Bound for Nowhere
“If you don’t have bucks in this world, you’re nothing, you’re nothing.”
The heavy middle-aged woman, wearing a green pantsuit with a plain hat and shoes, says her name is Francesca Priscilla.
She is sitting on a long wooden bench in the downtown Providence train station. It is 7 p.m., and she is speaking to a handful of friends gathered on the nearby benches.
Benny, a dark-haired, olive-skinned man nervously smoking a cigarette, rises frequently from his seat to pace the waiting area in a confused manner, grumbling occasionally about his bad back.
Benny is fairly well-dressed, as is Richard, an alert-looking middle-aged man whose friends call him “Dr. Richard” because he uses advanced words, though often in the wrong context.
On the bench opposite Richard and Francesca, Frank, a shabbily-dressed older man, is conversing in Portuguese with Albert, an old, toothless friend who says he is a native of Warsaw.
These people have come to the station on a cold winter evening for a few hours of talk and the feeling of security gained from the company of friends.
All of them have come here in the past and some know each other well, though others have never met before.
As the evening wears on, some other acquaintances drift in and join the group to discuss football and other subjects momentarily before moving on.
Whenever a train’s pending departure is announced over the station loudspeaker, members of the small circle rise nervously and look around as if they had to catch the train. But it is obvious to all that no one is going anywhere.
The men cluster around Francesca, smiling as she says, “I’m an heiress, you know, a princess. That’s what my mother told me. I’ve got $75,000 in my bank account.”
Francesca frequently breaks into slow, maudlin songs, singing in a fluid, pleasing voice. “I studied voice, you know. I like to sing.”
She then embarks on a dream tour of the major opera halls of Europe, displaying genuine knowledge of the stops along the way.
She once saw Sergio Franchi in a restaurant, she adds.
Her remarkable tales show that Francesca’s thoughts lack a firm basis in reality.
“I should go to Italy and see Pope Paul. He’ll give me a nice little house in the country.”
When Francesca expresses her fondness for Italy, Richard gives her an Italian coin. She asks if she can spend it and appears disappointed when informed that it can only serve as a souvenir.
A tall, wiry man named Tony walks over and sits next to Francesca. He seldom speaks, but mumbles to himself and taps his fingers nervously on the bench.
Tony is studying to be a priest at Boston University, Francesca says. She met him at the Amos House, a charitable establishment that gives free food and shelter to those in need, including many of those who gather at the train station.
When Benny complains of not being able to sleep at night, Richard and Frank suggest Valium, but he seems reluctant.
At 8:20 p.m., Francesca notices the clock and exclaims, “oh, it’s eight o’clock. Time to go to the moon. Apollo 9.” She then takes two Librium pills from her purse and swallows them without water.
She goes on to say that she has to see a psychiatrist every morning and that he gives her the drugs.
Soon, Benny rises and offers to drive Francesca home. At first, she says she prefers to take the bus because she is hesitant to admit that her home is St. Joseph’s Hospital, but the others convince her to accept the ride.
“Benny’s doing real well for himself, giving girls rides home,” Richard remarks, and they all laugh.
“We don’t have a lot of money,” he says, “but we sure have a lot of fun.”
– 30 –
First published in the Brown Daily Herald (January 14, 1979)