I leaned against the corner of a building, cigarette dangling negligently from one corner of my mouth. The streets were dark and I waited expectantly for the remainder of my party. A lean lone figure appeared in the street below me. In a moment I knew it was Lyndon. Two more shadowy figures rounded a corner behind him. Another moment and the figures were Gemma and Lizzie. Where were the rest?
Lyndon was closer now, his walk not quite right. As he approached the scant light revealed a large patch of something dark and wet covering his shorts and leaving a faintly shining trail down into his shoe. Righting myself from against the wall, now fully alert at the sight of his blood, I asked, “What the hell happened to you then?”
“Rolfe is in much worse shape,” was his only reply.
“Where?” Adrenaline was pushing the remainder of my drunkenness away.
“Just down the street and around the corner. Oh God, we were so close to being home.” As his voice took on a lamenting note I left him to the ministrations of Gemma and Lizzie, now caught up and obviously unhurt.
I set off in the direction Lyndon had indicated at a purposeful walk, not quite trusting myself to run and not knowing what sort of characters might be lurking for one more drunken ‘tourist’. In a moment I was at ‘Vico San Domenico Maggiore’ looking first left and then right for signs of my other new friends. They were to the right. One figure lay on his back in the street, a glistening wetness around his midsection. Another figure held Rolfe’s (presumably) head in his lap. A third figure, recognizable for his chubbiness as Heinrich was ringing doorbells at random trying to get someone’s, anyone’s help. Yet another German stood alone seeming not to know what to do with himself.
I hurried towards them, pulling off my shirt as I went ready to use it as a compress on the wound that was reportedly ‘in much worse shape’. I found a pair of black leather belts already cinched tight around Rolfe’s upper thigh. Judging from the blood I didn’t dare undo them for a moment. Heinrich now had an old woman at a door on the left and was desperately pleading for help in a broken mixture of English and German. She looked very perplexed but replied forcefully in a very thick Napolitano dialect.
“Is there some way you can call someone for help?” Gunther, the seemingly unoccupied one asked me. Suddenly his outrageous lisp was not nearly so amusing as it had previously been.
In retrospect, I should have approached Heinrich’s old woman and asked her to call an ambulance. Instead, I reached for my cell phone and quickly dialed 114, the number for the municipal police. “Parla lei Inglese?” (do you speak english? )I asked as a voice came on the other end of the phone, not bothering to listen to their opening line.
“No, parlo solo Italiano,” (I only speak italian) came the important reply. I hung up the phone in disgust and rang the Caribinieri, 112.
At the sound of a voice on the other end I quickly interrupted, “Buona Sera, parla Inglese?” I asked perhaps more calmly than the situation might have demanded. Again the answer was no. But I continued, “Ho bisogno un’ ambulanza a Vico San Domenica Maggiore e — .” As I looked for the name of the cross street there was an audible click on the phone. Whether they hung up upon me or if I merely lost the signal in the narrow streets I am not entirely certain. I tend to believe that it was the former.
As I held the phone away from me, again disgusted and nearly prepared to sling it across the cobblestones in frustration, I heard the revving motor of a motor-bike approaching. The hand with the cell phone fell slack against my side, the other quickly finding the folding blade tucked in the opposite pocket and freshly sharpened that day. My eyes strained against the light of the single headlight approaching me, trying to determine if this was another threat or the possibility of assistance. The motor bike approached me directly and just before I drew my blade the figure became clear as Giovanni, the proprietor of our accommodation. Noticing the phone but not the hand I had let fall away from the knife he said, “I will call the police.”
I watched as he called, my drunkenness completely gone and my senses attuned to every minute motion and sound in the failing night. As he finished on the phone he turned back to me and said in his somewhat accented English, “You-a are a leettle drunk. You should-a go back to the hostel.”
His advice probably would have been the prudent course of action, but I never even considered it. Without making any reply I turned back to Rolfe lying in the street. The black shiny puddle beneath him was not so black anymore but larger. I rushed back and helped to keep his leg elevated.
Within maybe two more minutes an ambulance was trundling down the street from up above us. Giovanni was at the door across the street speaking to the woman that Heinrich had so addled. Heinrich was back at Rolfe’s side. I shot him a brief questioning look between his whispered assurances, “alles ist Gut, Ja?” To me, “They took everything, our money, our wallets, our identification cards, everything.”
“They took paper.” I said it simply, neither with an excess of reassurance nor with any particular coldness. Heinrich looked as though he was about to argue but then the paramedics were there, checking to see that Rolfe was conscious and struggling to examine his own wounds in their own shadows cast by the ambulance headlights.
As they tended to Rolfe, Heinrich said to me, “Tell them I want to stay with him.” I gave him a nod but did not speak immediately. He became more agitated. “Tell them I want to go with them!”
I made a curt motion with one hand meant to calm him. As one medic leaned momentarily I broke in, “Signor, lui,” indicating Heinrich, “va con lui,” indicating Rolfe. The paramedic gave me a look and then a slight nod.
Not hearing a response or noticing the nod Heinrich again became agitated. “TELL them I want to stay with him!”
Again I made a gesture meant to calm him. “Tutto e gut.” The languages were mixing inevitably into incomprehensibility within my head.
We all lifted Rolfe onto the stretcher together, bathing his body in light for the first time at the back of the ambulance. He looked very pale in contrast to his pants, which were dark and heavy looking with blood. Heinrich leapt like an eager dog ahead of his master into the ambulance before the stretcher. The doors closed and the ambulance sped off as quickly as it could down the narrow bumpy lane. Giovanni too sped off on his motorbike, I presume that he went back to check on Lyndon. That left myself and Gunther-with-the-lisp and the other German whose name I have since forgotten, standing around an ownerless bloody puddle.
The three of us walked back the last two blocks to the hostel. In the aftermath of an adrenaline rush they attempted to explain to me what happened but were too excited to make much sense in a language not their own. They wanted to talk. They needed to talk. Fear and rage and indignation and helplessness forced their words out in a tumble. I wanted to talk too, but it was my turn to listen. I needed someone to tell the story too, who could understand the nagging guilt clawing at me for taking them out in the first place, for letting them drink so much, and for leaving them to take their own route when we were only halfway back. But who would listen to me? Not the victims, no, it was my turn to listen.
As we came within sight of the hostel, Giovanni circled us again on his motorbike, making one last check. My shirt was slung negligently over my left shoulder. I loathed the thought of putting it back on, feeling the cloying stickiness of Rolf’s blood in it.
At the hostel we found Gemma and Lizzie sitting on the rooftop terrace with their own accounts to give. It was still my turn to listen. The time was maybe 5:00 AM. Giovanni made us tea and I listened to everything. Within an hour Rolfe and Lyndon returned from the hospital. Lyndon was carried up the stairs, Rolfe, drugged, stubbornly refusing any assistance but climbing the three flights under his own power.
Inside, the scene was repeated once again. Stories retold all in a confusion. There was another round of tea. I listened. I felt pride, both of my knowledge of the city and my reaction to the situation, but there were no thank-yous. No one called me heroic. And did I want to be acknowledged as such? The guilt still chewed at me too. I wanted someone to listen.
As the sun rose fully and the clock marched nearer to seven the people slowly drifted off (some with more grace than others) in search of their beds. I was soon alone with the taste of guilt and injured pride in my mouth. The now tepid tea would not rinse the flavor away. Napoli began to stir awake around me but there was no one to listen.