© 2007 Christopher Vened Szwaja
THE GOLDEN HORN
(Christopher Vened Szwaja)
When I entered the Golden Horn restaurant that evening it was already packed with people. I am not sure what time it was, but it had to be no later than eight in the evening. People were in the early stages of partying: they were having their first, maybe second drink. They were still behaving properly but were already warming up to the occasion and a buzz of excited chatter filled the room.
The atmosphere was inviting. It jazzed me up at once, and I anticipated a good time. I walked around to check out the crowd. I frequently stopped by the Golden Horn and if I liked it, I stayed longer. It all depended on if I met some friends or spotted a beautiful tourist girl that I was interested in picking up, or both. This evening it was both. At once I spotted many beautiful tourist girls, the strongest incentive to stay, and began to look for a place to sit, but there were no tables available. So I decided to sit with the musicians, who were my friends and always welcomed me at their table in case of such an emergency. While I walked across the dance floor toward their table, I heard the familiar voice of my friend Peter call my name, “Krzysztof!” I stopped and searched for him in the crowd but couldn’t see him.
“Over here!” he shouted again and now I spotted him waving at me. He was sitting at a table that was set up in case of over-crowdedness, as there was this evening. The table was placed on the outskirt of the dance floor, almost on it, in a curved niche in the wall next to the podium.
I don’t recall who else was sitting there, but there were at least four or five people. I think my other friend Richard was there too. As I joined them the waitress was bringing a bottle of vodka. Peter asked for an extra glass for me, which she brought and poured the first round.
We began to drink and were having a good time, but it didn’t last for long. There was an unpleasant incident that spoiled the fun. The manager of the restaurant approached a party of young people, who were sitting at the table across from us on the other side of the dance floor, and asked them to leave. At first I couldn’t tell why he wanted them to go because I was sitting too far away to hear what they were saying. I only saw the commotion: the manager hurriedly approached the table, gesticulated impatiently in broad gestures, then went away and came back again and argued with the young people who refused to leave. Then the argument became heated and the manager raised his voice, and I heard him say, “Move, move. Get lost! We need to set up this table right now!” He turned to the waitress, who was following him around and said, “Ms. Kristina, please, clear the table and set it for the new guests,” and left the room in a flurry.
She nodded her head obediently and began clearing the glasses. The young people grabbed and shielded their drinks protesting, “Hey, hey, don’t take that, that’s my drink.” But the waitress ignored them and went about her business.
The manager shortly reappeared followed by the bouncer, “You have to leave now; the new guests are already on their way.” But the young people didn’t obey him and sat resentful and motionless.
“Hurry up, hurry up, they will be here any minute!” the manager snapped impatiently.
“We’re not leaving,” one of the young men said, “it is our table; we paid for the tickets. You have no right to kick us out.”
The manager did not bother to reason with the youngsters. He got pissed off and rudely expelled them. I don’t recall exactly how he did it. Basically, he intimidated them. They got frightened and got lost. The whole incident was unpleasant to watch. It disturbed me and put me in a bad mood.
The new guests soon arrived and took over the table. I looked them over. They had an air of importance around them and a brazenly arrogant attitude that only people of power have.
The manager and his staff were ingratiatingly dancing around them. They were so forthcoming, so accommodating and compliant that it turned my stomach. I was disgusted to see how the manager and his staff had changed their attitude; a moment ago they were so rude and hostile to the young people and now, in contrast, so polite and friendly to the new guests.
I didn’t know who the new guests were, but my colleagues recognized them as prominent officials of our region. There was the First Secretary of the communist party from Klodzko, and the District Attorney from Bystrzyca, and a few other important officials whom my colleagues recognized by name and position and talked about with resentment in semi-hushed voices. They were outraged that the manager had kicked out the young people and given their table to the communist pigs, but they didn’t dare to do anything about it or protest openly. The general attitude at the table was, ‘Ach what can we do, let it go, better to forget about it and pour another round of vodka,’ which we did. We toasted, “Na zdrowie,” but now with a sad undertone, and we drank.
But I couldn’t forget about it and, despite myself and the vodka, kept obsessively thinking about the incident. The presence of the communists was getting on my nerves. I was gazing on them furtively with contempt and was growing gloomy. At the same time I was getting drunker and drunker until I was so smashed out of my mind that I don’t remember anything that happened during the next few hours.
When I regained my senses, I was lying on a bed crushed under a pile of five or six guys who were holding me down. One of them was sitting on my chest and kept his hands on my throat. The others were holding my limbs. My arms were spread to the sides; two guys were twisting and kneeling on them, and when I tried to move my legs, I found they were immobilized by the weight of two more guys who were sitting on them.
“What’s going on?” I wondered, still in a half-drunken stupor. I had no clue what had happened, why those guys were holding me down, or where I was. The room looked like a typical hotel room in the local tourist houses, but I didn’t know which tourist house it was. One thing was clear — I was in trouble. The first idea that came to me about how to resolve my predicament was to throw those guys off me and run. I thought I could do it. At that time, I was an exceptionally strong seventeen-year-old boy. I trusted my strength more then anything else. I imagined myself being a superman easily and decided to pull off the stunt. I knew that I’d have to do it quickly and unexpectedly to surprise them and gain the upper hand. So to mislead them, I first pretended to be powerless and dead as a possum. When I felt them relax and loosen their grip, I suddenly mobilized my entire strength, threw those guys off me, and almost managed to get to my feet, but I failed to entirely free myself. They were all over me again, crushing me to the bed. This time they kept me firm and were so wired up that they nearly strangled me, occasionally punching and hitting me.
They roughed me up pretty well, and I don’t know how it would have ended if I were not saved by a girl who entered the room at that moment and restrained them. I heard her screaming, “Stop it! Stop beating him, you brutes!” At the same time, she threw herself between us to protect me. They stopped beating me but still kept me firm.
“Let him go,” she demanded, trying to push the guys away from me.
“We can’t let him go,” said the one who appeared to be their leader.
“He’s a burglar.”
“He’s not a burglar, he’s my boyfriend!”
“Your boyfriend?” They didn’t believe it, neither did I. I didn’t know the girl.
“Yes,” she said with certainty, “he is my boyfriend.”
“Since when he is your boyfriend?” one of them teased her as the others laughed.
“Since this evening. Satisfied? Now let him go!”
“No, Eva,” the leader said, “we can’t let him go. He broke into the building; we’ve got to check him out.”
“Let’s call the police,” someone else suggested.
“You will not call the police on him,” Eva protested. And then she explained, “He came here because he was looking for me. We have a date.”
“On the third floor?”
“He must have mistaken the floors.”
“He broke the glass in the front door. We have to check his identity before we let him go.”
“I know his identify,” the girl said. “He’s a native boy.”
“What is his name?”
“What is his last name?”
“I don’t know.”
That did not satisfy the guys and they decided that calling the police was the best idea. The problem was that the only phone was in the office in the main building and it was very late. So instead they decided to get Andrzej, a ski instructor who lived in the same building, and see if he could identify me.
“What room does Andrzej live in?” someone asked.
“I think, he’s on the second floor, but am not sure the room number, 206 or 208,” someone responded.
“204,” I said giving them the right room number.
“The drunkard says 204,” someone said and they laughed.
Then the leader sent someone to get Andrzej and while we waited, the guys struck up a conversation with me.
“Do you know Andrzej well?” they asked.
“Yes, I know him well.”
“How does he ski?” a guy asked me somewhat ironically.
“He is much better swimmer than a skier,” which was actually true, but nevertheless, the guys found my answer funny and laughed.
“Are you a skier too?” they asked me.
“Yes, I am.”
“How do you ski?” piped up the same slightly ironic voice.
“I ski on one ski better than you guys on two.”
They burst into laughter at my absurd answer and it eased the hostile tension between us.
Andrzej soon came into the room, already in his pajama top, and they asked him if he knew me. He gave me a look of reproof and said, “Yeah, I know him. He’s a native boy.” Then he turned his gaze away from me, and said after a short pause, “He’s alright.”
“Let him go,” the leader said to his colleagues and they released their grip and set me free.
From that point on, Eva took care of me. She took me to her room that she shared with two other girls on the second floor. They were already in bed asleep or pretending to be asleep when we came in.
I slept in one bed with Eva. And although I was wasted as hell, we woke up in the middle of the night and had sex.
Only after sex did I ask her, “So how do we know each other?”
“You rascal,” she responded with playful astonishment, “you don’t remember anything, do you?”
“No, I don’t really.”
She explained, “We met in the Golden Horn. You asked me to dance, then we talked, and we made a date.”
“I left the Golden Horn earlier and you were supposed to catch up with me later in my room.”
She probably explained why I left later, but I don’t remember that now. The point is that she was telling the truth all along, and my breaking into the building made sense. I was coming for a date, came late, the front door was locked, so I broke the window, slipped my hand inside, unlocked the door and went inside. Then, as she already guessed, I mistook the floors and went to the third instead of the second one, went or broke into someone’s room, and was caught by those guys who, as Eva explained, were from the same tourist group as she. They were having some kind of youth convention of socialist students.
When I woke up the next morning Eva’s roommates were already on their way down to breakfast that began at eight, and Eva was getting ready to go too.
I asked her, “Shall I get up now too?”
“No, you don’t have to. I will be back soon and bring you breakfast in bed. Okay?”
She left and I stayed in bed dozing until she returned with a hot breakfast for me. She told me that someone from the hotel administration approached her in the dinning room and asked her to tell me to come to see the manager in the main office.
“Right now?” I asked.
“No, you don’t have to hurry. When you wake up, they said.”
“Oh, it must be about that broken glass,” I concluded. “What’s the big deal? I’ll fix it or pay the janitor of the building to do it.”
With that nonchalant attitude, I got ready to go to the main office. Before I left, Eva asked me to come back afterward. She lured me with the knowledge that her roommates were gone for the entire day on an excursion and we would have the room to ourselves. I promised her to return and then went to the main office.
On my way out, I saw the broken glass in one of the four panes of the front door. I estimated the damage and with that in mind continued to the office, thinking that I would offer the management to either pay for the damage or hire a craftsman to do it.
To get to the main building, I walked through the main street, which was like a promenade for tourists. It was already fairly crowded. People were parading in the sun, taking advantage of the good weather. It was really a lovely day but it was only painful to me because I had a heavy hangover. I felt like a blind moth and could barely keep my eyes open in the bright sunlight.
As I approached the main building, I heard Peter calling my name from the second floor balcony. I looked up and spotted him waving at me.
“Hey, Peter!” I shouted happy to see him.
“Shh,” he hissed bringing his finger to his lips.
“What?” I shrugged, not understanding why he was behaving in such a conspiratorial manner.
“Be quiet!” he whispered. He was mouthing something and gesturing for me to get inside the building.
“What?” I asked him not understanding what his pantomime was all about.
“Get inside,” he waved at me impatiently.
Peter met me on the staircase, greeting me with, “Man you are in a big trouble.”
“C’mon,” I said playing it down, “don’t make such a big deal about a broken piece of glass. I’ll fix it.”
“A piece of glass? I am not talking about the glass, you damn moron.”
“What?” he teased me. “Man, you took a piss on the table of the communists in the Golden Horn.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“Don’t you remember anything?”
“What are you talking about?” I said truly not comprehending.
“I’ll tell you in the office. Come on, the management is waiting for you,” he said as he headed toward the office.
As we entered, Peter excitedly blurted out that I didn’t remember anything. In the office were three people: the main manager, who was Peter’s mother; the main accountant, who happened to be the mother of Richard, the other friend of mine who was partying with me at the Golden Horn the previous night; and Andrzej, the ski instructor who intervened on my behalf the night before. All three of them looked at me with grave concern. Peter’s mother shook her head and asked me, “What have you done?”
I didn’t know what to answer but Peter jumped in, “He pissed on the communist’s table, that’s what he’s done. He gave them a golden shower. He pissed all over their table, peed on their plates, into their drinks, and splashed all over those pigs. Oh they were shocked, jumping away from the table to avoid getting wet,” he laughed half insanely and was about to go on when his mother cried, “Stop it, Peter, stop it. Cut it out.”
“Do you remember any of this?” Andrzej asked me.
“No, I don’t, really, nothing.”
“You see,” Peter interjected, “I told you guys, he blacked out”.
“Don’t you remember anything?” Andrzej kept inquiring.
“Not really,” I said. But in that moment something came to me, so I told them, “Wait, I recall a moment when I was leaving the restaurant. Anna, the bartender, was holding me by the hand and leading me through the crowd of agitated people toward the exit. ‘Get out, get out, quickly,’ she was saying, ‘run away, run away.’ Some other people were helping her to lead me out of the restaurant. Then, then, I don’t remember what happened next.”
“Nothing?” Andrzej asked.
“How many people have seen the incident, Peter?” Ms. Barbara asked.
“It’s hard to say. People were dancing, it was crowded, the lights were turned down. I would say only one hundred people saw it,” Peter could not help joking.
“Peter,” his mother slightly scolded him.
“No, no,” Peter tried to be serious again and said, “a few, only a few people really saw it besides the communists who were sitting at the table.”
“Did any natives witness the event?” Ms. Barbara inquired.
“I’m not sure,” Peter said, “but I doubt it. There were not many natives in the restaurant last night.”
“That’s good,” Ms. Barbara heaved a sigh of relief. “The tourists will leave soon, but the natives could rat.”
“What about the management and staff of the restaurant?” Andrzej wondered.
“We talked with them, they won’t say anything, I think,” Peter’s mother said.
“Yes,” Ms. Barbara agreed, “but the tourist might.”
“They don’t know him,” Peter’s mother argued.
“Well, I am not so sure about that,” Andrzej said. “He made himself known to everybody last night.”
“Krzysztof,” Ms. Barbara turned to me, “it would be better if you disappeared for a while, at least until the end of this tourist turnout. The police are looking for you in town. It would be better that you weren’t in people’s eyes. Do you understand?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I do,” I said. But I didn’t really have a grasp of the scope of events. I did not fully realize what had happened and its possible consequences. It all seemed a little bit surreal, partly in a drunken fog.
“So go now and don’t show yourself in town, okay?” Peter’s mother said.
“Okay, thank you. But one more thing,” I said before leaving, “I’d like to either to pay for or hire someone to fix the broken glass in the front door of the building.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Ms. Barbara said, “our janitor will take care of it.”
“Alright then,” I said and left.
I went back to Eva’s room, as I promised her, though it seemed a reckless thing to do since I had to pass through the crowded street again with the police looking for me.
When I passed through the entrance of Eva’s building, I saw that the broken pane had already been replaced with a new one. ‘Wow, that was quick,’ I thought.
I don’t recall staying with Eva long. I went back only to say goodbye. Then I went into hiding for a while as my friends advised me.
The police never found out who took a piss on the table of the prominent communists in the Golden Horn. However, I don’t know how hard they looked for me. Whatever, the fact is that no one ever ratted on me, even though, as I found out later, all the people in town knew about it. I became a sort of folk hero who dared to stand up to the communists. But does it really count? Can someone become a hero as a result of a deed done unconsciously in a drunken stupor? Well, I did. Still, whenever I recall what I did, I just feel embarrassed.