Night has fallen by the time my plane touches down. Thick droplets of rain hammer against the window as I attempt to make out the outside world. I can see bright lights of some kind, but they’re distorted through a wall of water. I walk out of the arrivals gate at Katowice International Airport to see a line of individuals holding signs that bare names, just like in the films. I scan across them: “Dean” … “Campbell” … “Mendes” … “Franjo”. Ah, here we are.
Upon spotting my greeter, my first impression is that he’s quite a scrawny man. Short, thin and he looks like a good gust of wind would knock him clean over. His face though heavily resembles some kind of cartoon rodent, maybe a Biker Mouse from Mars. His features are pointed and sharp, except for his ears that are large, round and protruding. One of them has 3 hooped ear rings clinging to his ample lobe. But his most distinguishing feature is a messy black goatee, flecked with strands of pure white.
As he watches me approach, his eyes narrow and his lip curls with disdain, as if I’m strutting all over his new carpet in wellies that I use exclusively to kick around animal faecal matter.
“Cześć!” I announce enthusiastically as I get nearer to the sign man. Cześć, as I understand, is ‘Hello’ in Polish. Never accuse me of being unadaptable. Although it is currently the only word that I’ve learned. Without uttering any sort of reply, sign man turns and shuffles away, dropping his sign on the floor. I quicken my step slightly to make up the ground between us, picking up the sign as I go.
We exit the airport and climb into a small black car. I squeeze into the passenger seat while sign man gets behind the wheel. He turns the key in the ignition, and with a cough and a splutter from the engine, we shudder out of the parking bay and out of the airport car park.
A good half an hour of uncomfortable silence later, we pull up outside a cosy looking hotel on a quiet road. This is the hotel in which I’ve arranged to stay and it looks very nice indeed. The only part of it that I don’t like is the sign on the door, that google translate tells me reads “Closed For Refurbishment”. Not ideal, is it.
I get back into the car and ask sign man to take me to a bar where I can take out my frustration and fatigue on some Polish beer, while I find another place to stay.
We pull up a short while later outside a small, grubby pub, with a large battered sign over the door that reads “Radzinski’s”. I step out of sign man’s car, and as soon as the door closes, the car’s engine starts up and sign man drives away around the corner, leaving me quite alone.
I make my way inside Radzinski’s to find that I am still very much alone. There are no rowdy patrons. There is no bartender endlessly rubbing a glass with a cloth for no reason. The place is dark, dingy and deserted. Is every building in this City closed for fucking refurbishment or something?
But seeing as I am still alone in a new city with nowhere to go, I take a seat on one of the barstools. I then turn around to have a proper look at the rest of the establishment. There’s a pool table in the corner that looks like it’s had a pint or two spilled on it at some point. Lining the wall are several booths that presumably provided quite comfortable seating at some point, but now the tables are scratched up and the seats are ripped and stained. Against the far wall is a dart board, and I can tell that it’s been there for a while. The black sections have faded massively, while the white sections have collected decades worth of dirt and grime, meaning that the once clear alternating pattern is now just a big greyish circular mass. The red and green bits have been similarly affected, and now form solid purpley-brown bands across across the aged board.
I sigh as I turn back around, and nearly leap out of my skin when I notice sign man standing behind the bar, rubbing a glass with a cloth for seemingly no reason, and staring straight at me.
I chuckle at how easily I startled, and exclaim “Christ, you scared me half to death!”. Sign man continues to stare at me without a trace of amusement as he rubs the glass. His lip curls with disdain again. “You work here, do you?” I ask airily.
Sign man immediately reaches for one of the pumps and pours out a pint under the bar. He then plonks the glass onto the bar and pushes it towards me, but with my keen perceptive eye I realise that the contents of the pint glass don’t really resemble beer at all. The liquid inside is clear and colourless, and smells like it could quite easily strip the paint from a car. I hold out a hand to refuse the drink. “No, no. Could I have a beer please mate?” I ask politely.
Sign man nods and continues to try to force the glass towards me. “Wodka.” He utters. I keep my hand out on the bar, pushing back against the glass of ‘wodka’.
“No, no. Could you pour me a… Wait do you keep your vodka in kegs?”
“Wodka!” He growls, somewhat more aggresively. His thick eye brows curl down into a frown as he continues to push.
I grasp the glass begrudgingly and hold it up to my mouth. I can feel the hairs in my nostrils burning away from the scent of the stuff.
“No beer?” I plead. Sign man shakes his head adamantly. “Just… Pints of draft… Wodka?” He nods solemnly.
He watches me curiously and silently as I nurse my bizarre and potentially lethal beverage. And you’re bloody right I nurse it, I don’t drink this stuff with mixers, let alone straight out of a pint glass. And from a keg, no less. Welcome to Poland I suppose.
I have no idea how I’m still upright by time I finish my drink. To be honest I have no idea why I felt obliged to drink it in the first place. As I eventually put the empty glass down on the bar, sign man twists his thin lips into a smile of sorts and holds out a hand. “Radzinski” he mumbles. With a small pang of embarrassment that I hadn’t already figured this information out for myself, I take his hand and shake it, which as it turns out requires a surprising amount of effort and concentration.
“You can stay up there”. He nods towards a staircase visible through the door behind the bar.
“I can? There’s a flat up there?” I ask hopefully. Radzinski nods. I’m taken aback by the sudden offer, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve just been weirdly initiated into something, but I immediately accept. “We do papers tomorrow” he says as he hands me the keys.
“And you speak English?” I enquire cautiously. Radzinski nods once more.
“I am very proud.” He mumbles. “But, it isn’t rocket surgery.” I don’t really have a response to that, so I just smile and nod.
I get up and walk through the door that he gestured towards, leaving Radzinski stood behind the bar, still rubbing the same glass with his cloth, and make my way up the creaky staircase. Before I reach the top, I see the room that is to Become my new lodgings. Placed in the middle of the wood is a faded brass number “1”. But just as my foot hits the landing, a strange thought comes to mind and I start to walk back down. “Wait, do you not work for GKS Katowice? If you just own this place, why was it you that picked me up from the…”
As I reach the bottom of the stairs and step back through the door to the bar, Radzinski is nowhere to be seen.
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