“You wanna party, yeah?” Leif asks, smiling lazily, as Bérnard, with a perspiring Keo, the local industrial lager, takes a seat opposite him.
Bérnard nods. “Of course,” he says, fairly seriously.
A tall, tanned Icelander, only a few years older than Bérnard, Leif is the package company rep, it had turned out.
He is telling him about the night life of Protaras. He is talking about some nightclub—Jesters—and the details of a happy-hour offer there. “And then three cocktails for the price of two from seven till eight,” he says. “Take advantage of it. Like I told the others, it’s one of the best offers in the resort.”
“Okay,” Bérnard says.
Leif is drinking a huge smoothie. He keeps talking about “the others,” and Bérnard wonders whether he missed some prearranged meeting that no one told him about.
Who were these “others”?
“Kebabs,” Leif says, as if it were a section heading. “The best place is Porkies, okay? It’s just over there.” He takes his large splayed hand from the back of his shaved head and points up the street. Bérnard looks and sees an orange sign: porkies.
“Okay,” he says.
They are sitting on the terrace of Waves, he and Leif. Inside, music thumps. Although it is only just six, there are already plenty of drunk people about. A drinking game is in progress somewhere, with lots of excitable shouting.
“It’s open twenty-four hours,” Leif says, still talking about Porkies.
“And be careful: the hot sauce is hot.”
He says this so seriously that Bérnard thinks he must be joking and laughs.
Just as seriously, though, Leif says, “It is a really fucking hot sauce.” He tips the last of his smoothie into his mouth. There is a sort of very faint disdain in the way he speaks to Bérnard. His attention always seems vaguely elsewhere; he keeps slowly turning his head to look up and down the street, which is just starting to acquire its evening hum, though the sun is still shining, long shadowedly.
“So that’s about it,” he says. He is wearing a necklace of what look like shark teeth. He has the air of a man who gets laid effortlessly and often. Indeed, there is something postcoital about his exaggeratedly laid-back manner. Bérnard is intimidated by him. He nods and has a sip of his beer.
“You here with some mates?” Leif asks him.
“No, uh . . . ”
“On your own?”
Bérnard tries to explain. “I was supposed to be with a friend . . . ” He stops. Leif, obviously, is not interested.
“Okay,” Leif says, looking in the direction of Porkies as if he is expecting someone.
Then he turns to Bérnard again and says, “I’ll leave you to it. You have any questions, just let me know, yeah.”
He is already standing up.
Bérnard says, “Okay. Thanks.”
“See you round,” Leif says.
He doesn’t seem to hear Bérnard saying, “Yeah, see you.”
As he walks away, the golden hair on his arms and legs glows in the low sun.
Bérnard finishes his drink quickly. Then he leaves Waves—where the music is now at full nightclub volume—and starts to walk, again, toward the Hotel Poseidon.
He feels slightly worse, slightly more isolated, after the meeting with Leif. He had somehow assumed, when he first sat down, that Leif would show him an evening of hedonism, or at least provide some sort of entrée into the native depravity of the place. That he did not, that he just left him on the terrace of Waves to finish his drink alone, is a disappointment. It leaves Bérnard feeling obscurely that he has failed some sort of test, perhaps a fundamental one.
This feeling slowly widening into something like depression, he walks into the dead hinterland where the Hotel Poseidon is.
It is just after seven when he arrives at the hotel. The lobby is sultry and unlit. The dining room, on the other hand, is lit like a hospital A&E department. It doesn’t seem to have any windows, the dining room. The walls are hung with dirty drapes. He sits at a table. He seems to be the last to arrive—most of the other tables are occupied, people lowering their faces toward the gray soup, spooning it into their mouths. It is eerily quiet. Someone is speaking in Russian. Other than that, the only sound, from all around, is the tinking of spoon on plate. And a strange humming, quite loud, that lasts for twenty or thirty seconds, then stops, then starts again. A waiter puts a plate of soup in front of him. Bérnard picks up his spoon, and notices the encrustations on its cloudy metal surface, the hard deposits of earlier meals. With a napkin—which itself shows evidence of previous use—he tries to scrub them off. The voice is still speaking in Russian, monotonously. Having cleaned his spoon, he turns his attention to the soup. It is a strange gray color. And it is cold. He looks around, as if expecting someone to explain. No one explains. What he does notice, however, is the microwave on the other side of the room—the source of the strange intermittent humming—and the queue of people waiting to use it, each with a plate of soup. He picks up his own soup and adds himself to their number. HHhhhhhhhhggghh.
He is preceded in the queue by a woman in her midforties, probably, who is very fat. She has short blonde hair and an orange face—red under her eyes and along the top of her nose. He had noticed her sitting at a table near him when he sat down—she was the sort of fat person it was hard to miss. What made her harder to miss was that she was with another woman, younger than her and even fatter. This younger woman—her daughter perhaps—was actually fascinatingly huge. Bérnard had tried not to stare.
After they have been standing in the microwave queue for a few minutes, listening to the whir of the machine and taking a step forward every time it stops, the older woman says to him, in English, “It’s a disgrace, really, isn’t it?”
“Mm,” Bérnard agrees, surprised at being spoken to.
The woman is sweating freely—the dining room is very warm. “Every night the same,” she says.
“Really,” she says, and then it is her turn and she shoves her plate into the microwave.