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Three mornings

published: 2009-04-10

On the first morning, I find a bottle of Riesling outside my door. I know why it’s there. 

He is a man alone. Leaning towards fifty. A scratchy beard. I was stealing chocolate easter eggs from a basket on the bar and noticed him. He was asking the owner of the hotel something. What exactly, I will never find out. I couldn’t define his accent. Thick tongued. German, it would seem. On heading to my room, I discovered he is staying in the same wing I’m in. He now had a bottle of wine in his hand. I was holding a glass of water.
It took us a while to figure out how the magnetic key worked and so I made friendly conversation.
“Where did you get that wine?”
There is not a single store in this tiny village.
“From my car,” he said, “I took a whole case from Baden Baden.”
And then he started telling me things I couldn’t quite put a story to. It was polite conversation, nothing more. I was impatient. His words skipped from wine and weeks of traveling to loving the canals in Amsterdam and also why return to London when his companion said how slow things were while his father once noted that every set-back is also an opportunity? His eyes are intense. They darted around my face, as if searching for something. He has big teeth. I entered my room, waited to hear he was in his room which is above mine, then locked my door. Twice.

The note says he would appreciate some suggestions as to what to do in Amsterdam. I can’t resist picking up the bottle, cradling it in my hand, savouring its cool elegance as a counter to the sleepy daze of my head. It’s coffee I should be after, not wine. I leave the bottle there, outside my room. I do not like to feel indebted.  As evening falls, I pick up the bottle and bring it upstairs, put it outside his door. I write a message on the reverse side of his note saying how kind of him, but that I really need to stay sober because I am here for work. “I am resisting temptation,” I write. Just to be nice.

On the second morning, I find a book outside my door. It is hard-covered, red, and the title is imprinted in gold. At first I think it is a Bible. A note sticks out from between the pages. It opens to a pencil drawing of a man.
“Perhaps this is more inspiring to you. He is my favourite writer.” Clearly, it is a precious book to him. It is worn and torn. The kind of book he carries around with him everywhere. Indeed, like a Bible. I study the picture, put the book outside his door and write: “fascinating yes. The man on the picture has a powerful energy, beastly almost. I love the way he’s holding a dainty tea-cup in his one hand, but a whip in the other. Unfortunately, I cannot speak Russian. All I know is Spasiba.” 

On the third morning, I find another book outside my door. This one is also hard covered, but new. The title reads ‘Village Evenings Near Gikanka and Mirgorod.’ The boxed image on the cover shows a rozy-cheeked and pampered Gogol. He looks nothing like the wildly savage man of the drawing. Only the tea-cup connects them. He has now written his note on a postcard of Van Gogh’s iris paintings.
“Hope your lack of Russian is only temporary. In the meantime – please accept this!” 
I take it, close the door, finally accepting the invitation into this man’s dark and mythical world.

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