The Picnic of Despair
The fingernails were longer than hygienically acceptable and what was crusted beneath them was a substance far more ominous than dried grease. There was no alley to flee to, no dumpster to dive in, and absolutely nothing to separate myself from the outstretched hand beckoning me forward.
This precarious appendage was attached to a wrinkly arm and draped casually over what anywhere else would be considered a pleasantly prepared picnic basket. The basket had been neatly covered with what I assumed to be a discarded gingham apron. Brownish stains and oil marks tainted it's mnemonic essence and I had an unsettling suspicion that it had been stolen from the deceased.
At first glance, I'd half expected to see Mary Poppins standing behind the death dispenser (as I've come to refer to these seemingly benign summer accessories) selling lollipops and magic umbrellas; preferably the kind that would miraculously transport me back to the land I'd ventured so far from.
The area surrounding the disturbing corner was crammed with vendors whose faces had become pixilated by my hunger. Having been robbed the night before after wandering off the main road and into some crumbling back streets of the Balaro market in old town Palermo I had been forced to camp out overnight in a sketchy alley between dumpsters. I had woken before sunrise to the sound of stray dogs bickering over a discarded soggy sack of God knows what in the Borgo Vecchio.
I had spent the past week immersed in street food culture; steaming spleen sandwiches, skewers of grilled intestine, and indiscernible seafood crammed on toothpicks. Throughout these culinary exploits there had remained one particular street delicacy I'd avoided at all costs: La Frittola. This famed snack is roughly one euro per handful and comes on bread, or for the purists, all by itself. The fear of catching a parasite had limited my curiosity to street spleen.
I had four euros in my pocket. It was inevitable, due to economic hardship I'd have to face my darkest comestible fear or go hungry. A slight breeze shifted the gingham folds of the basket and carried the savory scent of the Frittola through the dusty alley ways and into my stomach. The scent of overcooked fish and rotting vegetables added to my furious hunger and depravity. I staggered to the basket driven more by a desire to be recognized as human than the prospect of eating.
What is Frittola? You should fear the answer you seek when asking such questions. The steaming basket contains animal bits- mostly fat deposits- all forms of offal, and of course your occasional misplaced valve or inner tubing. All of these tasty scraps of living converge in the belly of the basket beneath folds of stained fabric and yesterday's grease spillage.
The hand reaching toward me now had a squishy mass of Frittola exonerating itself through the tight space between his fingers and I watched as little pieces fluttered to the filthy street floor thankful that it would be one less bite for me to digest. I handed over the euro and took the soaked through piece of wax paper containing my portion. I then scurried shamelessly to an inconspicuous corner of the alley to consume my meal.
No sooner had I shoveled in the first mouthful when I caught a glimpse of a familiar dirty face turning the very same corner. Low and behold my thief stood before me. The face-off lasted less than half a minute as I had too much chewy cartilage obstructing my vocal cords and rendering me incapable of berating the scoundrel. I decided to turn my back on him certain that he would take the gesture as his cue to leave. Turns out, my turning the other cheek was his cue to attack. I felt his rough calluses around my neck making it nearly impossible to swallow the Frittola. I was forced to pull a squirrel-like maneuver and shove the gritty meat bits into the pocket of my cheek for safe keeping. My attacker was now comfortably clinging to my back and my legs could not withstand the weight of my hunger and the strangling hands upon me. I fell. I fell hard and flat on my stomach ejecting the Frittola like a cannon as I made contact with the pavement.
The thief made off with my four euros, the street claimed my lunch, and the road would claim my feet as my very long walk began.