A Small Victory
It was too late to arrange for a couchette or anything at Venicia. I grabbed a first-class compartment and reclined the seats together. In an Italian compartment, there are two rows of three seats each that face each other. When two opposing seats are fully reclined, they meet each other and form a fairly flat sleeping surface. In this way, it is possible for three people to sleep comfortably in such a compartment. I wondered what happens when the compartments become more than half full? Feets and faces? Not an issue for me, I had the place to myself.
I had a different issue. The compartment door had no lock. I could not fathom how I could jury-rig one. I stowed my heavier big red bag in the rack above my head, and clipped the arm strap around the rack; Safe from the casual snatcher. The lighter small backpack I stowed under my window seat with my shoes. I then reclined my bed, and reclined the middle set of seats, leaving my backpack pretty well concealed, with more room for me to stretch out.
It must have been at Verona that I stirred and saw a man sitting upright in the seat by the door. He had de-reclined the middle seat by my head, and was sitting with his right leg splayed into the space it had freed. I sat up to appraise my new roommate, and something just didn’t feel right. I sat and watched him a little while, dazed with sleep. I started adding things up. He wouldn’t greet me or even look at me in any way, he seemed pretty uptight. Fair enough. He had no luggage. Okay, maybe he’s just taking a late ride between two stations. Why did he choose to sit in my dark compartment, which had had the door shut and curtains drawn, when the train was barely populated? Surely there must be a more favorable seat. He had moved my newspaper across the compartment, and when I retrieved it he made no note of having moved my stuff around. If you rearrange someone’s possessions and wake them up, and you desire to spend some portion of the night in their company, the least you can muster is a sheepish grin.
My creep detector started to go off. This guy had his foot inches away from my backpack, whose company I valued greatly. He was hoping I’d be tired enough to relax and go back to sleep while the train was still waiting in the station. After that, he could make off with my bag. Well, this was my suspicion. After a few minutes of tense waiting, he skulked off down the hallway. After the train left the station, I checked around for him, and I found no sign, just a lot of dark, empty compartments with open doors.
Along the idea that perhaps the authorities would want a description of a suspicious person to keep an eye out for, I tried to talk to the conductor about it. He said he’d send someone around who spoke more English. I was later visited by a pair of chubby women, who explained that there would be police on the train at Milan, but they seemed to lose interest once I clarified that I wasn’t actually robbed.
I chalked it up to a victory for me, for taking some basic precautions to secure my belongings, and to trusting my instincts and wits enough to keep an eye on the guy. Even though I’d technically won the encounter, I’d passed the test, and, above all, I hadn’t lost the laptop computer, images, travel journal, postcards, and other important belongings that rest in the small backpack, the experience put me off balance and it was some hours before I could relax again.