“Do you want to help me?”

Today I took a train to Pisa. It was raining hard in Florence and from the looks of things it might be a little drier in the region of the leaning tower.

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Installed in good time in a window seat, snacks at the ready, off we rolled with a long tunnel making way for country scenes. Hay bales in green fields, cement bridges, yellow fields with yellow brick Tuscan houses, silver streaks reflecting skies above and trees like sentries along hilly rises.

Watching the world flash by, a new part of the world, a feeling of independence and adventure surges in my heart. ‘For sale’ signs beside blocks of flats whisper of alternate lives I could live, a few simple decisions away. Out comes the sun, warming my knees and bringing the blue out from behind clouds.

Such is the life of a remote worker. Roots? Something connected to one’s family but no longer anything to do with an office, regular hours, or a place one needs to be. Home is where one is investing.

A man walks through the train. He is holding a cigarette and lighter. My headphones are on but he stops beside me and holds my glance with smiling eyes. He speaks. And again. I lift one headphone.

“Can I help you?”

He smiles slowly, enjoying the moment.

“Do you want to help me?”

He is begging, and I am trapped by my own turn of phrase. It was meant to be rhetorical.

“No. I don’t want to.”

I look away sharply. Headphones back on, face to the window. He saunters off and engages another lady headed to Pisa (how is it that we tourists betray ourselves so).

The crisp euros in my bag wait patiently to be spent on refreshments (in the end it is on pizza, and a new perfume), train tickets, exploring.

My experience and mind tell me I’m justified in my refusal, but it was unloving. The way of law, the way of grace. The exception or the rule. A samaritan on her way to Pisa, found to have no room at the inn.

The yellow buildings continue to sail by. A man seated near me looks up from his book, his expression impossible to read. If anything it’s sympathetic, thoughtful.

We’re nearing Pisa. I chose to come here from rainy Florence. But my choices are never in isolation, incremental outcomes of centuries of choices stretching back. A butterfly flapping and causing a storm. Connected.

He passes again, not stopping this time but staring ahead as he picks his way through the swaying carriage. Watery smile, dark eyes, my uncomfortable stranger.

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