I focus on what I need to do now, and that is to find out where I am. On a display inside the store of Devon & Devon sits an elegant silver frame on a side table with the store name and hours only. The security I initially felt vanishes with the reality that in order to phone someone to help me get out of this mess, I will have to leave this tiny refuge back into the light, back onto the street. I’m aware of every sound, even the innocent fluttering of a leaf in the street fills me with anxiety. I stand silent and frozen pressed against the glass door, the stainless steel handle digging into my spine. I scroll through the names on my phone deciding who I will call that will know where this store is? An unknown name on the display releases me from my paralysis. Antonio, a cabbie who told me his life-story as he drove me home last week. He insisted I take his number and invited me to join him for a glass of wine. Overly forward Italian men who offer their numbers to women in cabs are remarkable to me at this moment. I call Antonio and to my relief he remembers who I am. He reminds me that he is the sole caregiver for his ailing mother, and can’t leave her alone. He offers me the number for a cab company, and reminds me I will need an address to give the dispatcher.
I reluctantly leave the safety of my alcove. The street is disturbingly silent, the now familiar cry of my boots on the sidewalk announcing my location, my gender, my vulnerability. I imagine cunning eyes watching me from unlit windows. Every darkened entrance I pass a growing fear that I am not alone. The doors I’d admired on my walk a few days prior are now grotesque enemies in the shadowy light.
Without warning I hear footsteps approaching quickly, surrounding me from every angle. My worst fear realized, I turn to face my attackers with a raised umbrella bracing myself for an assault I’m convinced is imminent. My head darting from side to side my eyes searching every inch of space before me, my own frightened breath echoing in the empty street. Confusion is the only thing assaulting me now. I’m alone in the street my pupils dilated, weapon in hand, and my back thrust against the wall. Fear has played a cruel trick on my overactive mind. There is no-one here but me, the thumping I hear is that of my own heart pounding in my chest, pounding in my ears, filling my head with imaginary demons.
Relief coupled with an overwhelming agony in my heart collide simultaneously like waves against a rocky shore. The phantom footsteps in my head are replaced by a silent-aching cry. All I want right now are my daughters wrapped in my arms, I long to be soothed by the purity of their smiles.
Tears sting my eyes, self-pity grips my throat. I stand fractured and alone, the reality of my foolish decision forty-five minutes ago stealing the very air from my lungs, clenching my neck, suffocating me.
I gasp for air, and with it comes a surge of determination. The crisp night air turning my pity into strength, into spirit, into will. I swallow hard, banishing the imaginary mass constricting my throat. I clench my teeth, and angrily blink away unshed tears. Weakness has no place here.
With renewed persistence, I march to the corner of the building and at long last I locate the address. I call the number for the cab company, it takes five tries before I reach an operator, eating up precious minutes remaining on my phone. I pray I’ve pronounced the name correctly. The dispatcher speaks only Italian with a string of words I assume mean they are on their way to rescue me, he hangs up.
I hide in a doorway listening to the sounds of the night.
Suddenly a light goes on in the building across from me. Behind an acid washed window, a figure moves at a hurried pace. I read the sign above the doorway and realize I’m directly across from a bakery. The light from the kitchen washes the storefront and I see a young man moving in and out of view. With the sound of rattling pots, I presume he is there to start baking for the morning rush. He’s remarkably tall, somewhere between 18 and 25, black hair pulled into a ponytail wearing the traditional white uniform of a baker. I listen as he sings an unfamiliar song, the melody holding my attention and keeping me company.
My thoughts turn to the fact the cab has not arrived. I have a total of four minutes remaining on my phone. I press redial, this time the operator speaks broken English, he tells me the address I have given him no longer exists. I ask him to please stay on the line as I cross the street to the bakery. I tap on the glass doors intending to ask the young man our location. He ignores me and continues with his work. I knock harder this time with the sturdy handle of my umbrella fearful the dispatcher will hang up. The now familiar taste of panic coats my mouth. I notice the young baker is listening to an ipod, his ears consumed by blaring music… he can’t hear me, and he’s too involved in work to see me. I turn my attention to the dispatcher pleading for assistance over the phone. I read out the name of the bakery and he informs me that there are over thirty in Florence with the same name. He needs an address or at the very least a cross street. I rush to the front of the bakery and there on a faded plaque is the address. The operator assures me he knows my location and that a cab is on th…… my phone goes silent mid-sentence. I’ve run out of minutes !!!
I return to the protection of my tiny alcove adjacent to the storefront my eyes glued to the young baker, his movements are calming and reassuring in their simplicity.
In less than five minutes the cab arrives.
A kind face welcomes me as I open the door. I immediately sink into the security of the back seat as he drives me home.
As I pay for my second cab tonight, an ironic smile crosses my face as I read the amount displayed on the meter……
I get out of the cab.