by Anastasia Maniglio
I was in Venice train station.
As in most of Italian tourist towns, even in this there was a piano. The musicians or amateurs who happened to be passing, sat down to cause free emotions. A show that almost constantly entertained anyone who bought train tickets, who sat waiting for the train, who greeted, who was enjoying that magic for a few minutes before returning home.
Among the screams of the children tired from the journey, the announcements of departures, the voices in a thousand different languages by thousands of people from around the world, the footsteps of sneakers or career women’s stilettos, couples on vacation and managers coming back from work, evening fell.
The piano fell silent and that place completely changed appearance. It took on the appearance of a private residence, where someone asked sandwiches to retailers that now lowered their shutters or placed himself in his corner of the room, or settled on his bed of blankets where he would spend the hours until dawn.
In the surreal silence of the station in the night, I met Habib (this is not the true name, but here I will use it for privacy issues).
Habib tells everyone to call him H., only revealing his initial. Sometimes he changes the versions of his name and origin. He has a dignity, a story to be protected, an identity that does not die when he loses a roof. He has many friends who live with him in the same place, but he tells very little of his life.
I wanted to learn about the events that have led some people to no longer have a house, but instead I found myself talking for two hours only with him.
For some reason (perhaps because, studying Arabic, my eyes become heart-shaped when I look at someone who comes from those countries), he opened his world to me. He immediately addressed questions about my studies, the reason why I have this passion, the relationship I have with my family … I realised he was testing the waters to see if the instinct to trust me could be explored. I did not say I was looking for an interview, I did not want to scare him. I found myself in this situation that binds you to a soul to which you are forced to lie. Like in films.
He whispered to move a bit farther from the other homeless, to talk in greater peace of mind.
He told me that some mornings, as the day before, goes to a barber in the area, for his face and hair care: “I want to maintain a clean appearance.” In fact, if you watch him deeply, you can notice the difference from the others: a long coat, a pair of dark shoes, jeans that look new, perfectly sober, and so on. A thirty-year-old man like many you may very easily find at universities, in the supermarket, post office … Tall, stocky build, Mediterranean complexion, expressive eyes, big hands. I can not think of other adjectives that better describe his figure, but “dignified”.
Through a not entirely fluent Italian, but definitely much better than my Arabic, he warned me (but perhaps it was more probably to remind himself) he does not want to become like his street-mates who drink all the time and have no respect for their body, because his family has always made sacrifices to be able to make him go to school.
“I graduated in Tunisia, my native land where my relatives still live, in the fashion industry and my dream is to become a fashion designer,” he told me.
I would have never imagined to meet a homeless with such an aspiration.
Things happen, mishaps cross you, before you can try to dodge them. And so, after having traveled all over Europe, that day he was in Italy, in Germany the next day, and then who knows … Always around, looking for odd jobs that can make you earn the right to survive.
“I have been a door-to-door salesman, have delivered pizzas at home, distributed leaflets, and tomorrow I will leave as a truck driver.”
Of course he missed home, he wanted to return soon and not receive the money that his mother continues to send from time to time. She does not know that he sleeps outdoors; not even she knows the whole truth.
Time has flown by and it is late. With the promise to meet again, we exchanged our numbers.
This second meeting has yet to take place because in the following days he continued to persistently contact me by phone, hoping to get another appointment, but at that time just him and me.
Perhaps my enthusiasm and my curiosity to know more about him, or perhaps the interest that he read in me, made him misread my intentions, confusing him. Having someone who approaches a homeless person without bias does not often happen and it is easy to misunderstand.
I have not seen him again. Probably he moved to another city, or I have not noticed him among the hundreds of tourists which I make eye contact with every day. But I wish him to live peacefully and achieve as soon as possible all his objectives, that he fights every hour for.