Last week I received a summons from the local post office, informing me I must present myself at their offices within an appointed deadline. The card had rubber stamps and a signature and even a RED rubber stamp, which in Italy is downright scary.
Our main post office is in the western wing of the barracks of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police. Both buildings are made from reinforced concrete – by which I mean SOLID reinforced concrete, with no windows – surrounded by a ten-foot high metal fence made from cast iron and topped with spikes (which probably have some kind of nerve toxin smeared on them nightly) and can only be accessed via a long walkway.
It is raised high in the air and snakes all around the building, making sure snipers from the Carabinieri will have abundant opportunities to pick off anyone carrying a Jiffy bag that looks suspicious. An iffy Jiffy.
There are also graphically illustrated signs along the fence, saying any vehicle parked too close by will be destroyed in a controlled explosion and its driver will be electrocuted by something very zig-zaggy.
Well, off I went along the parapet of death, looking out for tiny red dots about my torso cast by the light of a laser from a sniper rifle as my official postcard quivered in my hand. It took me quite some time to locate the door, which was rather like the entrance to a bank vault. I needed the help of two men to get it open.
The lady at the desk threw me into a gibbering flummox. She was very pretty with long curly hair, stylish clothes and a moustache. I don’t just mean she was a bit late for her appointment at the beautician, I mean she could have run away to join a circus. It made my mind go completely blank and I handed her my rubber-stamped card without a word.
She took it scarily, wandering off to remove a plastic bag from a large metal cupboard which she opened using a key hanging on a tape around her neck. She plonked the bag on the desk between us. Inside it was a parcel, with my name and address on it, which had burst open and had white powder pouring out of it. She removed it from the plastic evidence bag, making clouds of white powder fill the air.
What was going on? Was I being framed for smuggling cocaine and about to be taken next door in manacles?
“ID card,” she ordered, and I complied. She photocopied my ID card and put it in a manila folder along with the rubber-stampy summons card.
“This is addressed to you. What is this white powder?” she asked, “and who sent it to you?”
What the heck was it? I had no clue. I toyed with the idea of asking if they wanted to bring in some sniffer dogs, but they way her moustache was quivering intimidated me so I decided to be serious.
“Can I take a closer look?” I asked, timidly.
Knowing the Italian postal system, it could be something I ordered several years ago and had forgotten all about. She nodded her consent, then started fiddling around her midriff. Was she unfastening her gun holster? Apparently she was just having a little tussle with her pantyhose.
I pulled the parcel open, poked about in the powder and found fragments of a big jar among the mess.
“Oh!” I screamed in delight when I had figured it out. “It’s calcium powder for my little boy! He’s allergic to milk and he chokes on tablets, so I ordered calcium powder online!”
Her eyes narrowed.
“Over two months ago,” I added accusingly, narrowing my own eyes.
I showed her part of the jar with the label stuck on it. I wondered if she was going to taste a tiny sample on the end of her finger like a TV cop. She stared at the label for a long, pregnant pause.
“Good,” she said. “Please take it away.”
So I did.
“Sorry about the mess,” I added, as she dredged the powder off the desk in order to serve the next customer.
I have just ordered a replacement calcium supplement which is a thick, sticky syrup. I wonder if they’ll pack that one properly? I don’t want to get arrested for receiving illegal nitroglycerin.