The night set in when Ruslan rinsed the last glasses of the hotel bar. He had gotten used to the hot water burning on his skin. As he cleaned the coffee machine and hastily blew aside the grounds that had spilled out of the filter, he heard a loud thunder. The sky had broken open and it was raining by the buckets. Ruslan didn’t expect any more guests to visit the hotel bar so he planned to close up early. There were few guests in general, now that the weather had turned grim after a long summer. In autumn, especially when it rained, people would have their teas and beers at home. He had hoped for more revenue through the low season but it had not happened yet. With people from the city, the town was not well known. It was not exactly on a main route either. Ruslan had grown up in and around the hotel that he eventually inherited from father to son. It’s the bar where he had drunk his first beer, got his first kiss and laughed and cried through the many years as he grew up.
Even though the bar and hotel were only known locally, now and then a lost guest would pop up. They’d have gotten tired from the long ride over the patchy, bad road leading down from the nearest city. It was quite a detour so Ruslan was always happy to see any guest at all, provided there was little tourist incentive. Except for the hills nearby, which he had always dreamed of venturing into on a long trip. He had never done so. He had always thought he’d missed out on life. The hotel was the only place he had been. Ruslan decided to pour himself a whiskey and sit by the fireplace until the wood would have burnt up. He might as well stay here as it was colder in the rooms upstairs anyway. It was quite a long day through which he had served his guests and did a cleanup of the guest rooms as well. Ruslan did not have a specific vision for his hotel, it was plain and easy and just for people that wanted some shuteye. It was just white walls with dark wooden panels until halfway up the wall. Just like in the bar. A bed with a carved out headboard, which his father had crafted through many rainy days. A comfortable bathroom with a wide shower head. The one thing Ruslan had invested in. He despised small shower heads and the feeling of water softly pouring over the back. It had to burst out and steam, especially through the cold winters.
Ruslan did not enjoy having the hotel and bar. He just felt obliged to keep it as it had been passed down through generations. Now that he had no wife nor a son, it all seemed like a dead-end street. As he drained the sink, Ruslan always imagined this as him flushing his life down there. He did not want to do this, every day was the same. He had never been with a woman and the ones frequenting the bar were not appealing to him at all. They had mostly gotten divorced and started to live with the bottle. Not something he was into, not being much of a drinker at all. He just wanted to go out and see the hills. To go on a trip, even if just by himself. But he couldn’t because of his obligations at the place.
He slowly sipped on his whiskey, which he’d have every now and then. He felt empty inside while the rain melodically tapped the windows. He opened the top button of his shirt and let the hair peek out. Above the buttons was his fat neck with his stubble beard, leading up to his perfectly round face that had over time gotten wrinkled like a baked strudel. His eyes seemed to hang in there gloomily, always staring into the distance or to one of the landscape paintings on the wall. Paintings of the hills around the town that he and his father made. In the middle was his nose, looking a lot like the big wooden knob on the cash drawer. It was quite round as well. Ruslan often jokingly referred to himself as being the most handsome in the bar, but only after closing time. He was not very pretty indeed but did have a perfectly symmetrical face, with his hairline slowly drawing back in equal proportions on both sides of the round head.
He rubbed his nose with his large fleshy hand and looked upon his wristwatch. Almost ten. Just one more hunk of wood into the fireplace and he might even doze off cosily in the chair in front of it. He made himself some tea and added some honey from a tall jar from behind the bar. As he settled himself once more in front of the fireplace, sinking into deep thought, two headlights peaked through the raindrops and the thin curtains. Someone was coming up the terrain. It sounded like the car had trouble making the final leap up to the parking, that was a bit steep and muddy. Eventually, he heard the car door open. The trunk was closed with a bang. Slow steps to the bar entrance. Just three gentle knocks. Ruslan felt annoyed, as now he had to move himself from the warmth and got up to answer the door. ‘Coming!’ he said loudly, reminding himself to sound more kind next time. If only he had made another choice in life and not kept the damned place. Another three knocks. ‘Impatient prick’, Ruslan mumbled.
As he unlocked the bolted door and with a creaking noise opened it to the inside, the raindrops blew into his face. ‘Come in then!’, he yelled to the dark posture standing right in front of him. Inside came one boot, then the other. A large sportsbag as well. A tall man in a dark overcoat with a remarkably long face and matching nose, sticking out just far enough so that Ruslan kept focusing on it in the dimmed light. ‘Please, please, sit down’, said Ruslan to the tall man. ‘Evening’, said the long face. ‘Got any rooms?’ Ruslan nodded and offered tea, which the man refused. ‘Name?’ asked Ruslan whilst taking out his guest register from above the cash desk. ‘It’s Vladimir’, said the man whilst taking off his coat. ‘Vladimir Velichkov’. He sat down at the bar and whilst Ruslan was writing down his name, Vladimir pointed to the bottle of vodka on the shelves behind the bar. ‘I’d like one, please’, he said in a calm manner. Apart from a long face, Vladimir had some remarkable details such as a long scar tissue on his left cheek that made Ruslan wonder how it got there. The face was also quite tan and Ruslan couldn’t help but notice the man’s accent, it sounded like he came from the southern coastal area.
As Ruslan poured the glass, Vladimir got up and combed his hand through his long hair that reached over his ears. A golden earring in the left ear briefly showed itself. ‘I’d like to take it to my room.’ ‘But you could have it here by the fireplace as well..’ ‘No, thank you. I’m quite tired. I want to go to my room, please.’ ‘Absolutely Sir’, said Ruslan whilst reaching into a drawer to get a room key. ‘We have just five rooms and the fourth is yours, in the back so there’s no rain hitting the window.’ ‘Thank you’, said Vladimir as he took his sportsbag and slowly opened the door towards the staircase. The door was closed again and Ruslan was left alone in the bar. ‘What a remarkably strange man’, he thought to himself. Ruslan had always thought he could quickly decide whether he’d just met a bad or a good man or a happy or unhappy man but this time he couldn’t quite make up his mind. Vladimir seemed to pretend to be fine but to hold onto something grudgeful. As if he had wanted to be something else.. As Ruslan had the last sips of tea from his big mug, he heard the shower being turned on inside the fourth room. The steamy shower with the wide shower head.
As Ruslan now had a couple of glasses to be cleaned, he filled up the sink with hot water again. He forgot that this would make the shower of his guest rather cold. A loud ‘Devil!’ came from above. Ruslan quickly turned off the hot tap and decided to fill the sink with lukewarm water. He washed his cups and glasses and suddenly, in the corner of his eye, he saw that Vladimir had forgotten his wallet on the counter. The rain started rattling on the window harder and as Ruslan had finished cleaning the cups and glasses, he emptied the sink. ‘Again life down the drain’, he mumbled to himself. Suddenly he heard a very loud bang from the room above. It sounded like fireworks or something heavy had dropped. Or a gun.. Ruslan recalled that he was not permitted to carry up the man’s bag and suddenly his heart started racing. What had been in there? He grasped for the wallet on the counter and hastily took out the many banknotes and business cards. His ID card and bank cards. Suddenly, there was a note. Ruslan was shaking like a madman and unfolded it whilst trying to keep himself together. He was about to scream out of fear and had no idea what had happened up in the room. ‘I wasted my life. I flushed it down the drain. If only I hadn’t messed up. If only I had stopped to look at the hills and not continued my path into non-existence. If only I had lived’, it read. It felt like Ruslan’s heart stopped beating. He breathlessly stared right in front of him, at the painting of the hills he and his father had made.
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