I’m annoyed, that I’m annoyed, that Daniel has landed us on our feet. This was the best outcome. But I’m annoyed. The guesthouse Yana has taken us to is a brick oasis. The room is at the top of the five floors. Unreachable old spiderwebs hang in the corners of the ceiling. The lamps have thick fabric shades that seem to absorb all the light. There’s a four poster bed with layers of blankets like baklava. There’s an oak vanity desk that is so polished that the mirror is redundant. There’s a luxury trunk, possibly stolen from the last Tzar’s luggage. The large settee probably allows this room to sleep three.
“The honeymoon suite,” says Yana, “for the boys.”
“Do you want to share the bed with one of us or take the couch? Ladies choice.” Daniel says. I find a shower in the bathroom and it makes me want to cry.
“The bed is big enough for three,” says Yana.
“Shotgun not in the middle,” he says.
“There’s a shower,” I say, trying to be relevant.
“Good,” says Yana, “you both stink. If I take you to the party like this, you’ll ruin my reputation.”
“Oh, you have a reputation?” says Daniel.
“A reputation for being cool and having cool friends.” She playfully sweeps her copper hair back.
“How cool is this party,” I ask, “we don’t have many clean clothes.”
Daniel is poking around the wardrobe and pulls out a dinner jacket. A visible corona of dust floats off it as he shakes it. It is luxe but dated in style. It has three buttons and lapels that would look large on a clown suit. “There’s a full tuxedo in here, some sort of smoking jacket, morning trousers, loads of stuff. We would look amazing in this.”
“Really?” I ask. I wonder if I can rinse my Ralph Lauren Polo and dry it with the hairdryer before we set off. Doubtful.
“Definitely,” says Daniel, “we’re gonna stand out anyway. They’re a bit wide though.”
“Let me check the drawers in the vanity table for safety pins,” says Yana, “we can pull it in.” Daniel puts on the jacket but we could both fit in it. Yana finds pins and starts playing the part of tailor. She stands behind Daniel, pulling in the jacket, calling him ‘Sir’ and generally using it as an excuse to touch his body and flirt some more.
“I’m going for a shower,” I say.
“Great, we’ll do your fitting after,” she says. She catches my eye from behind Daniel and blows me a kiss. I force a smile, look away, then look back at her quickly. I swear her eyes were black. No, they’re green. She’s smoothing out the jacket on Daniel’s back. She licks her lips. No, she licks her teeth.
The shower is strong and gets hot. It scales the skin of dried sweat off me. When I feel clean, I turn the tap down to cold to forget the humidity for a few seconds.
There are thick robes in the bathroom. I throw one on after drying myself. I tie the towel around my head to dry my hair, think better of it and sling the towel around my neck instead.
Back in the bedroom Yana is massaging Daniel’s shoulders, pressing her chest gently onto the back of his head. She looks me up and down, “Nice robe,” she says, “maybe you should go in that.”
I check her eyes again. They’re still green.
Yana crushes the tension in my shoulders like cloves of garlic under her thumbs. I’m looking down, staring through the carpet. I can hear the drone of the shower. The carpet seems to swirl, like water slipping down the plug. Yana hums a vague melody that I hear in the back of my skull like a memory. My feet feel wet. Water is rising through the carpet.
The bathroom door opens. Benji comes back into the room. Yana slides her thumb out of my shoulder, releasing the pressure. I am waking from a trance. A vague memory of water lurks in my mind. How long have I been sitting here? Benji has finished his shower, so twenty minutes at most.
“Mind if I go next?” asks Yana.
She hops off the bed and in one smooth movement she bends down, pinches the hem of her dress and peels it off. She smells the dress, shrugs, then throws it over the couch. She twists her body, inspecting herself. So she is wearing knickers.
“Do you think I need to lose any weight Benji?” she asks.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you think, Daniel?”
She’s facing away from me. I look her up and down slowly, hopefully showing that I am not embarrassed by her stunt. “Bench presses would improve your posture.” She grabs a towel and storms into the bathroom in mock offence.
“What is going on?” asks Benji.
“I’m not sure what that was, but I didn’t want to rise to it. She caught you out, bro.”
“Not that. Before that, when I came out of the shower.”
“Oh right,” I pause. “I don’t really remember how that started.”
“Yeah, really,” Benji raises his eyebrows. “Benji, the weirdest thing happened when she was touching me?”
“That’s called an erection, Daniel. I’d say she did get a rise out of you.”
I reposition myself on the bed, “What’s up, Benji? You’re worried.”
“I’m not worried, Daniel. I’m not mad. Look, I hate to say it, but you were right. This was a good idea. But she wants to hook up with you. So just give me the nod when you think it’s going to happen and I’ll try to find a way to be away from the room for a while.”
I sigh, “When we get to the party you’ll see she probably acts the same way around all the guys. She’s just a flirt. Most of it is just an act to see if we react. And you’re reacting. ‘Um – I dunno if you need to lose weight’.” I laugh. “Chill out Benji. The ideal scenario tonight is we both meet someone else and neither of us has to come back here.”
“No. She’s into you. She was almost drooling on you while massaging you.”
“I can’t really remember anything about that.”
“You don’t remember her double-Ds resting on the back of your head.”
“What? Those aren’t double-Ds. They’re more like Bs.”
“No Daniel, your ex was more like a B cup. Yana’s are bigger.”
“They’re exactly the same size. She just had them out in front of you, didn’t you have a look?”
The bathroom door opens and Yana emerges, “Benji, I wasn’t serious about going in the robe”
My mood has been a shambles on this trip. I feel like one of the colourful ties we can see in the trees around the town, fluttering in the breeze. It must be all the repetitive days. It’s unhealthy. But I’m psyched up now. Human contact is incoming.
Daniel is right, the best outcome is that we all meet someone else. We’ll be the most interesting people there. Travellers always seem more mysterious than they deserve. Have you ever met one of those guys who goes travelling after university for a year, but then they don’t return for five or six years? You meet these guys at parties when you’re in your mid 20s. You expect them to be interesting but they’re vegetables. Being a British guy living in Cambodia makes you interesting enough to carry you through every social situation and so you never develop a personality. Well now that’s us. Except we’re doing something actually meaningful… I suppose.
I’ve heard in Russia there are more women than men and this is why you see stunning Russian women settling for ropy guys… apparently. I’ve heard there are dating companies that match Russian women with the oversupply of men in China. It’s one of those things that sounds right but who knows. It might explain why Yana seems to be into us. She would have guys falling over her in the UK. She wouldn’t look twice at us. Maybe Daniel would have a chance. He got the number of a Mexican glamour model once in Leeds. But it took an hour and I don’t think it went anywhere after that. Maybe there just aren’t many options in the Russian wilderness. Maybe I’m overthinking the entire thing and she really does just need a lift.
I can’t drag my eyes off her. She found a shrunken wool skirt in one of the drawers and is wearing the other dinner jacket Daniel found. She’s pinned it in tight against her body making it look burlesque.
On the walk to the party we see more twigs, fried eggs and other offerings out in front of the buildings. From some attics above us there is the noise of gatherings. It spills down like an unintelligible angel song.
“What’s the occasion?”
“It’s Green Week,” says Yana. Daniel shrugs.
“It’s Green Week,” I say.
We get to a small commercial estate with shuttered units. The throb of a party is coming from one of the properties. Yana bangs hard on one of the shutters and it rolls up to waist height. The sounds from inside widen and bounce out into the estate. A gaunt hipster pokes his head under the door, exchanges a few words in Russian with Yana, then raises the door to chest height so that we can step under.
It’s a warehouse. Empty now but with some of the shelving, pallet lifters and miscellaneous containers arranged in tables and benches like an edgy fashion shoot. Some of it has been used to construct an ersatz stage. Someone is performing on a set of modular synthesisers. They’re dressed in black robes, a black hood and a papier-mâché mask with a long beak. The music is downtempo, smooth but melancholic. At one of the tables there are women weaving garlands and sipping on beer. At another someone seems to be doing a tarot reading. All around the space there are more branches, eggs and garlands hanging.
Yana introduces us to a few people nearby but most of the names slip my memory immediately, if I even hear them at all. Everyone is wearing dusty old jackets or gowns. Yana and Daniel fit in. I look out of place in my Fred Perry t-shirt and jeans.
There are so many stunning women and average men. I have to suppress a laugh. Benji might actually shut-up about the race. No more sitting in the urinal on wheels wondering if we’re in six-thousand-nine-hundred-and-twenty-third or six-thousand-nine-hundred-and-twenty-fourth position.
Yana is introducing me to people with such unusual names I cannot tell which part of the sentence she’s saying is the name. Benji looks like he has finally got the fence post out of his arse and is starting to chill out.
I ask a guy I get introduced to, “What is this music?”
“Modular synth.” I wait for him to expand but he doesn’t.
“OK, cool.” So the guys have great personalities as well as great looks.
Yana snakes an arm around my waist and enters the conversation, insofar as there is one, “Ambient music is really popular here. A famous musician came from this town.” She tries to sway my body with the music, “It’s hypnotic, just vibe with it.” The guy looks at me, looks at Yana, shakes his head and walks away.
“Don’t you like the vibes?” asks Yana.
“Yeah yeah, I love it. But what was wrong with that guy?”
“Russians.” Yana shrugs.
I try to mingle but whenever someone discovers I’m with Yana the conversation abruptly ends. Yana floats between Benjji and me. I notice that when she’s not pushing herself into one of our conversations, she doesn’t talk to anyone herself. She just sort of hovers on her own like she is adrift between two banks of a river. She’ll push herself into my conversations and make a point of touching me, especially if I’m talking to women. Maybe Benji was right and she does have a thing for me.
It’s bad logistics. We need to get Benji to hook-up with someone so things don’t get weird back at the guesthouse. But she seems to be ruining his chances with anyone as well. Maybe she’s into Benji too. That would make things simpler… in a way.
A few sentences into another conversation and Yana slides up to me, feigning falling into me and I’m forced into catching her. One of my hands slips up her jacket and onto the small of her tiny back, the other catches her enate hips. Her physique is so erotically uneven. I hold her until she regains her balance.
“Too much vodka?”
She looks up at me, pressed against me, the lapels of the jacket slide across her chest. She can stand now but I hold her tighter. Sorry Benji, I can’t resist.