A Dangerous Encounter

I was smiling as the doors of the tram slid closed behind me with a shallow gush of air that caused the hem of my dress to rustle about my thighs. I had made it on board and was unreserved in my relief at not being stuck outside alone on the streets at two in the morning. As I climbed the last step that would take me onto the narrow walkway which stretched like a spine down the middle of the conjoined cars, I looked up into the car I had boarded for the first time.

He was sitting in an aisle seat. Snugly fit into black jeans fading to gray, his legs were spread wide, the right one jutting into the aisle as if in invitation. A swollen gut hung over the waistline of his jeans, bulging against the buttons trailing down his midsection. His right arm was slung over the back of the seat next to him, revealing the dark discoloration of the armpit of his tan shirt. He was staring at me with wide, dark eyes in a way that made my abdomen tighten defensively.

I lifted my chin, gripped my shoulder bag and proceeded past, pretending I was unaware of the way he swiveled in his seat to keep me in view. We were the only two people in the last car and as far as I could tell, the only two on the entire tram with the exception of the driver at the head of the vehicle.

It didn’t take him long to move closer. First: it was to a seat in my row but across the aisle. Then: to the seat directly beside me, pinning me between the window and his huge girth. There was a smell wafting off of him like fresh sweat covering day-old body odor with a hint of booze and garlic. I covered my nose and pressed myself into the window. Every breath he took was an audible rush of air into and out of his lungs, heavy and labored.

With him alongside me the size difference between us was unmistakable: at 19, I barely topped 5’5″ and just surpassed 120 pounds; at whatever indeterminable middle-age he was, he clearly came within inches of 6 feet and was easily over 200 pounds. I felt suffocated beside him, as if just the weight of his presence and the clear dominance of his size was enough to crush the oxygen from my lungs.

He asked me a question in Italian to which I brusquely replied, “I don’t speak Italian.” Nodding as if he understood, he continued to speak: carrying on a steady stream of rolling R’s, soft Ch’s and accented vowels that sounded hard and abrupt coming from him.

“No. Italiano,” I reiterated, fighting to hide the dread with callousness. Still unaffected, he rambled on meaninglessly. I stared at the dark outside the window, avoiding our reflections and sucked shallow breaths in through my mouth.

He was still talking when the tram slowed to a stop and an announcement (also in Italian) aired over the intercom. The man slid out of his seat and started speaking more urgently now. Standing above me, his arms gestured well over my head, indicating the direction of the door and beckoning for me to come. I didn’t look at him; instead pressed a hand against the glass and peered out to see the tram driver standing outside his door.

A couple from a few cars up also disembarked and started walking in the direction the tram had been heading. Lost and miscomprehending, I took advantage of my chance to escape, brushed past the man and stepped off.

I approached the driver with single-minded determination and tried to ask him what was going on. But the only relevant word I could muster in Italian was “Perché?” Why?

The man from my car came up to stand just behind me; I could feel his presence slither up my back like the chill of a snake’s caress. The driver replied but my Italian was too poor and his interest too minimal to get much across. The fact seemed to be it was 2am and the trams stopped at 2am, regardless of location or the desires of their passengers.

“Via Burrigozo?” I asked, resigned to the fact that I was going to have to find my hostel on my own. I watched with pleading eyes as he gestured vaguely to the expanse of deserted streets behind him.

Railroaded, I set out on foot in the direction he had indicated. Beside me strode my baleful guardian, unwavering in his dedication to me.

(To be continued…)

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