THE TALL WELL-DRESSED MAN sitting next to me today had a postcard pinned to his suit pocket. I noticed it when I got on the bus. MILAN, it said. Just like I’ve written it out. In serifed font, all caps, bolded, and italicized. I sat next to him because I thought it was strange to have a postcard pinned to your pocket. I eyed it secretly as the bus lurched forward, examined it as we trundled along to the next stop. It was quite a nice postcard, really, with a pretty picture of the Arch of Peace in the center. There was a nice border to it, silver but not too shiny, with nice loops and little leaves. And on top, as I mentioned, the postcard said MILAN. It was attached to the pocket of the man’s black suit man’s pocket by a safety pin he kept fiddling with, flicking it left and right. He kept touching the postcard too, patting and adjusting it every few moments, as if he was worried it might have disappeared. Curious by nature, I decided to ask about it.
“Excuse me,” I said, leaning over a little. “Are you from Milan?”
He turned his head towards me, clearly surprised to hear me speak.
“Are you from Milan?”
“No, no,” he said, eyebrows furrowed, shaking his grey head.
“Oh. Do you have family there?”
This time his eyes narrowed suspiciously. I saw that his face was old and that there was a little nick to right side of his mouth, as if he had been careless with his morning shave.
“No, not at all,” he said.
“Ah, you must have vacationed there, then! I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful city.”
He scowled and turned his full body away from me then, and I wondered why. Thinking I should apologize in case I had offended him, I opened my mouth to speak. Then I saw he had already turned back to face me again, all red-faced and angry. He said:
“I did not vacation in Milan, have no family in Milan, am not from Milan! And I can’t understand why it interests you so much!”
The man jammed his thumb against the red button that would stop the bus. He fumbled for his briefcase before standing up violently, then pushed past me to get to the aisle. The bus had stopped by now, and people were climbing onboard. He jostled past them all, stepped off the bus in a huff. I watched him from the window. He was scowling, hands in his pockets, presumably waiting for the next bus. I noticed as well that there was a hole where his upper shirt pocket should be, maybe half an inch wide. And as the bus pulled away I saw him pat his chest to check his postcard, saw the distress on his face when he realized it was gone. We turn the corner and in the final glimpse I had of him I promise he was on his knees, weeping.
When my stop came around, I noticed the postcard lying on the second step. It was bent a little, with a dirty shoeprint on the left side. I picked it up quickly, wary of the outgoing passengers behind me. I placed it in my pocket, careful not to prick myself with the safety pin, now bent out of place and dangling with the pointy end sticking out. And then I walked home, brooding. I kept thinking about the tall man and his postcard and MILAN and what all might mean, and the setting sun was warm and strange in the distance. I saw two girls I had never seen before jogging towards me, and all of a sudden I knew that they would reach down for a particular stretch. One of those stretches where you stick one foot out and stretch your arms low and scoop upwards. It was déjà vu, it was prophetic—foretold to me in my head. Very strange. So very, very strange.
I got to the apartment door and keyed in the passcode and went in and climbed up the stairs and fiddled for my keys and opened the door and then stopped—just before the doorway. I had to know what MILAN meant, because it had to mean something. I reached my hand into my pocket quickly and yelped. The safety pin had punctured the skin of my thumb. I sucked the blood up, leaned against the doorframe, one foot in my home and one foot out. I reached into the pocket again, carefully this time. I brought the postcard out between my pointer and middle finger, and then held it in both my hands. The bottom right side was bloody now, getting bloodier as my thumb continued to drip. I turned the postcard on its back. In the top right corner there was a blue stamp with the silhouette of some woman in it. The rest of it was covered with scrawled repetitions of the same word, with a little variation.
MILAN MILaN MiLAN MILAN MILan milan
Milan miLAN miLan MILAn MILan miLAN
miLan mIlan MILaN milAN milan milan
milan milan mil
And I knew at that moment, my blood dripping over this impossible note, that life was meaningless.
Jonathan Chandra is wary of rising waters, the coming Singularity, and post-truth politics. While prone to irregular fits of immigrant angst, he is both much happier and more hopeful than the narrator of this story.
"Untitled" by Sierra Flach