Wednesday, February 25, 2009

8 A Strange Coincidence


Snuggled down in the heavily-starched, white linen sheets, which still carried the acrid, chemical smell of the hotel laundry, Tom felt cocooned from the strange, frozen world lying in wait for him beyond the frost-covered window of Room 315.

As he sat up in the creaking bed, his first thought was of her, and this made him smile, enjoying the sensation of the slight aches, which rippled through his body as he stretched and shivered, and felt so alive. Where was she now? Would she be there tonight? He wanted to stroke her long black, Oriental hair, touch her soft ivory skin, taste her, breathe her, and just be with her, be with her...


"That bloody drill!" Tom threw his pillow at the window, jumped up and hurried into the bathroom in search of warmth. At the turn of a tarnished tap, the ancient pipes juddered and groaned into action until a trickle of steaming, pale orange water emerged from the oversized shower head. The nearly boiling water splashed on his cold body, making him jump and swear. Fortunately, the little, pale green tablet of Russian soap didn't produce any lather, and he had been deliberately sparing with the shampoo this morning. He gave up after a couple of minutes, pulled back the plastic shower curtain and emerged still shivering in the steamy air.

He cleared a patch of the steamed-up bathroom mirror and started to shave with one of the blue, plastic disposable razors, he'd brought from England. As he did so, he touched his wet, receding hairline with his other hand, looked at the line across his freckled forehead, and thought, she must be at least fifteen years younger than me. But, although he wasn't aware of it himself, Tom looked younger than his thirty-six years. He had the body of a skinny youth, and his pale ginger hair, innocent green eyes and freckled complexion simply enhanced that impression. 'Lanky streak of piss,' they'd called him at school. That's when they weren't calling him 'ginger nut.' It was only the fact that he'd scraped into the school cricket team, allied to the popularity of his younger brother, Christopher, who hadn't inherited their Irish mother's colouring, that had prevented him from being viewed as a total swot. He hadn't been one of the popular boys, but he’d made a few friends and somehow managed to pull off the trick of finishing top of the class in every subject, without becoming a victim of bullying.

He plastered the wet hair across the high forehead, which still bothered him, wrapped a white towel around his waist, and stepped back into the bedroom, arms folded across his almost hairless chest, to keep out the cold air, which he could feel reaching out to him with its icy fingers, from the frosty window.

Of the two suits hanging in the orange, plywood wardrobe, Tom selected the flashier, pale grey one and unhesitatingly went for the salmon pink tie. As he tied the knot in the mirror, he started to hum a Lisa Stansfield song. He even sang some of the lyrics: "Been around the world and I,I,I can't find my baby…"He broke into a big smile, because, at least so he thought, he had found his.

He was still smiling when he walked into the hotel dining hall and slid onto a seat, just two tables away from the young Russian couple, who were, again, the only other diners there. He greeted them, "Privet,” which he believed was the Russian for 'hello'.

The man answered with a heavily-accented "Hello."

"You speak English then?"

The couple looked embarrassed and resumed eating their breakfast.

The pretty waitress’s footsteps echoed across the hall, as she came out of the kitchen to serve him his stale bread and yoghurt quickly. He hadn't had to wait more than a minute. This was going to be a good day.

He walked briskly out of the dining hall, across the lobby and out into the freezing Mongolian winter, skidding across the ice that gripped the sidewalk and almost falling into the black limousine, which was there bang on time at 8.30.

The driver, like everybody else out that morning, with the exception of Tom, was wearing a heavy overcoat, gloves, scarf and big fur hat. He still smelled of stale cigarettes and now there were a couple of new aromas, body odour and vodka, added to the mix Tom breathed inside the black limousine, as it swept through the icy streets to deposit him outside the House of Friendly Relations.

Tom looked up at the sky, which was bluer than any he had ever seen in England or even on the summer holidays he had taken with Jane in Spain and Greece. The black birds were still circling overhead. If anything, there were even more of them now. As he entered his strange new workplace, Tom's smile instantly disappeared from his face. What did these people want from him, why did they make him feel so uncomfortable, and what really went on inside this building? But then, what struck Tom as the oddest of coincidences occurred: there in the hallway, waiting to greet him, was a face he instantly recognised.


  1. Wow! I feel like I´m right there with him! Maybe you should quit your day job, so you can post more often!...

  2. i agree with jane!

  3. There's something weird about serving stale bread and yoghurt in the winter. It should be mutton soup and stir fries. Oh well!

    And one of the best parts I of your story is on this page, 4th paragraph.


In Bruges