Simon Valerya walked down the street, among the old buildings where they narrowed almost to a point. The looming brick and mortar pushed against Simon from above. He felt claustrophobic. He could not shake the uneasy feeling that dogged him since he arrived two days before. His footsteps echoed through the quiet street until he turned the corner. A crowd of tourists milled outside the little hotel he was staying at. Simon frowned. He looked at his watch. It was late, almost 4 pm then he remembered that his brother Marin, who worked as the concierge at the hotel had told him a large group would be leaving that afternoon for the mountains. They were waiting for the tour bus to arrive. Simon cursed his luck. He had hoped to arrive well after they left. Simon avoided looking at them as he walked by, keeping his head down low. He despised them even though technically he was also one in his own country.
Inside the hotel, the lobby was overflowing with people too. Simon craned his neck to see the desk, but his brother was busy talking to an American couple. Simon could tell they were American from the shrillness of the woman’s voice as she protested. Marin was explaining to them that there were no rooms left for them. They had not booked in advance and there was nothing that he could do. Marin’s face was like glass, but Simon knew what seethed underneath. The tourists brought much needed cash with them, but Marin doubted that they were worth the trouble that they caused. Marin shrugged as Simon walked by the desk. His eyes flickered to Simon and then back to the couple. The woman was crying and the husband was red-faced and shaking a doughy hand at Marin.
Simon leaned against the heavy dark wooden doors that led to the lounge. The wood acted like insulation as the doors closed behind him, blocking out the noise of the lobby. Simon breathed a sigh of relief. He sat down at a small round wooden table tucked in the back corner of the room, sliding his long legs underneath while shrugging his coat off at the same time. The girl, Simon couldn’t remember her name, appeared at his elbow. She had a pale, sour face framed by a mass of black curly hair. Her white blouse seemed lost on her equally pale skin. She was almost translucent. She looked at him expectantly waiting for Simon to order.
“Beer – for now.” He said gruffly. The girl evaporated to the kitchen like mist. Simon ignored her when she returned seconds later with his beer. She brought him some bread and cheese without him asking. Simon grunted in thanks. The smell of the fresh bread made him realize he was famished. He tore off some bread from the loaf and ate hungrily. Simon looked out at the room as he ate a second piece of bread. The lounge was practically empty. It was early for people to be coming to eat, and with the tourist group leaving for the night, Simon was optimistic that he would have a quiet night. Marin was working and would not be looking to go out. Simon turned his attention back to eating. The goat cheese was fresh too. He devoured the rest of the food and gulped some more beer. Simon dug around for his jacket which had slipped to the floor in his haste to take it off. He bent over to retrieve it, and felt a nudge on his back.
“I’m sorry to bother you.” The voice said. Simon sat up abruptly. A young man stood beside him. Simon looked at him surprised. Simon guessed that he was a tourist. The man’s fair hair and fine features were European in nature, but there was something foreign about him that made the man stand out like one of them. Simon nodded.
“Yes?” he asked. The man hesitated before speaking again. Simon watched him. The girl came by and asked if the man was staying. He shook his head.
“No, I just was wondering if there were any taxis that I could hire to take me to..” he said, rummaging in his pocket. He pulled out a piece of paper that he unfolded and read. “The Descu” Simon and the girl both looked at him surprised.
“You are a priest?” Simon asked. The man nodded.
“Father Markus. I am due there to study for the next few months.” The man said. Simon nodded not knowing what else to do. The man wasn’t orthodox, not in the least, he thought. Simon wondered what exactly he would be studying but didn’t ask. The girl looked nervous suddenly.
“I will find you a taxis.” She said. Her voice was light and airy, which also surprised Simon. He was expecting her voice to be different somehow. Father Markus nodded gratefully. The girl left them abruptly and went into the lobby. Simon offered the priest a chair. Father Markus sat down.
“Where are you from?” Simon asked. He took a drink of beer and then thought better of taking another. He set the glass down, and began to play with the circle of condensation that the glass had made before.
“Canada.” He said. Simon’s head snapped up and stared hard at his new companion.
“Canada? Where in Canada?” Simon asked. His skin prickled.
“Winnipeg.” Father Markus said. Simon breathed a sigh of relief. He nodded.
“That is a long way to come.” He said. The priest nodded.
“Yes, it is but it was a journey that I had to make.” Father Markus said mysteriously. He looked at Simon with curious eyes.
“Is this your home?” he asked. Simon swallowed uncomfortably and shifted on the hard wooden chair.
“Yes and no.” he said. Father Markus looked at him curiously.
“It used to be my home, but I have been living in Montreal, going to school there. I am just home for a few weeks.”
Simon said. The priest nodded. Simon looked around for the girl to come back to tell them the taxi had arrived. Simon didn’t want to explain anything more about his life. He felt the cold prickle of regret inching its way up his spine.
“I see. Montreal is where I did my seminary work, then I was stationed in Winterpeg.” Father Markus smiled as he finished. Simon smiled in spite of himself. The colloquial pet name for the city was so familiar to Simon, he felt suddenly more at home than he had when he first arrived in town. Father Markus chuckled.
“You have come a long way as well.” Father Markus said. Simon nodded. He took another gulp of beer instead of elaborating. The girl came back as the priest was preparing to speak again. She touched him gently on the shoulder. He jumped because he had not heard her arrive behind him.
“Excuse me. The taxi waits.” She said. Father Markus stood and thanked Simon.
“I hope that we get to talk again soon. If you are in the area of Descu, please stop in.” he said, shaking Simon’s hand. Simon nodded.
“Nice to meet you Father. Good luck with your studies.” He said. Father Markus smiled strangely.
“Thank you… uh, I’m sorry I did not get your name.” he said.
“Simon. Simon Valerya.”Simon said. The priest nodded and seemed to chuckle as he turned to follow the girl out to the doors of the lounge. Simon frowned and wondered why the priest found it amusing to know Simon’s name, then he shrugged deciding he didn’t care that much. He went to the bar, not waiting for the girl to return and ordered another beer to erase the unsettled feeling he had in his stomach.
“Simon” Marin called to him from behind the desk. Simon stepped off ancient elevator into the lobby. He walked over to his brother and leaned on the counter.
“When are you done?” Simon asked. The clock behind Marin’s head blinked 11pm. Marin looked at his watch instead of looking over his shoulder.
“I won’t be off until 1am.” Marin said gloomily. He shuffled some papers in front of him.
“Where are you going?” he asked Simon. Simon shrugged.
“Out. I need to walk, do something.” He said. A concerned look flashed across Marin’s face.
“Hey, you shouldn’t go out, not at this time of night. Are you crazy? Things are very different now. It’s not like when we were kids here.” Marin said. Simon shook his head. Someone came out from the lounge. Simon noticed the music for the first time. The violins and throaty voice of a familiar old song wafted through. Simon looked at Marin.
“Since when do you have live music here?” Simon asked. He didn’t wait for Marin to answer. Simon walked to the lounge doors.
“Only when the tourists are gone.” Marin said calling after him. “Why don’t you stay here, watch the band. Sorina is going to be singing soon.” Simon stopped and looked back at him.
“Sorina?” he asked. Marin laughed.
“You don’t remember her do you? She’s grown up a lot since you left.” Marin said. The lobby doors opened and a group of people entered. They went to the lounge without a word to Marin. Simon stepped out of their way as they went in. Marin shrugged and waved to Simon to follow. He walked in after the others, just as the doors began to swing closed. The lounge was surprisingly full of people. Simon skirted the outside wall, looking for a table to sit down at. Almost every table was occupied. Simon spied one small table in the back corner that sat empty. He began to make his way slowly through the maze of bodies and chairs to it. Simon stepped out of the way of the way of a large drunk man who lumbered passed him.
“Hey watch it!” a voice shouted in his ear. Simon blushed and ducked his head
“Sorry.” He said and pushed on. Simon lost sight of the table at one point, having been diverted around a throng of young teens. He wondered how the hell they had gotten in, but then remembered that the hotel didn’t employ any bouncers, not the way they did in Montreal. No one cared really what age came in. One of the girls, Simon noticed, had piercings along the rim of each ear. He marveled briefly at how it would feel to have that many holes in the cartilage there, then turned away to search for the elusive table he was trying to reach. Simon felt a tug on his arm that pulled him backwards.
“Hi there beautiful.” a clearly drunk young blonde clutched at his arm; her eyes are lined in black charcoal. She grinned sloppily at Simon before stumbling into someone else. Another guy grabbed her around the waist and hauled her to his lap. Simon gently shook her off his arm and moved on. He finally arrived at the table, relieved to find it still empty and out of the way. The music from the band thumped through the room. Simon could feel the beat through the soles of his shoes. He watched the stage. Several of the musicians were rocking back and forth with their violins firmly wedged under their chins, arms flailing in time with the others. The guitarist stood back against the wall, contorting his face with each note. Several girls danced in the small space in front before the line of tables and chairs. They twirled frantically waving their arms. Simon vaguely recognized the melody of the song, an old traditional one that had been changed and modernized. Simon looked for one of the servers. He was suddenly very thirsty. As though reading his mind, a girl with a tray appeared beside him. He nodded to her and held up a finger. It was too loud to talk. She understood him and disappeared back into the crowd.
Simon watched the crowd from the corner, glad to be away from the mass as they moved with the music, fueled by alcohol and probably much more. There was a sudden movement as someone started to push and shove, but the crowd quickly swallowed them up again, like a swarm of insects. Simon shrugged off his jacket and leaned forward on the table. The heat in the room was starting to get to him. He felt the sweat bead between his shoulder blades and trickle down his back. The girl brought his beer and he drank it quickly. The warm foam lingered on his lips. He still could not get used to having warm beer after all his years away, but after a few gulps, Simon no longer cared. The band finished the song, and the crowd cheered loudly. They took a break to set up other instruments, and drink some more. Even without the music the room was deafening. Simon drained the glass and set it down on the table. He debated what to do.
The first notes of the next song began to play. Simon stood to leave. He saw a door hidden in the alcove next to him, and decided to use it instead of wading through the room again. Fresh cold air greeted him as he slipped through the doorway into the alley behind the hotel. Simon’s boots were loud on the cobblestone. The pounding of the music through the walls of the hotel as Simon walked further away. The streets were surprisingly empty, Simon noticed as he crossed through the square. He was relieved nevertheless to be out in the open, and no longer in the crowded lounge.