You know how you sorta make up all these little things you can do in your head while you’re waitin’ on somethin’? I’m normally waitin’ on a lot of these trains here. You know they’re electric now? It’s crazy. I’m not sure how I feel about it, you know? Anyhow, I meet a lot of the new Sicilians at the Depot now and I show ’em what’s what while I’m takin’ em to where their people are. You know, I talk to ’em and tell ’em how everything runs. Most of ’em I take to the area around Elizabeth Street because obviously that’s where me and my pops is, the ones goin’ out to the rest of East Harlem someone else takes care of dependin’ on where they’re meant to be, you know? Anyhow, as I was sayin’, you sorta make up and you sorta develop all these little things you can do in your head, you know, to occupy yourself and such and such.
I used to play this little game with myself, see, where I’d look at all the people walkin’ around and I’d remember their faces, and after a certain amount of time I’d try and match them together, you know? But I’d think to myself, which two of these guys should spend the day together? Am I explaining that right? Here, hold on, I’ll give you an example. We got plenty of time. So this one time I was waitin’ on a train from Ellis Island that was late, and I mean late, and in the meanwhile I saw this one old fella with his big bifocal lenses on. He was reading the Herald and he had this face like he’s suckin’ on a lemon. And he kept saying these things such as “Good god!” and “I can’t believe it, I simply can’t”! I was thinkin’ God, what’s so unbelievable? God almighty! And he kept sayin’ it, too.
So then a few minutes later this other guy comes along and he’s talkin’ to his girl on his arm over there, real pretty, and he’s givin’ her all these facts, talking about those Boxers from China and all of what was going on over there in Peking. Hell, I don’t know too much about it. And he kept saying “Do you believe it? Do you?”, “It’s unprecedented!” and all that. And I thought to myself, heh, he should spend a day with that newspaper guy. Those two could set the world on fire in those twenty four hours. This guy would throw him all the “Do you believe it”-s and the old fella would hit ’em with the “I can’t!!! I can’t believe it!”-s. Sometimes these things kinda fit into place like that. Some days you see a really lonely guy and a really lonely girl, jeez, and you wonder if they’ll run into each other, and if they’d find somethin’ to be less lonely about. You know what I mean? I just do that kinda stuff in my head a lot when I’m waiting for the train to come in. You know, just to pass the time, ’cause there tends to be a lot of it around here, heh.
When’s this god damn train comin’? You know they’re calling the Depot the ‘Terminal’ now? It’s ‘Grand Central Terminal’ now. Hell, I’m still calling it the Depot. No one’s gonna force me to call it ‘the Terminal’. I mean, it’s a depot. That’s what it is. You know what I mean?
This one time, I tell ya- and it was a while ago by now, mind you- this one time I came to get this guy from the Depot and I swear he’s gotta be the biggest nut of them all. Really, you know, a crazy cat. A real live-wire as they say. You see, my pops told me about his friend from the Subway, Domenico. He’s from Mulberry, and him and my Pa play rummy together on 1st at a friend’s house. Anyway, this friend Domenico said to my dad he had this cousin coming in from Naples (the son of a contadino) and my pops said I should meet him at the Depot since Domenico’s got his hours when this cousin fella’s coming in. I said why don’t you go meet him, Domenico’s your friend. Pa said that his English isn’t good and that the cousin should start speaking English as soon as he lands in the country, so that he can be a citizen right away. I said yeah, you should try it some time. He didn’t say anything back.
Anyway, so I go to go get him. When these guys come in, I swear they’re all like a little kid. You know, how like a little bambino is when they wanna know everything you got? What’s that? What’s it do? What do you call it? Don’t worry, my friend. Settle down. I only knew that this cousin’s name was Filippo and that he was gettin’ the train from Ellis Island, comin’ in about midday on this platform right here. So I’m there waitin’ for him and it’s cold as hell, real cold. I wanna smoke a cigarette but I don’t wanna take my hands out of my pockets, you see, because it’s so cold. So, you know, I’m freezin’ my ass off and so my impression of the young man Filippo is already soured, because I’m waitin’ on him while my ass is freezin’, and at that point in time his affect on my day had already been quite nasty and I hadn’t even met the guy. But just wait ’till I do meet him, heh.
So in the middle of my ass freezing off of my body he finally decides to arrive at the Depot, clutching his luggage and I’m callin’ his name out, as you gotta with all the commotion and all that, and I spot him. He’s wide-eyed, like a dog. You know how those dogs are? My cousin on 99th, he’s got a dog, sure. A real rascal, you should see him. Anyway, this Filippo guy, He’s got a big smile for me and he shakes my hand very firm, you see. Lay off it with the hand shaking, I think to myself. So he starts with the talking at a rate of knots and I tell him no, my friend, it’s better to speak English now. Can you speak English, yes? And he says ‘yes’ in that way that they all do when they haven’t said ‘yes’ all that much in their lifetime, you see. And then (and believe me I knew he was gonna do it) he starts with that kid-talk. What’s this? What’s happening? Can you explain? And I tell him to calm down and give me his suitcase. So he’s tailing me as I start to move away from all the commotion with the people getting off the train and he’s excited, you can tell he’s excited. Most are excited. Some of these guys are scared to death, but this one was excited, for sure. He’s excited to see his cousin after his shift’s over, he’s asking me all about him. I tell him not to worry, he’s dandy. All of a sudden he spots this girl Margaret.
I know Margaret, sure I know her. My sister works with her, see. She’s very beautiful, a blonde-type. Irish. She was wearing a hangin’ new set of clothes on her with the ribbon on the bonnet and all that. She was all dolled up, and very beautiful. I think she musta been taking the train to visit her second cousins who live in New England. Boy, I tend to avoid beautiful women like that, for my health you see. It’s not good, for my heart and for my breathing. I’ve got the asthma, my doctor tells me. But anyhow to be nice and all I smile at her and I tip my hat that I’m wearin’, just to be polite and all. I tend to think of myself as polite, see. She says something such as hello and I say something such as hello, it’s mighty cold, but that’s just while I’m walkin’. All of a sudden this guy Filippo who’s tailin’ me starts to catch up and he starts with the “Hello, is this your friend? It is lovely to make your friend. It is my first day here”. Suddenly he’s very animated, you see. He don’t know much English however, so he’s gotta go through the whole alphabet in his head every time he wants to make a new word. It’s like watching someone send a telegram if you know what I mean.
So anyhow, I’m thinkin’ to myself, come on man, I’m here luggin’ your suitcase around, let’s skiddoo. But he keeps talkin’ at that rate of knots like he does. “Are you a Italian or not a Italian?”. ‘Course she’s not Italian, she’s got the hair like capelinni, but he just wants her to say somethin’. I see what he’s doin’. I just wanna skedaddle, mind you. She’s talkin’ to him all the while and I’m tellin’ her this is the cousin of Domenico from the block over. You know, I’m just bein’ polite with the chit chat. But, after a while her train to New England’s comin’ in. So I say “We should really get goin’ to my pops place” because he can explain everything about the employment office and settling in and all. She says goodbye to me and gives a little smile to Filippo. You could tell Filippo wanted to wrap it up and save it for later. So I tell him to follow me and I start walkin’ away to the exit, see, and I start givin’ him the basics about East Harlem. I tell him about Mulberry Street and how he’s gonna spend most of his time there, and about each of the towns that the blocks belong to. I tell him that my block on Elizabeth is mostly folks from around the centre of Palermo, where my pops is from, though I’d never been. I ask him if he’d ever been to Palermo. I ask him again, but he’s not even there! I’m luggin’ his suitcase around and the mad man is gettin’ on the New England train with Margaret. It’s crazy! Can you believe it? So I’m runnin’ after him but the train starts movin’. I’m yellin’, believe me I’m yellin’ “what are you doin’? Don’t you know that train goes to New England?” and he says “Don’t worry my friend, she will show me around! Everything is good!”. You can see Margaret and she’s all dazed and confused about this mad man who’s followin’ her around, but Filippo is all smiles and he’s leanin’ his head out the window and you can tell he’s thinkin’ to himself, wow, this is America for sure. All because she smiled at him, would you believe it?
That musta been the biggest nut I ever met here at the Depot. She saw he made his way back home alright but when he got home his cousin was just about apoplectic. Boy, you couldn’t make it up, could ya?
You know it’s funny how that fella knew what he wanted right away and he got right to it, heh. Some of these types, they don’t find that so fast. But he knew it right away. Pops used to think of going back to the old country after we got some money but now we’re not so sure. I like it here, sure I do. I like all the people, see. Plus you can’t move for Italians here anyway.
Right now I’m waitin’ on someone from Marsala. He’ll be in the tenement a couple ones over from mine. Let’s hope he’s not such a crazy guy, huh?
The true breadth of a single minute had never become clear to Anthony until now. As he stood waiting for the 10:48 to come in, every new second was a fresh noyade plunging him further into a chilling kind of anxiousness. With his knees struggling to hide the violent tremors of his soul and body, Anthony spent every other available moment cursing the malignant forces of man which were undoubtedly being spent in the delaying of his train. How could man be capable of such triumph in the invention of the electric train and then be so incapable of delivering one punctually?
He compulsively raised his hand to his breast pocket that held the Kodak photograph of Hannah, the only one he owned of her, and vitally the only thing which would quell the part of his mind deeming his current actions rather unconscionable.
He ran through the note that he had left to his parents on his mattress. He thought of the final sentences.
I am afraid that I am most unmistakably in love… And I have found a home here in that right. I choose not to live in a country that is not my home.
I hope that in time you come to realise that my staying in this country is not because my love for you both is less than my love for America, for I remain forever grateful to you both. I shall write to you. Know that I have found the happiness that brought you both together and that has allowed me to know this life at all. I ask that you don’t deny me this. Give my regards to Nonna,
The many potential expressions of horror his father might be exhibiting now flashed across Anthony’s mind. He then thought of the futility of sending any letters back to Sicily. The beatings his father had dealt him for his mingling with the ‘jewess’ was indication enough that letters detailing Anthony and Hannah’s living together might be altogether ignored if not cast to the fire immediately. Anthony could not understand his father’s propensity for rage and could only assume that his father’s violent intolerance of Hannah’s role in his life came from, in some tortuous new definition of the word, love, propelled by the diametrical and equally potent furnace of irrational, passionate hatred.
Though Anthony’s body trembled under the terrible weight of independence as he stood on the platform, silently deserting his family, in his certainty he was absolute. Shortly he would board the 10:48 train to New England, where he had a coworker who would provide him and Hannah lodgings until Anthony had procured work. The decision had not been easy. There had been a fortnight last month in which Anthony had avoided seeing Hannah, both at night and in the Harlem Library, to try and convince himself that a life in Sicily without her was viable.
For those two weeks, in every vacant space her breath had echoed on the walls. She spoke to him through every silence, a storm he sometimes broke by uttering her name. This was a love in its formative moments, and Anthony had known that by leaving it in Harlem he would allow it to haunt him to his grave.
Instead, he chose bliss.
As the 10:48 began to pull into the platform Anthony thought of the risks he had taken in his life. A year ago today, a week after his sixteenth birthday, he went to approach Hannah for the first time. Five months later, he had been beaten for protecting her name to his father.
No conceivable event after Anthony would board the train was certain to him. Nothing was decided. The only clarity in life he had he chose to follow now at the cost of the rest of his life. But to him, that had grown to be the smaller part of his existence. This is what Anthony thought as he boarded the 10:48.