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The Stranger at the Crossroads
By Tanja Cilia
You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction? Well, you can believe it’s true.
So there I was, convalescing in Rome, reading Murder on the Orient Express, while on one of those buses that have the middle like an accordion so they can go around corners. Bendy buses, I think they call them.
I was thinking that this would have been the ideal vehicle on which to kill someone — you just sit at the back, with a potential victim, when all the people are in the front half, and do the deed. Then you alight from the door serving the hind part of the vehicle, and Bob’s your uncle.
And then it happened. You know how in another book — or was it another film? — Miss Marple saw a man strangle a woman on another train, and since a body was not found the police assumed she was rambling, what with being old and all? We were just nearing Le Quattro Fontane (the Four Fountains) — that group of four Late Renaissance fountains located at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale, the most famous crossroads of the world — or so the Italians say.
Well — I happened to look out of the window and I saw a bus coming the other way, and — suddenly — I saw a woman stand up, thump a man on the head with what looked like a frying pan, and then she just rolled him out of the emergency door. I gasped and followed the body with my eyes.
Suddenly, from behind the sill of the Fountain of Diana (the only one of the four, as I recall, designed by the painter and architect Pietro da Cortona, for the rest were the work of the fortuitously-named Domenico Fontana), up jumped a man dressed in black from head to toe. He sneezed, and put his little fingers to his lips — I am assuming he whistled in that shrill chav way I hate so much. A Black Maria-like car drew up, the driver hopped out, and together they half-pulled, half-lifted the man into the back. Hecate would have been proud of them.
Our bus rounded a corner — I rang the bell but the driver did not stop. I ran to the front of the bus, but I could not make the driver understand what I wanted him to do. My Italian is patchy at the best of times, and he kept saying something like “Espresso, diretta, non posso fermarmi.” I couldn’t have cared less about his offer of coffee when we got to the terminus — I just wanted him to stop, so I said “Polizia,” and he said something that sounded like “My my my!” and I thought he was telling me I was making a fuss.
Of course, the nuns at the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, at whom I was staying, saw how shaken I was, and they understood what I was saying because a couple of them spoke almost perfect English. They explained that I had inadvertently caught the direct line that did not stop. What the driver had really said was “Mai!” which means “never.”
So they drove me to the police station where I made a report about what I had seen. They found the body a week later, when they dredged the section of the Tiber nearest the place I indicated, weighted and dumped. Later on, the full story was splashed across the papers, on all three RAI television stations and on the Mediaset ones too. The woman was an Albanian hooker, and the man she attacked had been her pimp. The man at the crossroad was her boyfriend — an ex-client who wanted to give her a better life and had hatched the plan. The pimp had been threatening to have her deported, because she was not earning him enough money, and she did not want to go back home.
I had to stay in Italy longer than I planned, but since I was a key witness I was given free board and lodging for the extra fortnight I remained; and of course, my Italian improved no end, in that short period. For a time, I was quite the media star.
This is weird, considering that I am a Maltese nun.
Please visit Tanja on her blog: https://paperjacketblog.wordpress.com/