A Good Ambassador by Julian Zabalbeascoa

Image-7479DDF99A6111D9You have to go. Badly. You are searching for an internet café. You will relieve yourself once you get there.

The rain continues to soak you, making a soggy joke out of what was advertised as a water-resistant jacket. Your clothes, heavy with rain, weigh on you and your full bladder. To your side, raindrops bounce off the surface of the murky canal, one of the more than hundred that cut through and divide the city. Water surrounds you. It presses on you.

Sure, you can sneak into a bar or a café and use their restroom facilities but you don’t on the off-chance of getting caught. It is important to you to be a good ambassador for your country—the United States of America, a country that has had a terrible reputation as of late. Eight years of your former president’s polarizing rhetoric and misguided, catastrophic foreign policy has marked your fellow countryfolk with an appalling stain in the eyes of the rest of the world. And this is one of the reasons why you’re traveling at this moment. It is why you now find yourself in Venice, so that you can calm the world’s population one foreigner at a time, proving to them that not every American is ugly, that, in fact, you and the rest of your kin are good humans who wish the best for everybody, who understand that the world is neither a scary place nor theirs for the taking.

This is why you continue to hold it even while the dark sky, the living, rising canal, the puddles and the pounding rain torment you—because you are merely a guest here.

Take out your map again and try to keep it dry from the rain. Turn it right side up. Now where is that internet café? Once there and after you relieve yourself, you’ll write to friends and family, emulating the prose of your favorite travel writers, those who could visit a city and at once become an authority on it. You will shape your report from Venice so it encourages envy in those included in your mass e-mail, so that they will wish they were you. Or, at the very least, with you.

Your traveling partner, on the other hand, has refused to come out with you. Tired of the rain that’s been a loyal but unwelcome companion during your travels through Europe, he’s chosen to keep dry at the bar by the hostel rather than get wet and see the city. You feel disappointed with his decision. You feel superior to him. You are, and you’ve known this all along, the better traveler of the two of you. He allows even the most minor inconveniences (a sleepless night in an uncomfortable couchette on an overnight train or recurring gastro-intestinal problems as a result of the local cuisine) to foul up his mood. You, on the other hand, relish these bumps in the road. They color the reports you send back home. They help mold the persona of the hardened traveler—a modern day Shackleton, Percy Fawcett, Marco Polo—that you aspire to be. You survived the worst that moving through the world threw at you. These inconveniences – perhaps even more so than standing in front of specific cultural landmarks – tell you that you are traveling. Life is a sterile thing back home, devoid of impediments and obstacles. In its stead are routine and tedium. You have broken free from this. You are living. When, at home, would you ever have spent so much time in the rain? You wouldn’t.

Celebrate the rain.

Now only if you didn’t have to pee…

Turn a corner. The street before you, a narrow thing framed on both sides by apartment buildings, appears to lead to nowhere. Consult your map. Yes, you are on the right street.

Then, notice the complete lack of pedestrians. You, a solitary figure in a heavy, tan jacket with the hood pulled over your head, are the only person on this street. How easy it would be to discreetly relieve yourself on a wall. The rain would wash all evidence of your crime into the canal. Look up at the windows. You do not see any curious neighbors—only red-potted flowers on balconies that protrude less than two feet from the buildings. Look up and down the street. Nobody. Approach an apartment building. Pretend to look at the names of those that live there while you unzip your pants. Feign concentration as you search for a name of someone you know who lives here. Perhaps an old professor, a mentor, someone who taught you Dante and Latin. Better yet, a mistress. An older woman named Valentina whose neglectful and impotent husband is always away on business, something to do with plastics—you’re too much of a gentleman to ask for specifics. Look up and down the street again. Pull yourself out. Nobody. Then feel the overwhelming, orgasmic sensation of release. Your toes tingle.

Hear someone approaching. A middle-aged woman on a cell phone.

Pinch it. Zip up your pants. Pretend to buzz for Valentina. She mustn’t be home. Nod to the woman as she passes.

When she turns the corner pull open your boxer shorts. Stop. Zip up. Two ladies, their backs bent over with age, shuffle up the street. They stop at an apartment building near you but do not go inside. They do not mind the rain. In fact, they prefer to have their conversation in it. It becomes impossible to wait them out. Pretend to buzz once more and then walk away.

Now you really have to go. The rain drenches you. Soaks you. Would it be bad if you just went in your pants? It’s not like you could get any wetter. It would be as if you were peeing in the ocean. Eventually the rain would wash out your clothes, wouldn’t it?

Attempt this. Stand still. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Relax.

Who are you kidding? You can’t do it.

Look at the map again. You’re not far from the internet café. You can make it. Just ahead is the opening to a major street. After that, all you have to do is walk over a few bridges and then you’ll be there.

Start walking. The street narrows and then opens onto a wide pedestrian street filled with bustling Venetians holding chic, black and grey-colored umbrellas. A wide, choppy river is on the other side of the street. Large boats speed by.

You step into the street and immediately the crowd carries you with it. Blank, anonymous faces under the umbrellas. Somber backs. Quick, efficient footsteps. What are all these people doing out in the rain? They look like extras on a movie set.

You are only allotted a small space in the crowd, and you must move quickly within it to maintain that space.

Keep an eye out for the internet café. Look up. Did you pass it already? Glance back. Did you see it? Pay attention to the street names. Do you recognize any of them? Take out the map. Try to read it. You can’t. The crowd is moving too quickly.

Just ahead you see the entrance to an alley. Work your way to the side of the street. Nudge past people. Apologize. Try not to step on too many feet. Jump out of the crowd. The alley is a small cramped space with a ceiling only a foot above your head. Moss grows on it and water drips from it. The rain, at least for you in this small alley that dead-ends no more than fifteen yards away, has stopped.

Look at the map. Try to orient yourself. Look at the street names. No, you haven’t passed the internet café. Fold the map back up and go back into the—wait a second…Look back down at the end of the alley. It is dank and obscured by darkness. Then look at the people in the street. Their heads are down. Their thoughts concerned with practical matters. Not a single person looks your way.

Tuck the map under your arm. Walk to the end of the alley. Glance back. Nobody is paying any attention to you. Fumble with your zipper. Now that you are finally about to go you can no longer hold it. You get yourself out just in time.

Yes!

Tilt your head back. What relief! Relish this. Groan. It has never felt this sweet before. Exhale again. Louder this time. And again. Ah, yes. You continue peeing on the wall. The capacity of your bladder surprises you. How did it contain all of this? Amazing. Look at the mark you make on the wall. It is large. It is impressive.

Then, tilt your head.

Is that a door handle? Look closer. It is a door handle, and it is flecked with droplets of your piss. The door to which it belongs, however, has received the majority of the contents of your bladder.

Hurry. Finish. Stuff yourself back into your pants. Don’t waste time shaking. Zip up.

Stop.

What’s that noise?

It can’t be.

Watch the door handle turn.

Quick. Unfold the map. Hold it up to your face. Now lower it just as the door opens. Try your best to appear puzzled, lost. A middle-aged man emerges from behind the door. Your presence surprises him, but then he sees the map, and—but, yes, of course, obviously a tourist would be inept enough to walk down a dead-end alley and be surprised to find a dead end.

Smile at him. Look apologetic for being so dim. Look perplexed. Let this confirm something he always thought about foreigners.

It’s working.

Turn away from him. Hold up the map again and study it. Start walking. Casually. Maybe a little quicker.

Hear him close the door. Take a quick glance back. He has both hands on his hips. He’s looking at his door.

Stay calm.

Hear him yell.

Run.

Enter the crowd and push your way through it. Duck under umbrellas and sidestep the automatic pedestrians. Look behind you. He is doing the same. Hear him yell again. Run over a bridge. Don’t turn off the main street. It would just be you and him if you did. Pretend that you do though. Try to throw him off. Turn back. You haven’t fooled him. He manages to keep pace with you. He is fast. Run faster. Duck. Take off your hood and your jacket. Hear him yell again. Have you lost him? Run with your head down. Move diagonally from one side of the street to the other. Look behind. He’s there, further now, but still giving chase.

Realize that he knows these streets. At any second this thoroughfare can either splinter into a dozen smaller ones or leave you with your back against a wall. You have to duck into a shop or a café. Look up. Look at your options. See right there, five feet away from you, the internet café. Go to it. Open the door just a crack. Slip inside. Watch from the window as the people and umbrellas continue by. Look for your pursuer. You can’t find him in the crowd. You lost him.

Turn and see that a few people have looked away from their computer screens and are eyeing you. Smile at them. Walk to the girl working behind the desk. She is cute. Very cute. Breathe easy. Smile at her. She smiles back. You may have a chance with her.

Hear the bell on the door behind you chime. Turn around. See the man. He rushes at you but stops inches from your face, then starts yelling—all of it in Italian. Spit hits you in the face. Notice that everybody has turned away from their screens. Do any of them know what he is saying? Surely, the cute girl working here does. Italian, usually a very romantic language, has never sounded so ugly.

The man spits again. Feel an overwhelming urge to shove him. To yell, “You know what, I tried. Okay? I tried, and that should count for something. I could have easily just spent the day in the bar and have seen nothing of your city. I could have taken the easy way out, but instead I went out. I got soaked. I’ve probably caught a cold. I tried to be responsible. I tried to be a good representative. Okay? I tried. Now fuck off!” This won’t help. Restrain yourself.

Instead, just mouth, “Fuck off,” and then turn away from him. Yes, that’s good. That really riled him up. Say to the cute girl, “I’d like to use a computer.”

She still watches the yelling man behind you. Say it again. Just as cool and composed as before. “I’d like to use a computer.”

She points to a free one. Walk past the man – he is still yelling – and sit down at the computer.

The man says one final thing, something vicious and pointed, spits in your direction, and then leaves. Everyone follows him out with their eyes and then looks at you, the person who set him off. The tourist who crossed the line. Try to ignore them. Blood rushes to your cheeks.

Log in to your email account. You’ve received five new messages from friends. Open the first one. Your friend responds to your most recent group email, saying how jealous she is that you managed to see the Pope twice in—Hear the bell chime again. The man is back.

He stands at the doorway, and, using hand gestures you assume mean something vile in Italian, he yells some more. You watch him with a cold face. Look condescending, as if you almost pity him and his inability to get over it. Then turn your back to him and reply to your friend’s message.

“Venice,” you begin, “does not disappoint.”

 

About Julian Zabalbeascoa

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