The restaurant was doing a surprisingly good business-I was checking it about every fifteen minutes-but only one other customer was in the taproom, another male hiker whom I certainly didn't want at my table when Anna came. If she came. I lit another cigarette.
Despite the considerable amount of beer I had drunk, I was getting irritated by seven o'clock. To give myself something to do, I decided to repack my knapsack and put all the seeds at the bottom. This got me to reading the labels on the envelopes.
For one thing, most of those seeds did not come from the Zakopane station. Half of them came from the Soviet Union, and at least a quarter of the envelopes read "Printed in U.S.A." That seed store was purely a commercial operation!
For another, I got to looking at what I'd spent half a week's pay on. Five kinds of strawberries, okay. Six kinds of lettuce, fine. Blueberries and raspberries, maybe. Seven kinds of potatoes? Perhaps. But that redheaded bitch had sold me six packages of wheat! Can you imagine my mother growing wheat in her tiny subdivision backyard? Not to mention rye, oats, barley, and four kinds of maize! And sugar beets. Bloody-be-damned sugar beets! And flowers. Fully a hundred varieties of flowers. One envelope read "Japanese Roses. Nature's fence. Absolutely impenetrable to man or beast. Grows to four meters in height and breadth. Caution: Do not plant on small properties." And trees. I had fifty kinds of trees! Next year I wouldn't have to come to Zakopane. I could plant my own damned forest!
The next time the waitress came by, I asked her again about the group from the station.
"Well, sir, it's going on eight o'clock, and I'd guess that if they're not here by now, they won't be getting here. They don't always come. Another beer, sir?"
"No. No more beer, please. Vodka. A large glass."
I repacked my knapsack, seeds and all, and settled down to a monumental drunk.
Eventually the waitress got fairly adamant about my leaving-we were the last ones up-so I settled the surprisingly large bill and walked for the door with my pack on my back. I then decided that another trip to the rest room was in order. The rest room was in the basement, and I had made the trip quite a few times that evening.
But this time there seemed to be a lot more steps than before, and the lights were out. I must have stumbled around for twenty minutes without finding either the rest room or a light switch. I sat down to rest.
For the past two weeks, I had been sleeping in meadows and on rock piles. I could be comfortable anywhere. I relaxed, laid down, and fell asleep.
I awoke with fluorescent lights shining in my face. My back and arms were simultaneously sore and numb; I had fallen asleep wearing my knapsack. My forehead was trying to split just above my eyebrows to relieve internal pressure. My bladder was painfully full, and my teeth were rusty.
I had not the slightest idea where I was, and I had to slowly and painfully rehearse in my mind the events of the previous day. Ali. Yes. The magnificent bitch. The idiot seeds. The inn. I must be in the basement of the inn.
Slowly, I got to my feet, half wishing that my head would explode and be done with it. I had been sleeping on sacks of grain, probably barley. Oh, yes. They brewed their own beer. I must be in the storeroom.
My pack seemed undisturbed. I checked my wallet, and everything was in order, though yesterday's stupid spending had left me with barely enough cash to pay my bus fare home.
The double door out was weird-thick steel like a bank vault or like something you might find in a submarine. Old buildings sometimes collect strange features. Perhaps it had been a bomb shelter.
But I couldn't waste time puzzling that out. It had become urgent that I find a rest room.
Beyond the strange doors was a large room filled with boxes and bales; it was nothing like the hallway with the rest room. I found a staircase, which I climbed frantically. If I was in a basement, then up had to be out. I could always go in the bushes.
Through the doorway at the top of the stairs, I found myself in the familiar hallway, dimly lit with gray light from a high window. I must have been in a subbasement. As I rushed to the rest room, the door closed behind me with a solid click.
But there was no rest room, just another storage room filled with huge, foul-smelling crocks of sauerkraut.
My bladder could stand no more, and the room was dark. I walked behind the door and urinated on the wall.
Please understand that I was a civilized, educated, and profoundly housebroken young man. I felt extremely guilty about desecrating someone's storeroom. As my bladder deflated, other problems occurred to me. How was I to explain my presence in the basement? At best, the owners might demand of me the price of a night's lodging, which I didn't have. At worst, they might accuse me of being a thief, and no end of trouble would come of it all. Best to leave as quietly and quickly as possible.
I tiptoed to the ascending staircase that began directly in front of the door at the top of my previous climb. But the door that I had just come through had become a solid fieldstone wall without the slightest hint of a crack.
Well, I was severely hung over and probably still a bit drunk. I had never had hallucinations before, but I knew that such things were possible. But it was probable that I was in serious trouble. So, pack still on my back, I climbed the staircase, unbarred a door, and walked quickly down the trail without looking back.
I went at least a kilometer before I dared to stop, dig out my canteen, and drink it dry. As my fear of being caught lessened with each step, so did my mood become darker. Instead of returning from my vacation refreshed and eager for a new project, I was broke, sore, hung over, and horny. Hangovers always make me horny, and the "affair" with the redhead had not helped a bit. The weather had turned gray and cold, and I was not in a tolerant mood. Then a lunatic medievalist trotted toward me down the trail.
In retrospect and at a distance, he was not a bad sight. He rode a massive black stallion and wore a white surcoat with a huge black cross. His white shield also bore a black cross, which was repeated again by the eye-and-nose slit on his authentic-looking barrel of a helmet. He was sheathed in chain mail from his neck to his toes. A lance was at his back, a sword was at his waist, and various instruments of mayhem hung over his saddlebow.
As we approached each other, the idealized image faded and details became visible- The surcoat was shabby, and the shield was dirty. His chain mail was not of the fine rings seen in museums but of circles as big as a man's wedding ring and of iron that would have been better used for coat hangers. His helmet and weaponry were of poorly beaten wrought iron, and his horse was not well fed.
I must confess that Poland has its fair share of lunatics and more than its share of medievalists. Once a year, the whole city of Cracow is turned over to those strange people-mostly students-for a weekend. Actually, the Juvenalia is a pretty good party, but I was not in the mood in the Tatras.
Still, I needed to find a bus home, so I flagged him down.
"Hi there!" I waved as he drew up alongside.
He stopped abruptly, stiffened his back, and removed his dented helmet, which he balanced on top of the other ironmongery on his saddlebow. His hair, at least, was authentic. It was very long, very blond, and very greasy. His eyes were ice-blue, his nose had been broken, and scars crossed his forehead and cheek. I had the feeling that he was doing what he was doing because he could not afford a motorcycle.
He shouted at me in something that was probably German. My American was quite good, and I could speak a little English, but German was quite beyond me.
"That's very nice. You are very good at keeping in character, but would you please speak Polish?"