When I got off the train, it was as cold and windy as I remember from my childhood. The only railway path was rusty. I wondered how the trains were able to use it. A few brick buildings along the platform were the station itself. Most of them were closed, their windows were or broken, or boarded up, and walls were painted with graffiti. The most recent picture was a beige dog with a text balloon saying ‘Get out of here!’, its paw pointed to the direction, where my train had gone. There was no one around.
I jumped from the platform onto the tracks and came down the hill, from where the station was located. The town was in a fifteen-minutes walk along the dirt road. It used to be overloaded back in my youth, but that day it was completely empty.
When I reached the town, I met only a couple of passersby. I walked down the main street, looking for that place. I knew what I tried to find, but I couldn’t remember where exactly it was. Many houses on my way were dark inside, although clouds had hidden the sun. A few buildings had neither doors, nor windows and I could feel a faint whiff of mingled vomit and urine, when I passed by.
At the end of the street I looked around and thought, that he probably is not here anymore and considered coming back to the station, when I finally noticed his house on the opposite corner. There was a light on in a basement window of a two-story building. A shabby sign on a door said ‘Desert Rose’. I crossed the road and went inside.
There was a long bar stand, polished to a shine, five tables alongside the stand, dim light, pictures on walls. When you visit a pub, you expect to see a shelve with bottles of different drinks, clean glasses, prepared to be filled with beer, maybe a few people discussing daily routine at their lunch. None of these was in this pub.
I was looking at the photos on the wall, when a deep low voice sounded behind me:
‘Good morning, sir. How can I help you? We have a fresh meal and tons of beer. If you don’t want drink alcohol, I can offer you a cup of tea or coffee. I would be happy also suggest you a bottle of Coke, but they’re run out.’
I turned around. The man in front of me was tall, skinny and hairless. He wore an old, but spotless clothes.
‘One pint of Maria, please,’ I said.
‘Maria?’ he asked and gazed at me inquisitively for a few seconds. ‘We’ve never had that sort of beer.’
‘You’re too young to remember anything,’ he said.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘A mug of coffee, please.’
I sat down at the bar and put a ticket on the stand. He turned away and began making my coffee. Different musicians looked at me from the photos on the wall.
‘You have many pictures,’ I said. ‘But none with your family.’
‘I don’t have a family,’ he said.
‘Really?’ I asked.
He didn’t reply.
‘Is the shipyard still active?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said. ‘It was closed ten years ago.’
‘And after that people have left this town?’ I asked.
‘People have been leaving for many years, you should know that,’ he said and handed me the mug. His hand was shaking a bit, so he spilled a few drops on the ticket.
‘It’s okay,’ I said and wiped them with a napkin.
‘Where do you live now?’ he asked.
‘In Cork,’ I replied. ‘It’s a beautiful city, not so immense if you compare with London for example, but it’s alive.’
‘A big flat?’ he said.
‘Big enough to live with somebody,’ I said.
‘Glad for you,’ he said.
Someone opened the door. I looked towards the entrance, another man came in. He was one-handed, had a long gray beard, in the only hand he kept an umbrella. He stared at me and yelled:
‘Hi, Mr. Williams,’ I said.
‘I can’t believe my eyes! James, is that really you, lad?’ he asked and came closer to hug me. ‘Where is Tom?’
I turned my head back to the bar, the bartender had gone.
‘I don’t know. He was here a few second ago.’
‘All right,’ he said. ‘Probably he has some job to do in the utility room, but shiver me timbers, even hell may wait today! How is Maria?’
‘She’s fine, thanks,’ I sad.
We chatted a bit, until an alarm rang on my phone.
‘I have to go, my train will be leaving soon,’ I said. ‘It was a pleasure to see you.’
‘Blow me down!’ he said. ‘Aren’t you going to say goodbye to Tom?’
‘I guess he won’t finish his job till I’m here,’ I said.
‘Aye. Don’t forget your ticket,’ he said and pointed to the stand.
‘Mine is here,’ I said and patted my pocket. ‘Bye.’
I went outside. It was already dark. Thoughts filled my head as I was wandering the streets. I don’t remember how I got to the station, but at the end of the day I found myself on the platform, sitting on a bench and looking at the road from the town.