Friday, 11th March 2011
You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction? And that life imitates art? Well, you can believe it’s correct. But let me start at the beginning. This happened many, many years ago, when I was still young and quite fancied myself as an author. I’d had a few pieces accepted by local magazines that have since folded – Susanna, Il-Mara, Dejjem, and so on.
So there I was, in Rome, reading Murder on the Orient Express. I was riding at the back of one of those buses that have the middle like an accordion so they can go round corners. I was thinking that this would have been the ideal vehicle on which to kill someone without necessarily having a motive for doing so. You just sit at the back, with a potential victim, when all the people are in the front half, and do the deed.
And then it happened. You know how in another book – or was it another film? – Miss Marple saw a man strangle a woman on another train? Since a body was not found the police assumed she was rambling, what with her being elderly and feeble-looking.
Well – I happened to look out of the window and I saw a bus coming the other way, and – suddenly – I saw a woman stand up thump a man on the head with… something. I could not quite make out what it was. Then, she just rolled him out of the emergency door.
I pressed the bell, but the bus did not stop. Hitching up my skirt, I ran to the front of the bus but I could not make the driver understand what I wanted him to do. My Italian is patchy at the best of times, and he kept saying something like “Espresso, diretta, non posso fermarmi”. I didn’t want coffee, I just waned him to stop, so I said “Polizia” and he repeated something that sounded like “My my my!” and I thought he was telling me I was making a fuss.
Of course, the Vietnamese nuns with whom I was staying, just outside Rome, saw how shaken I was. Sister Quyen spoke almost perfect English, so she interpreted what I was saying. They brought me hot sweet tea (the taste of which still reminds me of that incident). They explained that I had inadvertently caught the direct line that made the round trip without stopping to pick up passengers on the way. What the driver had really said was “Mai!” which means “never”.
So they drove me to the police station where I made a report about what I had seen. The policeman pretended to scribble something on a spiral notebook; but I heard him rip the page out before I was even out of the police station. He also called out something to his colleagues across the room, and the Sisters Phuong and Quyen, who were accompanying me blushed puce.
They found the body on the morrow; it had been weighted and dumped into the Tiber, but a diver had seen it and alerted the Police. You should have heard the sirens as the cars came for me at the Pensione. They believed me then, all right.
Nobody else came forward as a witness. It could have been the typical omertà, or the fear that the murder was Mafia-related. Who knows?
The story was that the woman had accomplices who finished the job for her. She was an Albanian hooker, and the murdered man had been her pimp. He had been threatening to have her reported for her illegal status, and deported, because she was not earning him enough money. She wanted to stay in Italy, so to her, bumping him off was the only feasible solution.
I had to stay in Italy longer than I planned; I even made the papers and the Rai Uno main news bulletin, but somehow, Mediaset did not approach me. What a way for a Maltese nun to get her fifteen minutes of fame!
Since I was a key witness I was upgraded to a five-star hotel, and given free board and lodging for the extra fortnight I remained.
There was something I had to do. I went to the tiny chapel of Mary of Magdala, in the Vatican, and I lit a candle for all the women who find themselves in dire situations, as had happened to Alketa and her friends.