A traveller’s tale

The little old man waiting at the side of the road showed little interest as the coach approached.  It was 8.30am, and the fields were red and gold in the early morning sun. There wasn’t bus stop in sight on this long isolated stretch of road that winds around the foothills of the Sicani Mountains in Sicily but the 6.30am Palermo to Palazzo Adriano coach screeched to a halt and the door wheezed open. The driver turned towards us. “Signor Giorgio! Look! It’s Signor Giorgio!” he cried.  We turned our heads and watched as the little old man picked up his bag, and with a curt nod to the driver, clambered on board.  Twenty minutes further down the road, Signor Giorgio tapped his stick on the floor. Here.  The coach stopped again and Signor Giorgio made his way slowly to the exit.  “At the corner” he said to the driver, “I will leave you something.  A small something for your trouble”.  The driver was visibly moved by the old man’s words. He heaved himself out of his seat, took off his sunglasses, flicked what remained of his cigarette out of the window and lunged towards the old man with his arms open and tears in his eyes  “You are good man” he whispered, “such a good man”.  Signor Giorgio, showing surprising agility for a man who walks with a stick, leapt down the steps and disappeared into a cloud of dust and smoke from the still-lit cigarette.  The driver shrugged and sat back down. “He is a good man,” he said, to no one in particular, “a good man”. Three hours later, we were winding our way back down the mountain.  With the promise of “a small something” ringing in his ears, the driver was edging slowly around each bend in the hope of finding the right “corner”. Then suddenly, there it was:  a small green gate half hidden by brambles. “I’ve found it!” shouted the driver triumphantly, appearing from behind the gate with a large white bag.  Pears!  How lovely! There was a collective murmur of approval from the passengers.   Then the bag was placed under the front seat, the coach relaxed into second gear, then third and fourth, and we were off, racing down the mountain at breakneck speed with the pears bumping merrily between our feet while the driver regaled us with stories of the bad luck that had befallen his family.  Before long we could see the blue line of the sea shimmering on the horizon and the golden steeples of Palermo below us.