Ventimiglia, Italy, on the Mediterranean coast seven kilometers east of the border with France.
That morning, I hitched a ride on Autoroute 8 in Menton, the French town on the other side of the border, by an elderly man who was on his way to Italy for business. We traveled through a tunnel dug right through the mountains that make up one end of the Alps and he dropped me off at the first exit of the now Autostrada 10 on the Italy side of the tunnel, a horribly congested interchange on the western end of Ventimiglia.
I decided to try my luck and walk back onto the interchange to find a spot to keep hitchhiking from. This was a potentially dangerous move as I was walking on a non-pedestrian roadway with no emergency lanes next to cars roaring past me at 130 kilometer per hour in a country that doesn’t allow the soliciting of rides on their toll roads.
There weren’t any decent places for a vehicle to stop and pick me up, so I hopped a barricade and found myself in the back lot of a small centro commerciale.
I stepped inside the minimall’s back entrance and found a public restroom immediately to my right. This is a rare find in Europe. Most cities like to charge you anywhere from 20 cents to a full Euro for the privilege of using their commodes, which sometimes amount to nothing more than a hole in the ground.
I rushed inside and relieved myself regardless of the fact that I didn’t have to go much at all. I also took the opportunity of getting fresh water by refilling my bottles from the sink. As I filled up on free water, a squat, bug-eyed Italian man walked in, wet his hair, and put it in a ponytail. He was struggling to view the back of his head in the mirror when he turned to me and began speaking in Italian.
“Non parlo italiano. parla inglese?” I responded.
He shook his head. He tried a couple more words I didn’t understand before he turned his back to me and pointed at his ponytail. It took a couple more hand gestures before I realized he was asking me if his ponytail was centered. I confirmed that it looked aesthetically pleasing with a smile.
He tried some more Italian on me to no avail. I sensed that he was trying to explain something to me, but could only shrug in response.
He then unbuttoned his jeans and showed me a large scar across his pelvic region. He said a word that sounded similar to testicle and it became clear to me at once. The man had testicular cancer and was showing me his surgery scar.
He was able to communicate to me that the surgery had happened recently and he was still in a lot of pain. The doctors had prescribed morphine.
From that jumping point, we found ourselves engaged in a non-conversation about drugs. Basically, he would say the name of a drug and I told him yes or no if I liked it. Hash, marihuana, cocaine…etc.
I tried to tell him of the good hash I smoked in Spain, but I think he got the wrong idea. He got excited about hash and then, through another difficult session of finding common words in our respective native languages and more hand gestures/pantomiming, he communicated an invitation to join him in the parking lot to take morphine.
First, I am a recreational drug enthusiast. Second, I had never partaken of morphine at that point. Third, I accepted his invitation.
Out in the parking lot we sat down on a curb behind a parked car and cautiously watched for passerbys while he fished out the drug from his pocket. They were small plastic tubes, oral solutions of 30mg each.
He gave a tube to me and demonstrated how to use them by tearing off the top of his and squeezing the liquid into his mouth. I followed suit and felt the liquid splash against my tongue. It tasted terrible but it was over with quickly enough. He lit a cigarette and handed another one to me. We sat back and waited for the drug to kick in.
He began talking about hash again. I thought he was asking me if I wanted to smoke so I nodded, but he kept acting as if he expected me to pull some out. We spent the next ten minutes locked in a cyclical conversation, a lot of myself saying “Yes, hash is good.” and “No, I don’t have any hash.”
It took a few rounds for both of us to figure out what had happened. The whole time we had been “talking”, he got the idea that I was in possession of some hash, so offered me morphine in exchange for smoking some with him. When I finally got through to him that I had no hash on me, he got really red and stormed off shouting Italian profanities at me.
I felt bad for the accidental deceit, but I still laughed. What else could I do? I was high by then and everything felt warm and good and happy. My first evening in Italy was turning out to be quite enjoyable.
I walked back across the city center and over to the sea. Took my shoes off on the beach and got my feet wet in the Mediterranean. Tossed some rocks into the water, sat, and pondered until dusk.
I walked a bit more down the coast, found a bench on the edge of a concrete bluff, and bedded down for the night. I watched the sea grow dark around me. My waking dream had peaked and now I was a kamikazi headed for deep sleep, the crashing waves lulling me into drug induced oblivion.
Slept like a god damn baby that night. Best sleep I got that year.
J.W. Wargo is a Nomadic Bizarro Storyteller originally from Boise, Idaho. His travels have taken him from Budapest to Honolulu and all points in between. He has a Bizarro fiction novella out called Avoiding Mortimer.