I could feel myself starting to sweat even though it was cold. I was on a tram in Rome and I was lost again. I was about to panic but there was a good looking traffic cop beside me so I opened my mouth and let the words stumble out.
“English. I speak English” He smiled.
“Sorry but I don’t know where to get off? My station?”
I pulled out the piece of paper I had been carrying around since the visit began. It was stained and crumpled but some of it was still legible. I pointed at the black dot I needed to find.
“Follow me.” He winked. Or maybe I imagined the wink, the gun I saw hanging from his left pocket was making me a little light in the head.
“But first put your rucksack onto your breast.” And he pointed at my bag and then at my chest.
My forehead was clammy. Police back home in Dublin did not speak like this. Was it a poorly translated pick-up line? Or was he just concerned I could be robbed?
Whatever his motivation, it did not matter. I had never been confident about my breasts, now here I was on public transport with a foreign man who was ordering me to keep them hidden.
Like a puppy in love I attempted to win him over - and distract myself - with obedience. In a sudden move, I pulled my rucksack around onto my chest. I marvelled at my deftness.
There was a noise, a very loud rip. He touched my back. “Your coat!” He sighed and shook his head.
I twisted around to see a gaping hole in my red anorak, a fiery colour that would match the hue of my cheeks.
“Ah, I shame you? This is bad. But good, because now you are on red alert!”
He laughed, and I smiled back and tried to pretend it was funny.