On the final day of a quick visit to Tuscany I noticed that I’d inadvertently pre-booked a smoking seat on that evening’s night train from Florence to Munich. Having just spent the past few days surrounded by chain smoking Italians, I foresaw an uncomfortable 8 hours wheezing in a cloud of MS ciggie smoke and hurried to Santa Maria Novella station to change my seating. Assigned non-smoking seats had sold out so I switched to an unassigned seat and boarded early that night, to get a good spot.
Unassigned non-smoking seats were in the front and end of the train and the first car was already filling up, so I hurried along the platform to the last car. A fellow leaning out of a window of the first car said ‘Buena sera’ as I went by and I haltingly replied in Italian strangled by an Australian accent. At the far end of the train I found an empty compartment, got a seat by the window and secured my backpack to the luggage rack. I was still alone when the train departed, and nobody entered the compartment even after a few stops so I began to be optimistic that the train might not fill up. I turned out the lights, took off my shoes and stretched out my legs on the seat opposite and tried to get some sleep before Munich.
Between stops, the compartment door slid open to reveal the ‘Buena sera’ gentleman from before. ‘Strange..’ I thought.. ‘surely he already had a seat in the first car, when I saw him there..’ Despite many available places in the compartment, he sits directly opposite me. ‘Fair enough, he wants a window seat too..’ I thought, putting my feet back in my shoes on the floor. There was some awkward footsy as our feet touched, a few mi scuzzis, attempts at conversation & eager eye contact from Buena Sera Man, but with a few gestures of incomprehension and a ‘Buena notte’ I closed my eyes again. It was late, I’d done a lot of walking that day and I might have dozed off.. ..I’m not sure how long passed till I opened my eyes, nor what alerted me that doing so might be a very good idea but when I did, this was the scene:
Buena Sera Man was crouching like an enormous spider doing deep push-ups over my crotch – hands either side of my thighs, his feet on the seat opposite, nose thrust toward my ‘nads and breathing in my man-funk with all the nostril-quivering gusto of a gourmand sniffing tasty truffles. This tableau of terror was creepily lit by strobing light from the train windows to eerie effect – a horror movie directed by Heironymous Bosch with my cringing crotch-parts as the dainty femme fatale menaced by the hairy monster.
An instinctive reaction when confronted with a hairy spider is to scream and bash it with a slipper, but when the lizard-brain reacts to a man–sized spider slathering over one’s own wedding tackle, that adrenal urge is even more urgent. With no slipper handy, a windmill of my flailing limbs shooed manspider off my nether bits and out of the compartment. His cries of ‘Mi scuzzi! Mi scuzzi!’ receded down the corridor as I hurled multiple ‘WTF?!’s after him and slammed the door. While my blood pressure & adrenaline gradually normalised I pondered a great many things..
— Surely any crotch-sniffer might eventually drool on man-bits attached to an outraged individual prepared to mete out violent retribution… How could a mere whiff of Baker bollocks have been worth that risk? — A few ‘mi scuzzi’ s, as if he’d accidentally stubbed my toe, was an apology that wasn’t an apology.. after all, noses only arrive in a stranger’s lap by intent. — I was outraged, and yet genuinely worried that Buena Sera Man’s kink might lead him to a very UN-Buena sera some day. — The image of the spread-eagled manspider’s gangly yoga contortions still writhed in my mind – a pervy Count Dracula lit by lightning, slithering down castle walls for a toot of of my undies. — GaAaH! — Or, perhaps the gymnastics were in search of a money-belt? If covertly smelling men’s inhabited underwear was the goal, he could’ve done that from across the compartment.. I was on laundry retreads after living out of a backpack. —
As I stewed over such things, the remaining seats filled up on subsequent stops and I feigned sleep with one eye half open to check out new passengers one by one. I’d enjoyed my time in Italy but there’d been dodgy capers here & there, such as an attempted snatch of my backpack on the train connecting Venice & Florence (thwarted by straps latched to the luggage rack) so I was on alert. It was now halfway though the night with no need for social pleasantries, and new arrivals chose seats and quickly went to sleep, but I warily watched them one and all..
Everyone but me was fast asleep when the train stopped and a tiny man entered our compartment. He cannot have been more than 5 feet tall, and wore an old fashioned white suit and carried an attaché case. At the last remaining seat, diagonally opposite and near the door, he took off his jacket, turned his back to me and began rhythmically hunching his shoulders.. ‘Oh god.. here we go.. a 4am train-wanker.. bloody typical..’ but with an audible POP he detaches.. a mechanical ARM – ‘wha?!’ – and carefully put it in his bag, stood on the seat, put it in the luggage rack and sat down and went to sleep.
I have a disability myself these days, and know very well that this fastidious & besuited little man – with artificial arm and bespoke attaché case – was simply minding his business and getting on with life. However, on that particular night – with nerves pre-jangled by crotch-sniffing manspiders & sleep deprivation – this sight glimpsed in the gloom was extremely jarring and had me fight-or-flight tensed for whatever soul searing scene the Fellini Express would deliver next.. bag snatchers, bollock huffers or god-knows-what.. I didn’t even blink until München Hauptbahnhof.
Reaching our destination very early in the morning, thankfully without further incident, I saw no sign of manspider as the train emptied of its Italian & German passengers, and all my clenched bits & pieces finally relaxed. As we all walked out of the station, it was easy to see who was an orderly German and who was Italian by watching who obeyed the pedestrian traffic lights, blinking into dawn streets still empty of traffic, and who ignored them to set off into the breaking day..
As for me, my Night Of The Spider had demonstrated that I clearly needed to do some laundry..