I hesitated at the entrance of the train, unwilling to step onto the platform and risk getting locked out of the car. The sign at the platform clearly read “Rho” and not “Busto Arsizio,” but I still couldn’t shake the indecision from my gut. “Is this the stop for Busto Arsizio?” I asked a woman exiting the train. “No, this is Rho,” she responded, not waiting to see whether her words confirmed my worst suspicion, that I had indeed boarded the wrong train. I looked out of the car helplessly.
It was my first time taking the train back to my new apartment in small town Italy and I had already screwed up. I dreaded what would happen if I stayed on what was potentially the wrong train and traveled even further away from my destination. I would miss the last bus from the station and be stuck in a taxi-less town with no way of getting back to my apartment. The dread on my face must have been bad enough for a woman on the platform to approach me. “Excuse me, but I heard you asking about Busto Arsizio?” “Sì,” I responded in Italian, still too anxious to exit the train. “You have to take this train on the other side of the platform.” She smiled at me and gestured to the train that had just pulled into the station. She took a step back and motioned for me to follow her. “Really?” I asked while looking from my feet to the train opposite me. It was now or never.
I took a breath and stepped onto the platform beside her. “Yes, it’s the second stop, right before mine.” She made her way to the doors. “Thank you so much!” I said as I followed her onto the new train. My butterflies had not subsided, so I walked with her into a car and sat across from her. “Don’t worry. I know it can be confusing to travel somewhere new. These trains can be complicated.” She pulled out her phone and didn’t say anything else after that. I was so relieved that I had gotten on the right train and surprised that a random stranger had been so helpful. My nerves settled and I sat the rest of the journey in silence. She was talking on her cell phone when the time came for me to depart. I mouthed a silent “Grazie” to her and climbed down to the Busto Arsizio platform. I made it, I thought. In that moment on the train at Rho, I felt a sort of gratitude that only comes from a sense of despair. I was entirely out of my element. Unlike in the United States, there was no conductor or announcement telling me what to do. I had never traveled alone in the area before. I have no problem admitting that if that woman hadn’t helped me in that moment, I probably would have remained on the first train and continued on until I was so far north that the mountains started to come into sight.
But she did help me. She took pity on a confused girl clinging to the doorframe of a train and decided to do something. She went out of her way for me and I won’t forget that. I still may not be an expert on the Italian train system, but I just a little bit wiser thanks to the help of that one woman. She may not have thought much of it, and could even have forgotten my face by the end of her phone call. Whatever the case, I will always be grateful for her small attempt to help me make sense of my new Italian home.
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