through the platforms of Stazione Termini and stepped in the wide square outside. The summer just begun and I felt it would have been the longest of my whole life.
As the lady, I had been asleep for a long time on that train.
Now, it was time to wake up.