Ah, Venice: The perfect picture of romance and beauty; breath-taking architecture standing majestically upon twisting canals adorned with gondolas and tiny bridges; thousands of secret alleys and doors… a place to get comfortably lost with possibilities of adventure for the Romanticist around every corner. Except when you arrive on a bus. At 4am. In Mestre; Venice’s mainland cousin from the wrong side of the gene pool.
“Where are the canals and shit?” I’m thinking as I groggily step off the bus that’s carried me from Vienna. I’m the only one getting off here so now I’m completely alone in the pitch dark at some kind of… port? I decide to follow the direction the driver had flung his arms in while yelling Italian at me when I had asked about trains. I heave the impractically large backpack I’ve been carrying around for 4 months onto my probably permanently damaged back and start walking towards where I think the train is. It’s pretty much a dark abyss and I can’t decipher anything. As I walk apprehensively through the deserted area it’s just starting to dawn on me the extent to which I have no idea where I’m going. I haven’t booked any accommodation; my phone doesn’t work without wifi (of which there certainly is none around) and no public transport in sight.
Eventually my senses guide me to the grunts of men heaving cargo from truck to container.
Thank God, humans.
I drag myself over to them, probably looking like a ginger Quasimodo. Excited and panicked, I say a bunch of things about transport, there’s a lot of “I’m a traveller”, and obviously they have no idea what the fuck I’m saying. Except for one majestic man who so swiftly and powerfully jumps down off the truck saying, “How can I help you, miss?” in a familiar West African accent. I’m immediately overwhelmed by a sense of relief as he approaches me; he radiates a warm and gentle light.
When I tell him that I just arrived and have no real plans in fact, except to get to the god damn canals that Pintrest has been showing me for years, he has the same kind of worried reaction I would imagine my mother to have if she knew. I assure him that all I need is some WiFi. I’m so used to this WiFi monologue by now, which becomes more impassioned every time; it’s bordering on becoming a one-woman opera, complex in its layers of frustration, anger, despair, longing…. A woman and her endless, Sisyphean search for motherfucking WiFi.
Inspired by my drama (obviously), the man tells me to wait 2 minutes for him to wrap up his job and then he’ll take me to a place he knows of with WiFi.
With completely blind and unconditional trust I hop into his pickup truck and use my legs to stuff the 23kg eyesore in the back. We have a conversation about Vienna and bond over how profoundly uninspiring we found it…too easy, excruciatingly boring. He speaks with such conviction that it makes me want to vote for him. I don’t know what he’s running for but I’m definitely a supporter. He easily tells me his life story within five minutes of knowing each other and I love every second of it because he grins the whole way through and the deep lines around his eyes when he grins indicate the fervent life he’s lived.
He tells me about how he loves the vibrancy and passion of Italians, although he experiences quite a lot of racism here, he still loves the fuckers and working in Italy has allowed him to buy 2 houses and educate his family back home in Nigeria. Eventually he asks where I’m from and I tell him South Africa.
His face lights up and he turns to me and says, with all the love in the world, “ah, my sister!”
My heart has never melted like it did in that moment. It’s been months since someone’s called me their sister, something I would hear seven times a day at home. I’ve almost forgotten about the familial bond between African people, and his recognising me as his sister set my soul on fire.
We arrive at the bar/coffee place and I can’t tell if people are there for very early morning coffee or still there from the previous night. The man gets out the truck to bid me farewell and gives me a low-down on where I am and the public transport situation. We hug goodbye and I feel like I’m about to leave a lifelong friend.
We actually never learned each other’s names… one of the nuances of travelling that I love so much, because there are so many other things to talk about that names become insignificant.