Servi had met Francesca four months ago. He had taken a room in Rome’ old Jewish ghetto: a dilapidated walk up that did not have a bathroom, was oppressively, hot in the the long Roman summer, and drafty and damp in the gray Roman winter.
He had to walk down a greasy staircase to use the bathroom three floors down. He took his meals (which he had frugally reduced to one and a half a day) at a cheap trattoria just outside the old Ghetto’s bounds in the Piazza Mazzini. But his money, which was meager to begin with, began to evaporate like the water in the fountain of the Fontana Tortuga in the summer heat. He stopped cutting his hair, and it grew bushy atop his head like a mangy animal curled in fitful sleep. He grew a beard, or a youthful version of one, a fringe of soft fur lining his lower jaw and neck as satiny as a mink stole. Along with his financial constriction, he found that all his intellectual and artistic hopes and endeavors, inaugurated so stridently when he alighted the Al Italia direct from New York, where almost as bankrupt as his checkbook.
He woke up in the morning and put on the closest approximation of clean clothes he could find in his meager wardrobe and then wandered about Rome for the day. He had long since stopped going to the museums and major attractions: they were too expensive for one, and he felt exposed and dingy next to the well heeled throngs of tourists.
So Rome, a large metropolis, served as Servi’s artistic challenge. He tried to find, each and every day that he woke up, a new street, a new neighborhood, some out of the way chapel or church off Rome’s beaten down tourist tracks. He felt under whelmed by this life; as his sense of Rome’s physical and chronological immensity confronted him, his own sense of irrelevance metastasized. Aaron Servi had nothing to show for his life but a US passport, some shirts, pants, underwear, two threadbare jackets, and a few worn books.
And no matter how far he walked, Servi eventually wound his way back to the Ghetto at night, like the Jews in the Middle Ages, forced to return before the doors in the walls were closed for the evening. In his mind, Servi closed the doors of the Ghetto behind him and then retreated to the dark hold of a room with its peeling paint hanging from the walls like faded streamers, its bare light bulb suspended from a frayed cord, and finger sized cock roaches. Servi felt, when he laid in bed at night, that the trajectory of his uncertain future would remain an essential mystery, as difficult to plumb as the “essence” of a great city like Rome.
For there was always one more street, one more church, yet another little gem of a piazza, following a slender thread to infinity. Just as mysterious as all these vexing questions, it seems, was what would Servi do the next day? Where would he go? Which direction would he take? And as was his custom, Servi would fall unconscious in a panic of fear that was only overcome by the irrepressible urge to sleep.