I thought I wouldn’t have anything to write about until I actually got settled into our literal hole-the-wall place in Trastevere, but I had quite the start to my stay in Italy.
I landed in FCO – Fuimicino Aeroporto at 11,30pm on Wednesday, 28 May 2014, a whole twelve hours past my original plan and when my friend Corey landed. We had decided while I was trapped in Heathrow, London, that instead of a taxi, to just take the train. She messaged me the exact details to follow in order to find her.
What we didn’t think about, was the fact that I was landing at fuckin’ midnight practically. I landed, took over thirty minutes going through customs and getting my baggage, and came out to an empty airport with a handful of stray passengers off the same plane.
I got nervous as hell.
I didn’t see any places open to exchange what cash I had brought for buses and taxis, and I didn’t see anyone that could answer questions for me. I tried contacting Corey, whom had warned me about her bad data with the local company SIM she bought, and I wasn’t getting a response. The last message I had from her was that she’d stay at the last tram stop until I got there.
I dragged my luggage up three levels to where I hoped the trains were still running. Less and less strays were around, and a man with no luggage stayed behind me as I went deeper and deeper into an empty airport.
I eventually came to where the trains would have been to take me to Trastevere, but I only found closed booths and construction workers, and it was then the man behind me left as I tried to ask the workers about the trains. They were obviously no longer in service.
Taking myself back down, extremely wary of the man that had been behind me, I eventually came back out to the taxi and shuttle services, a line of the last passengers there. Calling a young woman probably close to my age over with a bright neon vest, Roma Capitale Taxi on it, I asked her if taxis would accept cards.
In very broken English, she explained that they didn’t and that I could use the ATM just some meters down back inside.
I left, and managed to use it, taking out 50 euros as our host had mentioned a taxi to our place should only cost 48 euros. I went back out, and the same girl came over to match me to a taxi driver. As I showed him the name of the tram stop Corey was waiting at- still no response from her- he rudely told me to go back and get more money, that 50 euros wasn’t enough.
I remember how Adam had told me the taxi drivers in South Africa had tried to overcharge when they also had an exact cost for the trip and they refused; so I refused as well, telling him I was told it would only be 48 euros and I wasn’t going to pay more.
He scowled at me, waved the last couple aside from me into the taxi, and said he’d probably be back in an hour.
I almost started crying. It was then the same girl with the neon vest approached me, and in her broken English, said that she was no taxi driver, but that she could take me.
Maybe she saw the fear in me, because she told me, “For today, I friend.”
I almost said no, but in a split second I remembered the empty airport, the creepy men, the hour it was, my desperate situation last year back in the Cook Islands and how that stranger asked me if I wanted to go with her, and I had said yes without hesitation.
So I said, “yes.”
Small ‘thank yous’ and ‘you’re welcomes’ exchanged, we started heading down the walkway, with two men coming over and joining her, one closer to our age. I started to worry even more; I know anyone could hurt me, but with a man involved, it’s simply more likely I can’t defend myself. I decided I should at least not show how scared I was and already regretting it- but what if they did just want to help me?
We walked down to a shuttle call post that has a bus come through to transport people around the entire airport. We got on it, the guy talkative and seemingly sweet, being nice enough to take my heavier duffle- I have a 5-person tent in there, so don’t roll your eyes at me with the typical “women” scoff.
Some five minutes later, we’re dropped off at a parking lot. I’ve had a close call with a robber-possibly-rapist in a parking lot at night before back home, so I know I’ve said this, but by fuck- I. Was. Scared.
We reached a car, still making broken small talk, my bag crammed into the trunk and me climbing into the backseat. I had a smaller duffle, my phone and wallet inside if I decide to try and make a run for it. It was also open, so I could reach in and grab my pen if I needed to stab anyone in the neck.
Yes, I was running defense scenarios through my mind at a thousand miles per hour (thank you Olivia Benson for teaching me most of them).
It was then, in the car, they took a better look at where I needed to go, and they started to get confused. Tram stop at Belli? Don’t cross the bridge? But Belli is there and to get to the address you do have, you do have to cross the bridge.
They were explaining me their confusion and showing me on their iPhone’s Google Map app- but what the fuck did I know? For all I knew, the so-called issue of location could been explained using a map from Russia.
Nodding with a stupid “Uh-huh” and “Oh, I see,” I sat back and let them drive towards where they thought it could possibly be, pretty much to hell in my mind. I started texting my friend Rick that I loved him, and if I didn’t respond in ten minutes, my last known place was at FCO’s third parking lot based on the shuttle’s route from international arrivals.
Poor Rick. He of course flipped out, and I honestly believe he would have made his way over to Italy had I not kept texting him; I sent him any major signs on the highway I could catch, and whether we were heading north or south, east or west.
I was also texting Corey, who finally managed to respond. After a few messages begging her to tell me a cross street or a name of any major buildings and her not having much of an answer, she finally sent a number to call.
Let me take a moment to proclaim my love to T Mobile for giving me perfect data.
I dialed on the guy’s phone, and he started talking to Corey. Bless her, I guess she demanded to talk to me, because he handed the phone over and I finally got to hear her- “where are you!”
I almost burst into tears telling her that I had no fuckin’ clue, but decided it was best to either keep calm in front of my kidnappers or keep polite in front of the tired strangers taking the time to help me. I explained what they had about the confusion, and passed it back to him to talk to the local Corey had with her, as well.
A fast conversation went by, me trying to catch anything at all in what he said, or trying to listen to the voice coming through the phone; had I heard any panic or anger from Corey or the guy, I had my hand on the door handle ready to jump out. I was fuckin’ terrified as the city became more like Compton beyond the freeway, the exits far apart. I kept my eyes on the phone, waiting to see if Corey called back and they didn’t answer. That would have also had me making a jump for my life.
We finally veer off, and it’s almost the middle-of-nowhere around us with few street lights and tagged up buildings, and I had welled-up eyes as I described it to Rick through texts, trying not to sniffle and let them know I was starting to cry.
Rick was begging me to read their body language, his sister ready on the phone with the number to the embassy.
If you haven’t already guessed, he’s the best friend anyone could ever have.
Turning a few corners, we eventually get back on the highway, heading back in the exact opposite direction, back towards FCO. The relief and hope I felt was beyond describable reason.
I told Rick, and again started texting any signs I could see.
We pass FCO, and the city started to look beautiful not taking into account my possible death awaiting me for stupidly accepting an offer from strangers at midnight. We’re off the highway on a major boulevard, more and more street names for me to try and send Rick, his other sister on Google Maps trying to track me all the way back in New York based on what I named.
All the while, the locals were talking to each other in Italian, me quiet in the back, also trying to send Corey my whereabouts. Maybe the local she was with would realize if they weren’t in fact taking me closer to where I needed to be.
They eventually told me they were calling Corey again. Thank fuck, except he glanced back at me with furrowed brows, saying they weren’t answering.
I was already taking the phone from him when I said, “let me try it.”
What if they were lying to me and not actually calling her? Dialing the number exactly how she had sent it, I listened, the call going straight to voicemail. I almost chucked his phone away to grab mine, dialing. Voicemail.
I was starting to have trouble breathing, Rick sending a few panicked texts since the last one from me was from when the guy tried calling Corey.
I sent Rick a few street names, trying Corey again by messages. A few minutes later, we come by an enormous plaza with statues and lights, and they say that was the area my friend should be at. I snuck a photo to the stunning structure and sent it to Rick, and he knew immediately. Piazza Venezia.
I practically smashed my face into the window looking out, trying to spot Corey. We took a slight turn, coming into a smaller plaza, parking; but a fight was going on in front of two restaurants, punches thrown, even more chairs and tables thrown, the two locals with me just sighing that the people were drunk, all three of us cringing as one of the men outside smashed a beer bottle onto a guy’s head.
“I hope your friend not there,” he muttered, driving away, heading back towards the front of the immense plaza again, deciding to look there. We see a few buses, the car parked but left on as he climbed out and went to go ask where the tram stop was.
Coming back, he turned to the right, finding another plaza. Creeping along it, we look around, my throat clamping tight as I almost didn’t manage “I think I see her.”
Sitting here, safe in my room, I now know they weren’t my kidnappers, but just friendly strangers, the guy climbing out to check for me, me watching from the safety of the car as he approached the girl I begged the universe to let be Corey.
It was, and she started rushing over. I climbed out, so fuckin’ happy to see her, ready to bawl in her arms.
I ended up hugging those locals, never having caught their names properly, already gone from my memory. But I’ll never forget those faces. They went from the people I’d never forget if I survived, to the people I’ll never forget for their kind smiles as we parted ways, me finally with Corey.
2,00 am, our place nearby, we declined a ride, heading to our home in Roma, Italia.
I texted Rick I was perfectly fine, even calling my mom, something I usually don’t bother doing. As happy and relieved as I was, and as safe as I turned out to be the whole time, I don’t think I had ever feared for myself in my whole life so far as much as I did for those agonizing two and a half hours.
It was good to be in company I knew.