Alea iacta est
Note: This novel is set in an imaginary European country and is purely fictional. Any similarities to real life people or events are purely coincidence. Note that this novel uses British English dialect.
The screech of the train breaks startled Luca awake from his deep sleep. The cold mist on the window made his cheek flush with cold, and he rubbed the spot left by the window with his fingers, wiping away the line of dried drool from his pale chin with a grimace. More chimes called out as the train finished stopping, and people began to unbuckle their seatbelts and stand up, clattering and chatting out loud as Luca regained his bearings after a long rest.
How long has it been… Luca thought to himself as he stood up laxly, rubbing his brown eyes with the back of his hand. His long legs stretched out awkwardly in the narrow seat as he knitted his fingers and stretched out with a satisfied groan, happy to finally move his joints. Other than the occasional bathroom stop, he had been sitting in his seat the whole time.
The phone in his pocket chimed as he stood up, and he grabbed it out of his short jacket with a curious expression, looking somewhat happy as he smiled foolishly at the screen. The phone screen had a small crack in the upper right corner of the glass, but the text message was still visible and he was able to quickly read it as people passed by his seat.
Luca, we’ll be waiting for you at the orphanage. The van is in the shop right now, otherwise we would all go together to pick you up. Drive safe, and we’ll have dinner ready for you when you arrive. The text was too fluid to have been sent by the director of the orphanage, Ms. Lowell. Luca could only think one of the older children had typed it out for her on the director’s phone. She was barely able to use the dialup system installed by the church years ago, and he doubted she would be texting now. Thinking of that, he was excited to meet the new children. It had been over ten years since he had last been there. He had just graduated from college, and he was looking forward to celebrating with Ms. Lowell, as he used to call her, and the others at the orphanage.
After Luca put his phone back carefully into his pocket, he ducked his head to avoid hitting the luggage tray above, and he was able to shimmy his way out of the narrow seats and to the aisle to grab his bags and bring them down. Even with a duffle bag and a backpack, it still took him a minute to grab them, stalling a woman in the aisle waiting to grab her bags.
“Sorry, ma’am.” Luca bowed his head slightly, his long, black bangs fell into his face as he smiled shyly, grabbing his bags out of the way. When he looked at the woman, he was surprised to see she was older than he had thought. Though her voice was very soft and sweet, she sounded fairly young, surprising the young Luca.
“It’s okay, dear. Do you mind helping a little old woman with her bags? My arms don’t work like they used to, you know.” Her grey hair was tied back into a decorative burgundy hat, decorated with a single, simple red flower. Her coat was a similar red colour, and she looked small and frail in the pencil-straight jacket.
Remembering how important treating the eldery well was to his adoptive mother, he smiled at the old woman and responded, “My pleasure. Which bag is yours?” He looked at the old woman with a warm, young gaze of a fresh, youthful person who had yet to enter the world. It was refreshing to her.
The old woman smiled back at him, the wrinkles around her eyes made her look warm and gentle. “The one with the flowers, dear. Right by your hand.” Luca’s hand was still resting on the metal tray for the luggage, and his fingers brushed against a velvet-covered bag. Looking up, his eyes glanced over a spray of embroidered flowers and plants. Grabbing the leather handle of the bag, he pulled the light bag down with one hand and held it out for the old woman in the empty aisleway.
“Here you are, ma’am.”
The old woman smiled at Luca as she reached out and grabbed the bag from his hands, her thin, boney fingers crossing over his hand as she grasped the handle of the bag. As he smiled at her, her facial expression changed for a moment before she smiled again and said to Eva in a motherly tone, “Thank you.”
Luca smiled, retrieving his black duffle bag from the chair. “Not a problem. Have a safe night.” He slung the strap of the bag onto his shoulder lazily, bringing it over his head to secure it in place. As Luca adjusted the strap of the duffle bag, he fixed the backpack onto his back and began to walk off the train, smiling happily as he hummed a hymn to himself at the thought of returning to what he considered home for twelve years.
The train crew began to clean the train, leaving the old woman to slowly walk off the train behind Luca with a sombre look as she watched the man step away, his sneakers squeaking under the wet concrete platform. The pep in the man’s step was obvious. The woman would not seek to stick her nose in the young man’s business, and she adjusted her bag in her hand as she fixed the collar of her coat, her fingers brushing over the pearl cross brooch on her jacket.
Luca pulled at the collar of his sweatshirt as he stood by the door of the train station. The village was not large, but the traffic in and out of the train station brought in a variety of people and drivers. He had already called the phone number pinned to the bulletin board by the train dropoff, and he was able to get a taxi for himself without having to try to flag down one on the slippery, busy streets. It was November, and the snow had yet to fall. The rain was cold enough to freeze your breath, and Luca was not thrilled with the thought of getting sick while visiting the orphanage.
Besides, if he were to get sick, he could spread it to the children, and he was worried about the elderly director. If she were to get sick, there was a chance she would not recover.
Luca’s thoughts were interrupted by the loud honking of a horn, followed by the flashing of headlights towards the doors. Looking up, he saw a green and white taxi that matched the description from the taxi company. Carefully, he ran down the small stairs, dodging people with agile steps as he ran to the side of the taxi and tapped his finger on the window.
The passenger side window rolled down with an audible squeak, and Luca smiled. “Uh, are you the taxi from Glendale Taxi Company?” Luca asked, looking up from his phone at the balding, middle-aged man in the driver’s seat. The low sound of bluegrass music drifted into the air with the open window.
The man, smoking a cigarette, waved his hand dismissively and said, “You called. Get in, son.” He flicked his half-smoked cigarette out the driver’s side window before he rolled up the window, turning down the heat slightly as he did.
Luca sighed inside to himself, looking at the man with some apprehension as he sat in the back passenger side of the taxi. He threw down his bags next to him on the other seat and buckled his seatbelt as the taxi driver adjusted the car’s metre. Luca pulled his phone out of his pocket and texted the director back with a happy expression.
Just got in the taxi. Be there soon. He hit send and then closed the texting app just as the driver asked in a low voice,
“Where are you headed to?” The man seemed standoffish to Luca, but he was not overly rude or aggressive.
Luca responded quickly, “It’s St. Mary’s Orphanage. 240 Burns street, just outside of Leighwye.” He had lived there for too long to forget where it was located. It had been ten years, but like muscle memory, his mind retained it.
“You must be from around here, huh?” The man asked, adjusting the car before he put his foot on the break and shifted the car into drive. “Not many people go to the far edge of town.” His conversation was casual, making Luca feel more at ease.
“Yeah, I actually grew up there. I’m visiting for a while.”
“Best be careful, son. Times are tough here right now.” The man seemed sincere. “I’m lucky just to be working like this.”
“All work is honourable work, sir.” Luca said seriously.
The driver laughed out loud, hands still on the steering wheel as he said, “Good boy, eh? You won’t have a problem finding a job if you flatter people like that.”
Luca blushed, scratching his cheek with his left hand as he chuckled to himself, thinking, I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. Luca considered himself a naturally happy person, and he often was told he had a loose tongue and sweet words. His professors often liked him for his demeanour, and having the man call him out so directly made him embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Luca felt awkward.
The man laughed again, turning his head over his shoulder to look back at Luca, “No need to say sorry. I’m sure you’ll find a girlfriend easily, talking like that.”
Luca blushed harder, lowering his head to hide the burning red on his face. The sound of bluegrass filled the car as the two passengers fell silent. Luca placed his hand under his chin and looked out the window, glancing at the darkening lights around him. The train station’s lights had finally faded away, and the sky had fallen dark as the time hit six o’clock. There were only lights of other cars and some stray homes and businesses resting on the opposite sides of the road. Luca could only look out and enjoy the nostalgia of the trip, feeling drowsy again after having travelled for so long.
He fought to keep his eyes open, and finally looked at his phone to keep himself awake.
We’re having chilli and homemade bread for dinner. I hope you’re hungry. The text had a simple smiley face attached. Seeing it, a warm feeling filled his heart as he quickly opened the text and responded.
Can’t wait. Luca wrote with a happy smile. He could not wait to see his family again.
Annnnnd here is my second project! I am not very far done into it, so I'm looking more for feedback now on early chapters to see how everyone likes this one! Just as dark, if not darker at times, than YMtK, but modern. If that's your cup of tea, you'll enjoy this ;D
Please note this is not written to bash religion in any way, but reflects on my thoughts as a Catholic with a mixture of my life experiences.