I knew I'd get into trouble for it sooner or later.
I noticed how many of the Italian commuters religiously stamped a ticket as they alighted the bus, and just how many times I stood in line waiting to buy my Vogue Menthols at the Tabacchi as some guy scurried in his man-bag for change to get his white slip of card. There was even a note on the notice board to the staff flat: BUY A BUS TICKET. YOU ARE STUPID NOT TO.
Thing is, my dad is Mr. Williams, and by virtue of that I have a sloping chin and an innate problem with authority.
I also had more knowledge at 16 about Who Moved My Cheese, The 16 Personalities Types You Need To Know, and The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People than is strictly necessary for somebody not yet able to distinguish between healthy glow and you’ve-been-tangoed but that is by-the-by.
Actually, no it isn’t. Did I ever tell you about the time as a teenager when I saved up all of my wages from waitressing so that I could take Mama Janie to London and we could have tea at the Dorchester and go see a live broadcast of Loose Women? Well I did, and do you know what she told my brother after the fact? She told him, “Dear God, Laura was wearing so much blusher that day that quite frankly, I was embarrassed.”
Point is, I knew I shouldn’t travel the Rome bus system without a ticket and I did it anyway. Because I think I know better than everyone else, and I figured that on a sliding scale of morality I wasn’t doing so badly compared to say, David Cameron and his insistence on raping everyone from single parent families claiming benefits to the working classes just trying to get an education.
AND THAT’S ANOTHER THING. I called home a few days ago, and got the low down on my parent’s recent trip to Brighton. They went to a comedy club. The guy made a joke about the Tories. Dad, all up in the front row, didn’t laugh. The comedian spotted him and made an example. Mum didn’t speak to him for the rest of the night, apparently. “Bloody hell Laura,” she told me. “As if you go to a comedy club to make a bloody political statement. You go to have a laugh! He’s a bloody twat, sometimes, your dad.”
I miss them both, my mum and my dad, very much.
My eyes adjusted as the bus approached a stop. I realised the uniformed chaps on the pavement were incredibly hot- if you go for that oiled, toned, Adonis sort of a vibe, and that they were also ticket inspectors. I searched amongst the crowd for my friend, ready to tell her to grab her bag and get off. She looked at me, all confused and a bit cross that I had interrupted her reading, and as I spun on my heel I hit the ticket inspector who had slipped aboard via the back door. NOTICE HOW I DIDN’T EVEN PUT IN A SEX JOKE THERE.
We didn’t get the cute one with the tight pants and glint in his twenty-something eye. Nuh-uh. The old guy with his gut overhanging his waistband and thirty years of young foreign tourists trying to bat their eyelashes out of a fine and a bad reputation made us hand over our ID and practically dragged us to his office by the ear when we got to the end of the line. I had considered just running for it, but I was wearing my favourite leather sandals and I was unsure as to if they would take the chase.
There were half a dozen non-English speaking officers surrounding us and we begged and pleased that we had no idea, sir, and said over and over again, Inglesi! Inglesi! But he was having none of it: we were to pay a fifty euro fine now, or be issued a ticket for a hundred big ones, to be paid at a post office IN ITALIE! IN ITALIE! before the month was out.
I was just happy to give 'em some fake details and get on with my life but my friend seemed kind of upset. "You’re the trained frickin’ actress,” I side whispered to her, “YOU DO SOMETHING."
And so was born the best dramatic performance of the decade. "This is an outrage!" she screamed suddenly and enthusiastically. "An absolute outrage! I can't believe we are being treated like this, it is absolutely diabolical. What is your name, Mr.? WHAT IS YOUR NAME? I'm going to write a letter about you. A LETTER."
This guy did. Not. Know. What. To. Do. Suddenly, SHE was in charge.
And then she burst into hysteric sobs that had me almost crying too. We'd been playing dumb on the old speaking Italian front but I understood the old guy as he said to his colleagues, "This chick totally saw me coming and tried to get off the bus when she saw me. She isn't even sorry." Which, you know. I wasn't.
My friend flung herself against the railing nearby and continued to scream and to yell. "I just want to have a nice holiday!" she carried on, "And we were just about to buy a ticket in the metro. A full day pass! And look! This ticket yesterday says 24 hours! It's just a farce, picking on us like this. A FARCE THAT I REALLY AM GOING TO WRITE A LETTER ABOUT."
Because that's what we Brits abroad do. Writer strongly-worded letters.
Ten minutes, a handful of letter-threats, and many false tears later, we walked away from the men without paying a penny. It was as if everybody had sort of... given up. I said to her. "You do know that we should have had tickets don't you? It was totally my fault that we didn't."
She looked back at me. "Of course I know that. But it doesn't matter that we were wrong." My friend sounded very sure of herself. "He was a very rude man."
We walked to the gelateria in companionable silence.