‘The bag!’ he screamed at me loudly, over his shoulder. ‘The bag. THE BAG.’
I was on the phone. ‘Fuck, this guy is yelling something at me,’ I said to my friend on the other end. ‘I gotta go. I’ll be at Piazza Trilussa in ten minutes.’ I hung up. ‘Che problema?’ I asked the taxi driver. He stopped the car.
A line of white taxis snaked behind us, honking, gesturing, saying things in Italian about screwing our dead ancestors. That’s the thing about Roman insults- say what you want about somebody’s deceased aunt getting butt fucked by your dog, as long as you don’t ever take the Lord’s name in vain. That would be rude. I’ve had six year-olds say vaffanculo at me as fair game, but never dio mio. What would the Pope say?
‘É sporco,’ the cab driver said to me, as he got out of his seat and opened my car door. It’s dirty.
I looked at my bag. I looked at the driver. I wished I knew the Italian for don’t be such a ridiculous mama’s boy you gay-or-European pansy. My bag is not making your plastic-covered car seat sodding dirty.
I sighed. ‘Va bene cosí?’ I said, instead, taking my luggage off of the seat beside me and putting it on my lap. Is it okay like this? The driver went to take my bag, to put it in the boot, ignoring my attempts to communicate with him. Putting my bag in the trunk would mean an extra €2 on the price of my fare. Twat tax. ‘Non sono un turista,’ I said, eyebrow raised. I’m not a tourist. Don’t mess with me.
The cab driver exhaled noisily, all over me and my dirty bag, and slammed the door shut, resuming his position to drive. He was pissed at me, and told me so by driving jerkily and impatiently. He spoke Romano under his breath, a dialect I never mastered. But I didn’t mind his mood- I let his waves of song-song madness crash into my ears as I thought to myself, well. I’m back.
I watched all the familiar landmarks whizz past out of the window. Piazza della Repubblica. Il Vittoriano. Piazza Venezia. Lungotevere. Rome looked exactly the same as when I left it nine months ago. Dramatic. Romantic. A stunner.
It was 10 p.m. I’d accidentally gotten drunk on Chianti at the airport, slept it off on the plane, and then awoken mildly hungover and in need of carbs. I think I was nervous about returning to the city that quite literally sent me stark raving bonkers. But I missed my friends. I had to go say hello. I had to go tell my Roman family about my London adventures. I was a cat delivering a mouse to their doorstep. Are you proud of me?
I wanted the approval of the people who changed my life. Rome might be a bitch, but the friends who fed me rice balls and Peroni as we vented frustrations about red tape and backwards schooling and tax-dodging bosses without a clue taught me things I didn’t realise I needed to know. By the time I headed to my summer job for the fourth year in the row, the consensus was unanimous: I was changed.
I was changed because of Rome.
The difficult living situations, stolen bags, nightmare children and even worse parents. The daily struggle to get public transport that ran on time, a coffee without elbowing my way to the bar, a straight answer to a work question. Inefficiency. Evasive answers. Dog shit everywhere.
Rome is a hot man I couldn’t quit. Even though I resented him for being a dick 98% of the time, I liked his friends so I stuck around.
I spent the weekend meeting new babies and brunching lazily; hunting down the best cannoli and arancini and getting introduced to girlfriends and boyfriends who have replaced the girlfriends and boyfriends of last spring. I heard about new jobs and saw new apartments. I laughed, I ate, I talked, I shared secrets. I got inspired by dreamers. It was an emotional few days, and I almost began to miss it. Rome. My old home.
I cried more than once, and did that thing where I get All The Feelings and so throw up. My emotion sickness.
I’m a “feeler”, guys. What can I say?
As I headed back to the airport, ready to catch my flight back home- too soon, three days wasn’t enough- I wondered what my life would look like if I’d decided to stay in Rome. If I hadn’t spent the summer in a convent and then moved to London to see if life fits any better here. If I’d stuck it out, gotten over the frustrating parts of a beautiful city, simply to have these magical people in my life every day. Should I ever have left, when friends who have moulded me into the person I’m so proud to be all live there, equally as frustrated but together? Have I done the right thing? I worried.
As I went to pay for my final caffè lungo the answer busied my thoughts. What if I came back?
And then I realised my purse was gone. Not in my bag. Not anywhere. Stolen. Probably when I was on the crowded bus. I'D HAD MY FUCKING MONEY NICKED. And the most upsetting thing? I wasn't surprised at all. That's just what Rome does.
No, no, no. Rome and I will, quite simply, never really get on. And even though I miss old friends with every atom of my being, I knew in that second that I can’t ever go back to Rome. Rome stole my money, and stole my spirit, and he might've changed me but that doesn't mean I should ever go back. The change has already been done: alchemy happens once.
I love my Roman family, and even, on a good day, Rome itself. But as far as I'm concerned la dolce vita is as bullshit as the fake payslips they give you. Rome just isn't home.
It never was.
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