The Bus Tale By Mark Budman
It’s 1980. I’m turning thirty. Back in Moscow, Stalin, my enemy, is probably just bones and scraps of rotten clothing, despite all the embalmment they have pumped into him prior to his burial. The train that carries my family and a hundred of other refugees, comes to a stop at a tiny station outside Rome. The wind flip-flops the laundry on the balcony of an apartment house above us.
“The problem is not that you’re lucky,” my brother told me before I left him behind. “I could live with that. The problem is that I’m unlucky. They could as easy have declared that my work wasn’t classified but yours was. So you’d be a refusenik instead of me. It’s totally random.”
“It’s dialectics,” I said, averting my eyes, because I had nothing else to say. Fancy words are a good cover.
“The Italians are afraid for us,” my wife says now. “They are good people.” I nod. The good people will put us on buses, as if international terrorists, who for some reason might get interested in us, couldn’t blow up a bus as easy as they do a train. Most of the people here are Jews, so a reason is easy to find. Then the good people will drive us into the city. They will let us stay there while the Americans review our applications for refugee status.
Lorenzo, the Italian coordinator, comes into our car. “Hurry, hurry,” he says in English. They assume that while the Russians can’t speak Italian, they all speak English. I do. “Marco,” Lorenzo tells me. “You need to carry all your luggage to the door. “Pronto! Translate it into your barbaric language.” He giggles to indicate that this was a joke.
Lorenzo is a great guy, un bravo ragazzo. He wears dark glasses, a gun and a grin as wide as the rail tracks. When he took them off once, I saw his eyes, huge like the ripping olives. He stands with his hands on his hips, watching me carrying my own luggage and the stuff of the elderly couple we share our compartment with. He encourages me with his prontos and energetic finger clicking. He told me that he votes for the fascist party. “Communisto, no,” he said. “Communism is bad. Mussolini was good for Italy.” He rolls his eyes to confirm that.
Outside, the Italian sun is round like Lorenzo’s smiling face. My daughter stares at the cop in a peaked cap, at a cannon strapped to his belt, and cries just in case. She is two. She can do what she wants. The buses are coming. Good people are driving them. Or so we hope.