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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic
Julian is on his sabbatical in Italy and is heading to Rome from Calabria. Whilst on the long train journey he strikes up conversation with a young girl who is sharing his compartment. This young girl has many secrets, and it is Julian's responsibility to discover them, and save her from possible disaster

Submitted: March 29, 2015

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Submitted: March 29, 2015



The first train disappeared into the thin layer of smog at exactly eight thirty in the morning. The final one or two figures standing on the platform stood with their hands in their pockets, and watched the outline of the black and silver tail become grainier and grainier until it was swallowed up as a whole. Silvia’s father held out his hand so that Piccola Marina’s tiny fingers were enclosed in his, as he turned and headed back to the car park, his hat enclosing his ears so the raucous screams of young girls and the laughter of promiscuous women was blocked out to his brain. He preferred it that way.


Already three hundred metres away, Julian looked down at his ticket. As the gentle rocking motion of the train began to increase, he tucked it away back into his pocket and, cursing silently as he tried to heave his enormous suitcase down the narrow aisle, he glanced through the glass windows to find a spare seat. A few stragglers were still trying to do the same. A ragged looking child was tugging on the sleeve of his mother’s arm and howling in boredom and his mother desperately tried to stow their suitcase in the overhead locker, the compartment door wedged open by a stray jacket that had got stuck under the slider.

Julian continued down towards the end of the train, sweating slightly with the effort of carrying his luggage. Despite the winter months, Calabria was still just as he remembered it - warm, muggy and dirty, the petrol smell of the smog coating every object it got its hands on and wrapping it in its endless blankets. He wondered if the climate ever changed, or if it was just continuous, eternal summer, the inhabitants of the beautiful city forever damned under the burning sun. A couple pushed past him roughly at the end of the carriage, and he massaged his right shoulder which had been severely bashed by the huge man’s frame as he argued with his girlfriend.

Non è possibile, Antonella. C’è un sacco di cose da fare quando ritorniamo alla Città.”

Julian smiled, against his better wishes and judgements. His language barrier had completely severely shattered over the past couple of months, and whilst he was aware that no one thought he could speak their language, due to his fair skin and obvious foreign features, he had great fun in overhearing conversations amongst people and chuckling to himself as they brushed him aside. 

He reached the end of the carriage and passed through into the next, pulling his luggage roughly over the join in the train. All the compartments along here were full too, and he sighed heavily. Finally, however, he reached the final one, at almost the very back of the train and, glancing through the dusted window, noted the empty seats. He slid the door wide and heaved his suitcase inside, throwing down the rest of his belongings defiantly and territorially onto the left hand seat. It took quite a while for his arm muscles to adjust to the weight of his suitcase. After many drops, including one which landed neatly on his big toe and made him swear loudly and ferociously into the empty space, he eventually managed to get it to sit nicely on the rack over his head. Gasping for breath and massaging his aching biceps, he sat down heavily on the seat, and fell asleep almost instantly.

He woke a few hours later. For a few seconds he raised his cricked neck and rubbed his eyes, trying to figure out why he had awoken. The engine of the train was rumbling gently underneath him and he looked out of the window. He guessed they must have left Calabria already. The view of the sea had disappeared and although he could still smell the ever-constant aroma of petrol and smog, it had lessened and the small amount of air that was buffeting in through the window felt fresher, and less polluted. With a slight shock, he suddenly realised why he had been awoken from his deep sleep. Outside the door of his compartment, there was a figure. It looked like a female, and he leant forwards to see who it was. A young woman was staring at him through the glass and by her expression and the bag by her side, he guessed she was still without a compartment. He gestured her in and she slid open the door.

“There is someone who sits there?” she asked, in jilted, ungrammatical English.

“No,” Julian replied, and put out his hand to signal that she could sit down. As she turned sideways to pick up her bag, he caught a glimpse of her profile, which was slightly extended and he noticed immediately her protruding stomach. 

“Oh…wait,” he said, jumping up off his seat. “Let me put your bag up for you. It looks heavy.”

She frowned at him, so he leant down to pick up her bag and lifted it into the luggage rack without further explanation. She nodded her gratitude and sat down opposite him, in the seat next to the window, a hand resting on her large stomach.

Julian sat back down and picked up the magazine he had vacated next to him those few hours ago, yawning widely. He flicked to the article that had first attracted the magazine to him at the corner shop, some piece about Federico Fellini, his most recent project, and his impact on the Italian film industry. It became very clear, however, that the front cover did far too much justice to the actual piece, which turned out to be extremely dull. He lost focus quickly and spent the next ten minutes glancing vacantly out of the window. After a while, however, his gaze turned back to the woman opposite him, who had rested her head on the back of the seat and was staring out of the window, apparently far away in her own thoughts.

Close to, she was much younger than he had thought. Her coal black hair was long and curly, and fell over her face as though she wished to be hidden from view. She had beautiful olive skin, as was so common in Reggio-Calabria and her features, unlike those of many he had seen, were smooth and perfectly symmetrical. He continued to watch her, trying to estimate her age, but he was not sure. Twenty, perhaps? Maybe twenty one? Her clothes were dowdy and plain, her black skirt falling respectfully to just below her knees, and her stiff collared shirt buttoned up to her neck. Her hands were covered up in leather gloves, which seemed an odd combination. He guessed she must have been about six months into her obvious pregnancy, but just as this crossed his mind, she looked away from the window towards him, clearly aware that he was watching her and he withdrew his eyes. 

Julian rummaged in his bag, and pulled out the sandwich that Luana had made him early that morning from within the depths of the guesthouse. The moment he withdrew it from the bag, the girl’s eyes followed his every move and lit up. He held out the second package and said, offering it to her:

Lei vorrebbe un po'? Would you like some?”

She nodded enthusiastically and took it from him, devouring the entire thing within seconds. He ate his too, watching her munching and apparently savouring every bite. The light in her blue eyes continued until the very last scrap of salad leaf had been wolfed. She ate like an animal, tearing each piece off with her front teeth until her cheeks were stuffed like a hamster, and then swallowed the entire thing with a huge gulp.

Ha fame? You are hungry?” asked Julian, smiling broadly at her. She nodded back. He hesitated for a moment, before adding: “Scusa per la mia grammatica. Non parlo l’italiano molto bene. Sono inglese. Sorry for my grammar. I don’t speak Italian very well; I’m English.”

She shrugged her shoulders in a noncommittal sort of way, as if to say ‘I know. I could tell.’

Julian glanced down at his watch. Eleven o’clock. He stifled another yawn. He had to sleep well this evening when he arrived in Rome, particularly after last nights debacle. Luana, the charming lady who had run the guesthouse he had stayed in had introduced him to her son, Federico. Federico had had, in no uncertain terms, quite a penchant for Amaretto and Limoncello and had wittingly encouraged Julian to join him in his antics at the local Osteria. It had been quite an experience, culminating, as the vague inch of memory still engrained in Julian’s mind hinted to him, in Federico returning to the guest-house with a lady on either arm, one of whom, whose name he could remember, had planted a loving kiss on Julian before disappearing into the night.

The girl finished eating and looked up at Julian, her eyes now returning to their sombre state.

“Thank you.”

Her voice was soft and quiet, and whilst monotonous, it contained that soft lilt of an Italian who had not yet quite mastered the intricacies of the fiendish English accent. He smiled at her.

“That’s okay. Do you speak English?”

She nodded shyly. “But not good. Papa make us speaking it when home.”

Julian held out his hand, putting his other on his chest to signal himself. “I am Julian.”

She hesitated, apparently curious at the pallidness of his skin, but took it and shook it. “My name is Silvia.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Julian replied, encouragingly. The girl smiled and a soft blush rose up her dark neck. 

“Thank you,” she said again. “I like my name. My Papa say it is name for fallen women and mothers that have not husbands.”

There was a very uncomfortable pause after this pronouncement as Julian began to appreciate what she had just said. To him, her words were profoundly shocking and harsh, but by the way she turned her head unashamedly and began to watch the world go by outside the window again, she didn’t realise herself the impact of her words. Perhaps she had mistranslated them in her head? It seemed impossible that any father could say that to his daughter, particularly to his daughter that was quite clearly expecting a baby.

Silvia did not seem to wish to spare any more words, and silence stretched between them again. As the sky outside began to open more wildly, and the sun began to appear more prominently in the sky, a few couples past by the door of their compartment, giggling and shrieking. Julian refrained from looking at his watch, desperate not to seem anxious in front of his companion for the time to pass quicker, but after what seemed like hours, he snuck a glimpse and saw, to his utter relief, that it showed one o’clock. The girl’s eyes were beginning to droop, her head lolling backwards onto the seat as he himself leant sideways onto his seat and fell asleep yet again.

He dreamt that he was back at home in England. The Cornish sea breeze whipped around his hair as he stepped out onto the beach. He was walking to the sea, but his feet weren’t taking definite steps, but were more like gliding, as though he were on skis. With each small step he seemed to travel several metres as the sea grew nearer and nearer, the pungent salt smell filling his nostrils and blocking everything else out of his brain. He tried to stop his feet but the sand slid underneath them without his consent, hurtling and propelling him forwards to the ever-increasing shoreline. He flailed his arms to try and stop, but he couldn’t. He tried to shout out, but his voice got stuck in his throat and the words wouldn’t come, like he had swallowed a piece of food and it was obstructing his airways. He choked and put a hand up to his throat, but it would not budge. The cold water of the sea was lapping over his feet, as his body ploughed forward into the freezing depths. Despite the battering waves, he flowed through them like a ghostly figure, with no need to kick and beat his arms; The waves simply lapped off him harmlessly. His head was soon underwater, filling his eyes but not restricting his vision. The pressure in his brain increased as he carried on further and further under the surface, until all of a sudden, he caught a glimpse of a dark figure in front of him, in the endless plain of sparkling blue. It was a dog. It seemed to be writhing in pain, it’s lithe body flipping over and over in the water like an otter. He reached out a hand, and despite the obvious distance, his hand touched the black fur, which was smooth and soft, despite the water covering each of them. The dog turned its head and looked straight at him and he recognised it immediately as it whined loudly and yelped, still wriggling in discomfort. It was Griffin. Julian’s old beloved Labrador looked at him with adoring eyes, as Julian opened his mouth and shouted: ‘Griffin! Hang on! I’ll get you out of here!’ The moment he had opened his mouth however, water began to flow in, its salty taste making him gag and choke and fling an arm out to his throat.

He awoke with a jolt, his heart beating at four times its normal rate. He sat up quickly, smacking his foot against the side of the rocking carriage. His big toe, already delicate after its altercation with the suitcase however many hours earlier throbbed extra painfully. With a sudden shock, he tasted salt on his upper lip and rubbed his eyes hard and quickly to make sure he was back in reality, realising that a thick sweat had broken out on his face. He withdrew his handkerchief and wiped his face dry. With another slight shock, he realised that the moaning and whimpering coming from the image of his dead Griffin was still occurring somewhere within earshot and glanced over at the girl in front of him. She was sitting awkwardly on the end of the seat, a hand on her stomach and was breathing heavily, her face screwed up in discomfort. Julian jumped up at once. 

“Are you alright? Can I help?” The girl didn’t seem to hear him, so his raised his voice and repeated. “Posso aiutare? Lei sta bene?”

She nodded, and sat back again in her seat, heaving a deep sigh of relief. “Baby moves,” she said. “It is for me too strong.”

Julian sat down again on his, but continued to watch her. She had taken off her long gloves and was convulsing her hands together as the baby apparently continued to squirm inside her. His eyes  fell on her left hand, which remained bare, and no hint of a ring sat on her fourth finger. He tried not to show his expression, but Silvia’s eyes were too quick for him as she saw what he was staring at. She grabbed her gloves viciously and shoved them back on without a word.

“I forget ring,” she said, in a surprisingly steely voice which Julian had not expected her to be able to produce. 

He nodded, feeling embarrassed. Having spent so much time in Italy, he did not judge young women, but it being 1980 he understood the continuous importance of still having the official stamp of a marriage whilst expecting a child, particularly within in the Catholic communities. He did not want this to impede his ability to speak to the girl, and, despite the fact that he tried to put it to the back of his mind, his determination to continue practising his awful level of the spoken Italian language prevailed.

Quanti anni ha?” he asked. “How old are you?”

The girl harsh expression did not change, and her eyes bored into him like drills. She gestured to the magazine he had discarded on the seat earlier and said, in a determinedly I-want-to-change-the-subject voice:

“I can read? It look interesting.”

Julian paused, confused as to why she had refused to answer the question, before handing over the magazine. She opened it at random and looked down at the page, although her eyes did not move from side to side. Had Julian had less common sense, he would have let the matter go and left the girl in peace for the rest of the journey; But some small part of his brain kicked his emotions into gear, and he pursued the matter. Leaning forward, he put a hand on the magazine which Silvia was so apparently intently reading in order to get her attention.

“Silvia, I don’t wont to hurt you. I just want to know if I can help you. How old are you? Non vorrei ferirLe. Vorrei semplicemente sapere se io possa aiutarLe. Quanti anni ha?”

Silvia’s eyes continued to stare down at the magazine, but they also seemed to glaze over, as if she was thinking deeply about his statement. Julian could tell she was a pensive sort of girl, not at all possessed of the raucous laughter or coquettish nature that so many girls her age were akin to in Calabria. She looked up at him and he knew, instinctively, that in any other girl’s eyes there would have been tears, but her own expression was completely neutral, perhaps only hinting her anger and upset.

“Father says not to give answer to man who says this.”

He nodded and placed a hand on his heart. “I understand,” he said in English, slowly. “But I am a good man. I will not hurt you.”

Ho quindici anni.”

Silvia’s answer shocked Julian so much that for a second he felt physically ill. Fifteen years old? It wasn’t so much her age that hit him so much. In his own medical career, Julian had seen a lot of young patients, but this was unprecedented. Not only was Silvia expecting a child at an illegal age, she had not been married and was embarking, alone, on a long journey to one of the busiest cities on earth. 

“You didn’t forget your wedding ring, did you? You’re not married, are you?” he asked. ‘Lei non ha dimenticato la fede nuziale? Non è sposata?”

Silvia gave her answer with the faintest shake of her head, before leaning back against the seat, resting a hand on her stomach and staring back out of the window.

“Where is your father, Silvia? Dove papa?”

“He is in Reggio-Calabria with my sister. They come with me to get train, but leave.”

“And where is your mother?”

“Mother dead. She dies when I am young. I know not why. Papa too upset to talk ever.”

Julian’s shock was still horribly prominent in his mind. Fifteen years old and travelling half way through her country with no parents or siblings?

“Do you have anyone with you, Silvia? C’è qualcuno che le accompagna?”

She shook her head, avoiding Julian’s eyes. She seemed to know automatically that Julian was going to question her further, was going to make her relive everything, but she did not shy away from it like she had previously done. Perhaps she knew that is was inevitable?

“Do you have somewhere to stay, when you arrive in Rome?” Julian asked, before translating, rather badly, into Italian.

She started to nod her head but again, her guilt appeared to overtake her and she quickly turned it into another shake of her head. Julian considered this for a second. By the looks of her, and her apparent discomfort at the baby, he could tell she was holding a very established pregnancy. If he let the matter drop, the girl and the child could fall into extremely dangerous hands, perhaps even end up living rough on the streets of Rome. That is if they both made it through what was to come.

“Silvia, what do you intend to do when your baby is born?” 

Silvia frowned at him, and Julian repeated his question, in slower, more stilted English. She shrugged, as though to shake off an irksome fly but there was a hint of stubbornness in her expression, which clearly meant only one thing to Julian. She had no plan. She probably didn’t even know anything about how to give birth to a child. 

Silvia, Lei sai quanti mesi….” Julian paused, searching for the word for ‘pregnancy’ in Italian before giving up, and simply pointing at her bump and fixing an inquisitive look on his face. She shook her head again. 

“I not know. I was not knowing it was a baby, but….but Papa say it is. It is now moving much.”

So, thought Julian, not only was she fifteen years old, pregnant, unmarried and travelling however many miles away from her family, she also didn’t know anything about the facts of life. 

“Why are you travelling to Rome, Silvia?”

Silvia took a couple of seconds to apparently translate this in her head, before replying: 

“Papa send me. He say….he say that I…” She was clearly struggling to say the words in English, so Julian gestured to her to complete it in her own language. She rabbled for a few seconds, at just the right speed for Julian to understand. When she had finished, Julian’s face clearly showed the horror and trepidation that was etched in every fibre of his being, as Silvia looked away from him, and for the first time her eyes brimmed with tears, beautiful glistening tears that spilled out over her cheeks and dripped down her chin. She did not bother to wipe them away but let them fall, her bottom lip wobbling in shame.

When Silvia had complained of being ill to her father, he had taken her to the doctor. The doctor had confirmed that Silvia was expecting, and due to her young age and the poverty of the area in which she lived, the father had had to be told. Beatings had followed, as well as verbal abuse. ‘I think he was trying to get rid of it for me,’ was Silvia’s phrasing. ‘He would have preferred that. He is sending me to live in Rome, because he says that is the most religious part in the whole of Italy. He said that Mary Magdalene would look down on me and scold me, before sending me to live with  nuns so I could live their ways. He never wants me to come home ever again. I am on outcast now.’ But it was what Silvia had said next that had pummelled at Julian the most. ‘Papa says the baby is a demon inside me. The moment the baby is outside me, I have to throw it in the Tiber or kill it, like people did in the Bible. Only then can I be pure again.’

Julian leant forward towards Silvia, whose face was screwed up in discomfort again as the baby apparently moved around.

“Silvia, listen. I know he’s your father and I’m sure you love him, but what that man has done to you is sick. He’s sick. Any man who beats and abuses their child deserves to be sent to prison. Silvia, I’m a doctor. I think your baby is nearly due. You can’t get to Rome and not have a plan, or else there is an extremely high chance that both you and your baby will die. You could catch a disease or infection if you live in the streets. It’s very dangerous. I have to find you a hospital, so you can be safe and you can have your baby in a clean environment, and be fed and housed. No matter what comes, I won’t let you get rid of your baby. It’s your baby, not your fathers, and you have the right to look after it as your own.”

Julian paused, suddenly aware that all of the words pouring out of his mouth were in English, and quickly summarised what he was saying in ungrammatical Italian to Silvia, who was looking completely bemused. She nodded, understanding, although after a moment a small look of uncertainty crossed her brow and she bit her lip.

“But…I not have much money.” she said, before excusing and correcting herself. “I have no money.”

It was Julian’s turn to look uncertain. It was true that hospitals in Rome would accept expectant mothers without the need to pay, but that was only for those who had been referred by their doctors. Julian’s research a few years ago had been on the service given to the ill and wounded in Europe, in contrast to that of the UK, and he could remember reading a small article about mothers in Italy, the law being different to that of his own country.

He knew he had to do it, but it took a while for him to build up his courage to ask the question. He did not want to frighten her or to make her mistrust him after the delicate process of loyalty that had been built up ever since Silvia had walked into his compartment.

“Would you like to come and live with me? I have a hotel room in the city centre, which is near a lot of hospitals and I can pay for you to have a room there too. You would be well looked after, and I can keep an eye on you myself, as I am a trained doctor too. I will give you a small amount of money to buy a flat with your child when it is born and you will have a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in. I have to leave in six weeks, but you would be alright by then.”

As Silvia listened to his garbled Italian translation, a glorious look of excitement and hope spread over every inch of her beautiful olive face. Joy radiated through Julian’s heart as he imagined hearing what he was saying on her side and dreaming of having a flat to live in, donated by a tall male stranger she had met on the train. Within mere seconds of his finishing his proposal, Silvia had nodded eagerly, her curls bouncing prettily up and down on her shoulder. Something changed in her face when she was happy. Something that resembled a bud flowering in the world’s most beautiful rose. Despite her tender age, her childish features turned into those of a twenty three year old, her smile beaming around the compartment like sunshine rays. Julian grinned back at her excitement as his brain began to whir, already planning his story. Silvia could be his pregnant daughter-in-law (provided she put the gloves back on) whose husband, Julian’s son, was away in the army back in England. She had enlisted Julian and his fictional wife to travel to Rome for their grandchild’s birth so she wasn’t alone, because her family were away in Sicily and were too poor to make the trip.

“You are like father,” said Silvia, smiling adoringly at Julian. “You have children?”

“No.” Julian swallowed. “I have never married. I nearly did once but….but it didn’t work out.”

Silvia frowned again, but Julian remained silent. A story for another day, he thought. Better not to bother her with that just now. There was, in the meantime, just one more question he needed to ask her and despite his new-found confidence, he felt his heart beat raise very slightly as he formed the words in his throat.

“Silvia, who is the father of your baby? Was their a man who wanted to get very close to you?”

The atmosphere in the compartment changed so quickly that the train could have just passed into the Arctic. The look of jubilation on Silvia’s beautiful face slid into an expression of cold disgust and hatred in such rapid succession it took Julian by alarm. Within moments, Silvia had stood up and was tugging at the suitcase which Julian had placed over her head a few hours previously, rabbling away in vicious Italian, which, despite his occasional difficulties, he understood. She was swearing at him ferociously. 

He stood, and took her arm, trying to stop her, but she flung it out and caught him hard across the nose. Julian staggered backwards onto the seat, feeling blood drip down into his mouth, as Silvia heaved her bag down, unaware of the strain it was putting on her body and stormed to the door of the compartment. She hesitated as she opened the sliding door, before turning to him and spitting furiously in horrible, irate Italian:

“You think you can ask me questions like that? I don’t want your money. I don’t want a flat. You think, because you are English and a gentleman that you can get people to do things for you. Well it may come as a surprise, but not all of us are like that. Some of us are born in poverty and sometimes, when a girl is walking down the street and is forced into an alleyway by three strange man and abused, no one comes to help you. That’s just life.” She lowered her head and looked at him through the top of her long eyelashes, her eyes spilling over with tears yet again, and muttered: “Not all men are as good as you.” 

And with that, Silvia was gone.



The train arrived into Rome at exactly six thirty in the evening, slowing down through the cool evening air and finally grinding to a screechy halt. One or two figures began to descend onto the platform and greet their loved ones, followed by a huge swarm of bodies, some carrying large bags, others jiggling tiny children and some marching straight through towards the exit. Julian bumped his suitcase awkwardly down the train steps, before putting his jacket on and heading along with the crowd.


The shout came over the heads of the many people, and he turned. Silvia was standing on the platform, her coat over her shoulders and a small hat perched delicately on her coal black hair. Her bag was beside her on the ground. He backtracked and pushed his way against the crowd, feeling strong men buffeting off his shoulders, but he put his head down and marched on. When he reached her, Silvia looked at him, her eyes imploring his nature and there was such a look of fear in her face that he smiled.

“I am sorry.”

Julian shook his head in a manner of forgetting what had transpired and leant down to sling Silvia’s bag over his free shoulder, feeling her move instinctively closer towards him as another mob of people descended from the train. Julian held out his hand so that Silvia’s small one was enclosed in his, as they turned and headed along to the car park, their ears open to the chattering crowds of young girls and the laughter of beautiful Roman women that swam through their brains. Julian smiled. He preferred life that way.
























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