nthposition online magazine

A man with a Tyrolean hat

by Mariusz Stankiewicz

[ fiction - january 13 ]

The train station in the city of White Stream is a historical building. It was constructed in Poland’s revival era in the mid-nineteenth century but has been ignored since the Soviets took power in 1945. Its design mimics the classical style but still hardly encourages a passer-by to stop amidst snowy footprints, to stand back, and to admire. At the top of the stair’s landing there is a colonnade of eight pillars spread out evenly under a plain entablature. However, rather than adorning the façade left untended for decades (even well beyond the period when all heads and busts of Lenin had been removed from squares called Independence or Freedom), the pillars all seem to be viewed differently. According to some, the pillars are like prison bars caging in people within a modest portico. The windows over the entablature are milder in provocation as one could only say that they are semi-circular. An old clock tower stands off to the side under which one could find all sorts of characters loitering, begging, or trying to sell fake lottery tickets.

Its interior space looks like a colossal mass of chiseled white stone, vacuous, Stalin-like intimidating, and smelling of floor wax. The ticket windows are highly decorated and the friezes which run along the ceiling bear intricately floriated details but in a sober grey color. Dust-strings attached to walls float on trembling streams of air like kelp prodded by a sea current. Its walls also possess tricolored mosaics full of blockish men holding scythes as their equally blockish wives stand nearby sheaving bundles of hay. The children, also humanely cubistic in style, appear to be gathering the bundles and then throwing them up on a cart which looks prehistoric and useless.

I pushed my way through the station’s heavy doors carrying a suitcase in each hand and my favorite leather satchel strapped over my shoulder. I stopped between two pillars at the top of the stairs and spotted the taxi rank which ran along the third to the sixth pillars off to the side.

I placed my luggage down, breathed in a lungful of crisp air, and tightened the belt buckle on my corduroys. A Gypsy boy tried to pull my wallet out of my pocket from behind. Another tried to walk off with my luggage casually as though he owned them. I smiled and patted them both on their heads after giving them a few zloty. I pulled down my red toque to cover my red ears and looked out ahead of me.

The sky was a dovewhite color with not a single cloud to be seen. The day was drawing in only a diffuse wash of light which hung over the city evenly, leaving no area brighter than the other. By this soft, spread-out appearance, the municipal, Lego-block buildings up ahead produced a shady ecru color reminding me of an old and dusty painting’s canvas (a composition of a similar cityscape I imagined, a preserved mid-twentieth century piece) buried deep in an antiquated attic for decades though suddenly brought out to see the light of day. Perhaps the canvas was even held up in front of me then and there.

The six lane avenue, separated by a traffic median full of uneven mounds of snow; a green and empty wooden bench; and some stick-like trees, was full of old European cars and trams which must have been built in the post war years. One tram sat broken down in the middle of the westbound lanes dividing traffic in two like how a concrete pier would separate a flash flood river torrent. Rather than showing impatience - as cars behind the tram were letting off violent honks - the tram’s conductor sat composed and unbothered. He was reading the Old Town Gazette at his console and drinking something hot from his thermos’ cup.

Pedestrians muffled in thick, dark fabrics, were pushing against the wind in an unusual strategy to escape it. They couldn’t stop themselves from stepping into each other’s paths as their ken was obscured by the steaming refuge of their garments.

The taxi rank’s signpost stood near a red mailbox bolted into one of the pillars. From the landing, I took a cursory look of the city center once more but was quickly drawn in to an old, shriveled man in a blue uniform. He was on his tippy toes trying to break off icicles hanging from a little Bavarian roof fixed over the station restaurant’s door. His task was being carried out with a strip of a broken window panel. My first sight of White Stream, Poland, in ten years sent a shiver up my spine.

I dragged my luggage down the stairs and planted myself in front of the taxi rank’s sign. I was the only one waiting. After a few minutes I quickly learned that the rank was not exactly a rank just as the taxis which stood idling were not exactly taxis.

In one ‘taxi’ (as the car was quite miniature and looked nothing like the taxis I was accustomed to), I spotted two bear-sized fellows in sheepskin coats and fur hats. A pair of old-boot chums sharing a good laugh as well as a bottle of bimber.

I suppose a taxi rank can also become a neighborhood; and a taxi, a diner, an improvised conference meeting room; or for cheating husbands thrown out of the house, a place of residence though minus the postal code or the obligation of garbage tax. At night, I could even imagine it becoming a motel for those cheaters to entertain old flames, constrainedly.

Indeed, for an off duty taxi driver his taxi was a car and the rank was clutter; for an on duty taxi-driver his car was nothing but a taxi and the rank truly a rank but his taxi would only become a vehicle for hire when, conversely, its driver would yell “taxi!” at a passenger standing impatiently with ample baggage at his feet, as was the case with me. No, no, no, dear reader, it wouldn’t work if you tried calling out “taxi!” to a driver (even with him seeing you wearing a disgruntled and unhappy look) because taxi drivers would rarely budge from being huddled around a makeshift fireplace in a petrol drum drinking chai, just to chauffeur around a riffraff in old corduroys.

After thirty minutes of waiting I managed to hire one. I was finally on my way from Central Station to the village of No Water. I hoped that it would only be a taxi, my taxi, and nothing more for anyone else along the way.

The actual taxi, or more appropriately, the rattletrap, boneshaker... the rickety vehicle which was transporting me to the village, had no signs or a functioning meter. The citizens band radio was without any knobs and the antenna, which happened to be sticking out of the glove box and through the window, was bent crooked as though someone avenged his or her honor in a most shameless manner.

It was a maroon colored Polski Fiat 125p, also known as Kredens for its uncanny resemblance to the furniture, or, for when sold abroad back in those days, the Polak.

Due to the Polak’s stiff suspension (causing a clunking not gliding feeling over the already rough and unmaintained cobblestone roads) I wished to have been advised about bringing a mouth guard for I feared that during the commute I would lose a cavity filling if not a whole tooth. I also began wondering about the Polak: if it was maroon either by its original paint job fading away revealing its primer, or, if the Polak was parked overnight in a greenhouse or a garage with a furnace spraying steam from a broken valve round the clock.

The Polak had an insubstantial pee-yellow racing band which ran from the headlights to the trunk... passing along the doors like a scarf blowing in the wind, right over the missing gas cover on the passenger side, a rusted hole on the driver’s door, though eventually wrapping around the tail lights like how a pair of eyeglass frames with hooks would wrap around ears. Two of the four tires had Volkswagen hub caps and the other two were the smaller, yellow donut spares, the kind unsuitable for cold and slippery road conditions.

For which reason I cannot put forth, the front head rests had been ripped out and haphazardly inserted forks down where the back head rests would’ve been had they not been ripped out as well. As the driver had nowhere to lean his head, I was able to study him carefully the whole trip. A worthy entry into the brown hide journal was saved for later.

In his forties with light blue eyes and a sharp chin, he chain smoked for a good fifty Hail Marys the moment we passed a sign that said White Stream, though slashed across indicating that we were exiting city limits. He sat crouched into the steering wheel as if he had no chest plate and his wide back muscles also contributed to him looking like a pared apple shaving. Whenever he turned around and faintly smiled, I spotted the blank space of a missing tooth. But the real enigma was if he wore a bushy moustache to conceal the possibility of people spotting other missing teeth.

He had a green cap on, the kind highlanders from Austria would wear with matching green shorts and suspenders for the Bavarian heel slapping dance.

“That hat isn’t Polish, or is it? Carpathian?” I asked.

He turned to me dumbly, locked eyes with mine for an awkward space of time, and quickly turned back to the road. Occasionally, he glanced at me in the rear-view mirror. He seemed to be wondering who I was and what my purpose was in No Water and why I was asking.

Ignoring my question, he gently began stroking the rosary which hung from the mirror just as he had been doing so every five minutes since we left the station.

“It is a... a Tyrolean hat.”

I nodded my head.

After a few minutes of fingering a few beads, he returned his hand to the steering wheel as we were entering a serpent-like stretch of road in a mountain range.

“I wear it in honor of my great-grandparents who were from a little town in Austria called Fucking.”

“Oh?”

“The partridge feather is from my own covey and the pins which run around the brim are for winning breeding competitions, one of which was in Fucking. I trade chickens and rabbits at Farmers’ markets and I collect pigeons, too. You know what, young man, I’ll give you a cheaper rate because I know Adela personally, the great-grandmother to all, and also because I am heading home myself. I live near her in the village.”

Fucking?

The great-grandmother to all?

”Are you her grandson?” he asked curiously.

“Yes, yes, I am,” I answered, still perplexed by the name of such a town. “She’s my grandmother... which makes me her grandson, yes.”

“Aha, a good lady she is. She’s done what she could in her days... she’ll give up the ghost any day now though.”

“Give up the ghost? Is she sick?”

“Well, as sick as anybody in their eighties. She makes such news impossible to avoid in the village.”

“Yes, well, I’ve heard that she did a lot for Poland during the war.”

The driver nodded his head.

“So you’re visiting her, eh?” he asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“Did you bring her some American dollars?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“She won’t show to be upset.”

“Excuse me?” I leaned my head closer, to the space between where the two head rests would have been.

“I mean, she’ll be angry that you didn’t bring her money, but won’t show it. She’s a good Catholic.”

I pulled out a pill from my pill bottle and swallowed it.

“Are you sick?” he asked turning around. “Oh, sorry, I better not pry. I heard you Americans are pretty sensitive.”

“I’m Canadian, not American. But I was born in Poland.” The driver nodded his head.

“Anyways, what do you do?”

“Well, I just want to find some peace of mind and write a little. You see, I’m a writer and I’d like to write about the Polish countryside. I surely can find peace and quiet in No Water, don’t you think? Too many distractions back home.”

The driver nodded his head once more. He continued asking me about what exactly I wanted to write about, but I was too tired from the flight and was gesturing solely for the sake of gesturing.

Partially lulling me to sleep, I counted the driver caressing the rosary twenty-three more times before the car hit a bump on the road rousing me from sleep. The plastic crucifix on the dashboard leaned forward and hung on its last stretched strings of glue. After another bump, the crucifix fell off and landed in the ashtray which was brimful with cigarette butts. His eyes were fixed on the road ahead, seemingly hypnotized by something greater than just being careful of a road’s condition.

“There are karst formations not too far from here,” he said, breaking the silence once again. He lit up a cigarette of the most pungent kind and when not puffing on it took to rolling the tips of his moustache in his fingertips. “They shoot up from a pristine lake called, Elk Lake. It is a wonderful village this No Water, you’ll have a great time. You’ll certainly be able to write a bestseller, I have no doubts about that, the air can do that in these here parts. Just think how much fresh air Sienkiewicz breathed in in order to write Quo Vadis. Prus and Konwicki, too.” I nodded my head as he continued watching me in the rear-view mirror. “Oh, we are passing a sacred spot now, look!” It was when he stopped the car that I realized how I overestimated quiet.

Nature possessed a sanctified tranquility, free from a city’s grinding axe... but inside the car, with the engine off, I was reminded of how a machine is capable of befouling the admirable virtue of clear and uninterrupted thinking.

On the left side of the car was a jagged and steep drop off fifty meters right into the lake. There was no protective barrier. On the right side were the karsts. Behind us was the road back to White Stream; and in front, a dark tunnel passage. I looked up at the karst formations but instead was taken by the hundreds of statues of Mother Mary standing in a shallow cave next to where the driver stopped. It was a holy shrine of some sorts.

The statues were all made from white ceramic but their veils (some of fabric while others a part of the ceramic detailing) ranged in color from pinks to blues to oranges. Some statues were as tall as fire hydrants but most were the size of unlit candles. Some stood on the ground or on separate pedestals but the majority amassed on a stone table which looked like a kiosk with an overly priced inventory at a holy bazaar.

“What an eerie sight,” I said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“They say there are as many Marys here as there are stars in the sky, but that is clearly not true... Pagan folklore mixed with a little bit of Polish Enlightenment. I don’t even remember which one was mine. Is it that one in a green veil? Or maybe it was the pink one? Our Lady of Fatima? Lourdes? Maybe it was Sorrows and Guadalupe?”

I took out my camera from my satchel and started taking pictures. I noticed that all the Marys had an awesome abundance of colorful rosaries around their necks which looked like they were collectively wearing a burdensome wreath of chains concealing half their garb. After taking a few pictures, the taxi driver turned on the car, hammered the gear knob back into first (ignoring the crunching of mechanical teeth), and sped off into the dark tunnel.

When we exited the tunnel on the other side I looked up and again saw more Marys. This time the Marys were all perched like hundreds of eagle nests in the mountains above us.

“So dangerous to climb up and to insert all those Mother Marys, no?”

“She is apparently worth it, young man,” he said.

“Has anyone ever died doing that?”

“Of course, death is natural, especially for faith. Besides, she is our Mother, as they say, and the Mother figure of our Savior.”

“I read that this lake is apparently holy, too.”

“Yes, there is evidence that Saint Casimir of Jagiellon and his retinue bathed in this body of water in the fifteenth century on his trips from Kraków to Vilnius.” The driver took a deep breath and paused. “These here statues are symbols of our faith, young man. It keeps us together... our history, tradition. It makes the Polish, Polish. Do you know what I mean?”

I nodded my head and was happy to discover something new about my heritage. I quickly pulled out my black moleskin notebook from my satchel and scribbled down some notes.

We stopped in front of another shrine next to a second tunnel passage. It was quiet. The air was moist and cooler than down below and slush occasionally fell from some rocks overhead. The driver suddenly got out. I followed him as he waved me out of the car.

He lit up another cigarette and went up to the shrine. He carelessly lifted a rosary from around one of Mary’s necks with one hand, walked to the edge of the road holding it like anything but a holy artifact, and threw it into the dark waters below. He returned to the car resolved and leaned against the hood pulling on his cigarette like an unstable yet high-handed teenager. He began looking out at the landscape.

“I’m desecrating an icon, but I’m still a believer, you know. Don’t ask me why, but it’s getting easier to do such things these days.” He took an erratic puff of his cigarette. “I mean, going to church doesn’t put bread on the table, you know.”

I looked at him and noticed his jittery hands bringing the cigarette to his mouth. He was curled up into himself but it wasn’t because he wore a thin coat. Something was evidently nipping at his conscience as he spoke quickly and nervously.

“I don’t know how it is in your country but it costs a lot to believe here, mentally expensive as much as monetarily. I still have hope though. Do you have hope?”

“Hope for what?”

“Just hope in general, hope to... I don’t know, at your age... win the lottery? Get a lay? Or maybe hope to be forgiven after forcing it out of a girl?”

I looked up and saw a few of the many Mother Marys’ veils blowing in the wind. The Marys closer to the ground had eyes painted in a way that they appeared to have big white corneas but small, dark irises. The Marys were all shivering, frightened by who it was that stopped in front of them.

A few ducks flew down to the water below and glided in most gracefully. They began upending their bodies, flicking their feathery tails, and pushing the sky with their webbed feet. A few scoured, water-stained logs were visible on the surface in the short distance. On the banks of the lake I saw a small, abandoned church. I looked back at the logs but saw pews ripped out which were once deposited into the water.

“I have no hope anymore,” the driver said. He pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. After finishing, he stuffed it back into his pocket carelessly and continued smoking. “She’s getting married, my beautiful ballet dancer-village-daughter, in a few weeks, to an African, ugh! It has been hard, I mean, as all I’ve been thinking about is trying to send the bambus back to Africa. I’m not a big fan of him sitting in our church, too, and praying so reverently, eyes closed, hands gently touching his cheeks. It looks too dramatic and artificial his pose of veneration. Not like the Poles, true believers! Actually, I find it quite repulsive and I find him, needless to say, quite repugnant.”

“That is very racist of you,” I said disapprovingly.

“Oh, yeah right, like you don’t have a racist bone in your body. Every Pole does.”

“It’s different where I’m from. We live in a very multicultural society.”

“You’re from Poland so quit acting foolish.”

“I am, but... I have friends who are African back in Toronto. My best friend is Portuguese and my current girlfriend is from Bosnia. We don’t go around saying such things. It’s pretty vile and could even bring us trouble if we did.”

“But you think it at least? We all do. You see, in Poland, the romance of our history was taken away, pillaged by our ravenous-toothed neighbors and so we became a suspicious, brazen nation. As a result, we also became quite defensive, patriotic, too defensive... psychologically defensive!”

I had the strange desire to suddenly unburden every Mary from all her rosaries and to start throwing them into the lake one by one like beads at a festival, but the air high up was becalming me, gradually lifting my spirits despite this man’s acerbic tongue and most offensive aura.

“And so what do you think?”

“About what?” I asked.

“About the twinkle in your eye, you mongoose! Have a good look down.” The driver walked over to the edge of the snow-slicked road and stood straight as an arrow, half-contemplative, half-submissive. His toes projected over the edge. I thought that he would fall any moment as he began staring at the water, tottering teasingly, perhaps teasing fate or his own indecision. A fraction of another inch would separate him from his death. He reminded me of the man in Friedrich’s painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog.

“It’s a nice serene place,” I said. He looked at me unconvinced. In all honesty, I was more concerned that soon I would have to report not only a jumper but a floater to the local police. “A little bit of Fucking, Austria, in a little Polish countryside,” I said correcting myself, trying to sound more uplifting.

He tottered some more and my eyes widened. He then took a step back and began playing with the hair growing from the mole on his cheek while pacing from the car’s hood to the Marys. A cold gust of wind exited from the black tunnel.

“I do have a twinkle, though,” he blurted out. “I would only be able to see it in a mirror right now but I do feel it. The low sun is reflecting off the water and its warm, bleached rays are reaching up to me. The sun is gesturing me to come on in... to jump into the swimming pool, the lifeguard isn’t watching, I haven’t done my lane test but eternally I could swim laps in my afterlife, break a few universe records... only a few meters of air separate me and the water, so short a distance between drudgery and a peaceful solitude. Have you ever thought about throwing in the towel, young man? Waving the white flag? Shooting yourself in the mouth?”

“What? Sui..? No. Well, everyone gets a little blue here and there but...”

“I’ve been ‘blue’ since I came into this world, that’s what my mother always used to tell me... that I was a ‘blue boy’, sensitive, always burdened by artificial words and insincere intentions.”

“Is that not like the self-fulfilling prophecy? I mean, if someone tells you that you’re God, you begin telling yourself you’re God, and eventually you believe that you’re God, no?”

“Oh, I am God, too. I am indeed, want to see?” He then approached the edge a second time. “I seem to have some kind of unease deep down inside... like I fear falling off this cliff but I get nauseously excited by the thought of jumping.”

Half the length of both his feet stuck out from the edge. I was terrified. He then lifted a right leg and began standing like a flamingo, like a Buddhist sage meditating on a lotus leaf. This was absurd. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or to react seriously.

“No, please, can you do this on your own time?”

“Only a few seconds of a suspended void, young man, some say the only taste of freedom which would separate me from the water, humanity and the mystical world... the kingdom of heaven. But it is considered a sin to commit suicide... so I cannot.” He put his foot down and stepped back.

The sudden realization on his part instilled a feeling of certainty in me that he would not jump. His teasing of fate however was rather annoying.

“I don’t understand how people don’t understand that sometimes you just don’t want to live anymore - full stop. Why can’t people wrap their heads around this idea? Don’t you think it is the ultimate display of free will? To take your life? I mean, since it is understood that birth - a blessing from God - is as certain as death - passing through the golden turnstile to heaven’s gates - also something caused by the invisible hands from up above. Oh, I could see it now... the whitewashed corridor to the afterlife where a big burly man would greet you with a bear hug at the end of your personal ordeal... then you would commence drinking the finest of liqueurs with Him for eternity. I don’t know, I’m actually quite convinced though that if you choose to take your life then you’d be defying God’s plan for you. What a confusing affair. I’m confused because would it not be controlling your own destiny though? By ending it yourself? Ha ha, it’s like resentfully depriving God of what He’s supposed to do.”

I leaned my front body against the passenger door and rested my head on my folded arms atop its roof. I was exhausted and convinced that this man was rather unhinged.

“I once had a dream. Do you want to hear it?”

“Well, umm, not really,” I said.

“I wrote it down once. Actually I’ve turned it into a story.” The driver pulled out of his pocket a few folded sheets of paper.

“Ok, just promise me that you won’t jump,” I said.

The driver nodded his head but then shrugged his shoulders in a most ambiguous manner.

“I had a dream that I jumped from this very same spot.”

“Oh, Lord,” I said quietly to myself.

“There was a hopscotch pattern drawn right near the edge. Square 7 was right before... and as soon as my feet were off the road,” the taxi driver spun around on his heel and turned to me, “a thin piercing sound ripped through my head and a wakeless vacuum of thick air followed me in. I then felt thick and entangling weeds tugging at my feet as my body bored through the water like a drill. Water rocketed up my nostrils and my arms shot up. I looked up and saw bubbles climbing invisible strings. The earth around me was rising. But soon, unexpectedly, supplanting the lake floor was my body and I became stuck, waist deep, in the bottom of the lake.

“I began writhing in an effort to release myself as I chose then and there that I didn’t want to die anymore, that I made a mistake and that I wanted to live.”

I looked into the black tunnel as he spoke and for some reason feared that an 18-wheeler would suddenly rocket out any minute and push my depressed chauffeur over the edge as well as crush me against the Marys. At least I’d be dying in her holy arms.

“The Earth devoured me at the waist and the cells in my body began scintillating.” The taxi driver stuck his arms out like the statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro. “A temperate cold was climbing up my legs. My hands were desperately swimming skywards when not pushing against the mud... but the more I fought, the more I was being pulled down. For my last thought, I imagined a set of hands hovering over organ keys being played at a construction site next to an industrial excavator. The pastor-foreman doffed his chasuble and his hard hat, but he wouldn’t dive in to save me... they say that it’s possible to control your dreams, to act willfully in them, but I couldn’t.

“Any more strength expended to tear myself away was pointless. Broken reeds floated by overhead on the water’s surface and a few frogs sprung from a cloud of darkness to my right. My head was bouncing and I saw white whenever I shut my eyes. I began mouthing for pockets of air. I saw a few premature stars over me swaying in the watery filter. What a lovely panoramic twilight; a tragic world’s interior.

“I then noticed that I wasn’t alone. A silhouette of a head stuck out from the edge and began peering at me, observing me as I was still begging for my life back. I felt my eyes ready to spring from my sockets. I felt each alveolus bursting from under my ribcage... a burning building... a baptism I’d miss... a torrent rushing into my throat as I wished it were a last drink like a last meal. My sinuses collapsed. A dull pressure mounted in my ears... pipes continued to thrust as oil began springing from the construction site’s drill-hole... the organ’s mournful sound rippled the water surface...the industrial church across the lake became suspended of activity and the whole world saw me dying on a television screen. A signal beamed from the antenna of my heart to all four corners of the globe.”

I lifted my head and although I didn’t want to, began shaking my head impatiently. I felt my throat swelling with lymph. My hands were tingling from my odd posture over the driver-side door.

“The head over me was shaking in disappointment,” he continued, “I tried to pull at it. I tried to wave it down but nothing. My spectacle had amused the lurking head who had now become acquainted with my last dying breath, which before leaving my mouth had strangled my throat. From that initial feeling death flooded into me... I was gone.”

The driver then folded the papers and put them into his pocket. I opened the door and was about to enter when he continued.

“But then the strangest thing happened, young man. I saw heaven: I became an isolated offshoot growing on the bottom of the lake, a wavy stem with leaves living alone, living by the force of undercurrents. I couldn’t believe! I looked around and noticed that I wasn’t dead but that I had become a plant. I looked up and the head was still there. The muddy bed had continued to hold me but I was not fighting it any longer.

“It was calm and quiet. I finally could admire the rest of the starry sky. I could hear the echoing chirr of grasshoppers; an owl shrieking. I then realized how beautiful it was and how such beauty could only be within the holy grounds of God’s kingdom. How wonderful I and the world were... to be dead together. I saw the church on the banks, the steeple distortedly high with a bright star twinkling at its spire.

“Over time, I would experience the brilliance of trailing comets. A full moon would visit me in regular intervals and invite me to dine. At times his friends would appear within arm’s reach, some boughs from trees high up in the mountains. Sometimes the moon would just ripple on the water’s surface like a bashful host, half-intruding, half-humble. Sometimes he was gracious enough to illuminate the muddy floor five meters around my green stalk, revealing a variety of life... curious schools of fish with bogey eyes, some even courageous enough to lay eggs under my leaves.

“But I also saw the bad: over time I would experience rubbish being dumped, logs plopping atop the water surface, tin cans landing by my roots, barrels landing by me full of an exuding black matter through its cracks.

“On a spring day beauty would return. I would see a paddling man in a kayak. I would see him fighting fish hooked at the mouth, obstinate threads reeling them in. In winter, the lake would freeze to the thickness of one meter at the surface and the only thing that stirred an uplifting, spiritual jolt was a set of lines carving the ice over me. These lines would appear in sets of twos and would alternate one after the other. They would be accompanied by the amusement of children.

“You’re awfully quiet, young man.”

“Just listening,” I replied.

“I’m fine, you know. I’m sure you’ve had absurd dreams like this before, well, with all the decadence around you in the West... free sex, venereal disease, murders, robberies, rapes.”

“There are bad people everywhere,” I answered while trying to enter the car. “But your dream...I wanted to ask you...”

“Never mind. Doesn’t matter. Come on. Let’s get you to Adela’s.”

We got back into the car.

“Hey, do me a favor and don’t tell my daughter what I think about her future husband.”

“I don’t even know her but maybe you could refrain from telling Adela that my girlfriend is from Bosnia?”

“Sure.”

Strangely, and I couldn’t understand why and in which way, but his dream was rather inspiring. I could certainly write about it in my brown hide journal. After a few minutes of ‘quiet’ in the car, I thought about something completely different. I wanted to see his teeth or lack thereof. I hope I don’t offend anyone by thinking like this but I just wanted a glance because of my own selfish reasons, because I grew up with hideous choppers myself before I had braces. I wondered how he was managing if that was truly the case. I wanted to know if indeed he grew a bushy moustache over them because he was ashamed and didn’t want anyone to see. I wanted to know badly but wasn’t willing to contort my body as if I were looking out the driver’s window, leaning into the gear nob and his hand, pretending to be admiring nature but really just wanting to peer into his mouth like a dentist. This would have been the least suspecting maneuver as he had probably already taken me as an inquisitive yet at times passive traveler with a Polish surname. It still wasn’t worth the shame should I be caught in the artifice.

For the rest of the trip he played disco polo on the tape player and often looked over to the dashboard which had a picture of a young boy holding a fishing rod and a young girl. There was also a third picture, presumably the eldest daughter, and the soon-to-be bride. She looked quite familiar.