“In Sicily, it’s fine, you can change money everywhere,” the lanky traveler lectured, popping the tab on his beercan, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
A white floppy sunhat, popularized by British sunbathers in Brighton, shaded his head from the fierce Mediterranean sun, though we were hidden in the subterranean hold of a ship bound from Syracusa to Valletta. He reminded me somewhat of an Australian version of Gilbert Pinfold, Arthur Gordon Pym, and J. Alfred Prufrock rolled up into one.
“I don’t like arriving in a new place without being able to change money!” he reemphasized with a Braque-like cough, staring at the strange beercan label, rocking slightly back and forth like he’d picked a winner. “I just don’t like it. It’s not on!”
“Maybe you can change money on the boat. Or after the boat lands in Malta,” I ventured, wondering what currency they used (or what language they spoke) at our final destination. Some said French, some said Italian, and some said English.
“I tell you it’s just not on! Not being able to change money,” he tersed again much later, apropos of nothing, his tone trebled up a notch. “I don’t like it when I can’t change money!” he groused again, getting slightly hysterical for a split-second, then quickly waving down a belch as if refusing a bartender’s free drinks. “It’s not on!”
His near panic was repetitive, but infectious.
The boat landed at night, the gangplank was lowered, and the passengers debarked. A sea of taxi drivers waving signs met us. Our Australian friend was accosted and kidnapped by a friendly cabdriver, who asked me, “Aren’t you coming too?” He looked very concerned about my health and well-being.
“No, I’d rather find my own place in town.”
“You will sleep outside, my friend!!!” the taxi driver crowed, accelerating the cab with madcap fury toward an uncertain future, with its passenger’s floppy hat billowing in the oblong rearview.
Within ten minutes of walking cobbled streets, amid the lamplit pastel colors, red phone boxes, bright shops, and tavernas of the downtown, I
located a pensione. I noticed with a start from the exquisite castley architecture everywhere that I was in the land of the Knights of Malta, crusader country.
Head hit pillow, sleep, followed by the not unpleasant surprise of being awake at daytime.
As usually happens, I bumped into Prufrock in a drinking establishment elsewhere.
“Hey, were you able to change money,” I cooeyed.
“Lots! There are banks everywhere in this place! Bloody excellent, it is!”
He raised his beer with bravado, arming himself with an offshore grin. “I’m thinking of going on to Libya,” he added (no, blustered), with false nonchalance, throwing back his oilcan as if drinking before twelve were an acceptable activity. His free hand scratched idly at his D.H. Lawrence beard. “I don’t really want to, but I couldn’t face my friends if I didn’t. I told too many people I was going there.”
“Er, is that a good place for a holiday? I don’t know much about it except that Americans aren’t supposed to go there.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go. Maybe I’ll go. Maybe I’ll go. I couldn’t face my friends if I didn’t.”